Day 15 – Colorado Springs to Salina, KS
Well, my passenger thought so until today. OK, interstate driving can be road trip sacrilege, I know. And today is our first completely Route 66-free day. (Insert shameless cross-promotion of the Best Road Trip Ever! iPhone app here) But we gotta get across Kansas, and the fires in Colorado (yes, it’s burning there, too) prevented the southern trek. So, I-70 it is. (And yes, an audiobook helps.)
St. Fidelis Cemetery – Victoria, KS
Heading east from Colorado, you may have seen the signs for the Catherdral of the Plains. OK – maybe you weren’t paying any attention. But next time, take the exit to see this amazing cemetary and stretch you legs. It will only take a few minutes and is well worth the time.
The historic St. Fidelis Cemetery north of Victoria, KS is filled with unique Volga German iron crosses, marking the the gravesites of the earliest burial locations. Using hammer, anvil and forge, the early German artisans crafted crosses of iron, steel and other metals, often from pieces of scrap material.
They are particularly suited as prairie monuments – unlike wooden crosses, the wrought iron or other metals were tough enough to withstand prairie fires, storms, even time itself. The cross represented the sacred; the iron represented strength — attributes of the pioneers they honored.
Lucas is THE hotbed of Kansas creativity. And they definitely don’t rest on their laurels. Current projects include the Bowl Plaza (a public restroom that is being designed to look like a giant toilet bowl (and covered in tile mosaic), a “fork” art garden, including a croquet lawn with fork wickets (created by local high schoolers) and a huge mural with the history of the Czechoslovakian immigrant experience, painted by Erika Nelson (of the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things fame)
A few weeks ago, the Grassroots Art Center (and the main street of town) were hit by straight-line winds causing the facade of the building to bow. Luckily, no art was damaged, but the building will need to undergo work.
The Garden of Eden - Samuel Perry (S.P.) Dinsmoor - Lucas, KS
Ahhh, the concrete crown jewel. The oldest complete self-taught artist’s environment in the country and on the National Register of Historic Places.
No, it’s not the one in the Bible, the one old S.P. Dinsmoor poured forth in his back yard with that miracle compound of its day – concrete! He was an old Civil War veteran (with a very young bride, but that’s another story) and one of those Kansas populists who liked to ruffle the status quo. He also just happened to have an amazing eye for sculpting, a passion he didn’t even indulge until he was in his sixties.
Built in 1905 and completed in 1927, Dinsmoor had the town’s only electric generator and lit the garden at night for all to see. Trains running between Kansas City and Denver would stop, passengers trekking the fields to ogle the spectacle and get an earful of Dinsmoor’s point of view.
Serpents, soldiers, Adam, Eve, the crucifixion of labor by societal forces . . . it’s all up there, enduring harsh Midwestern heat and cold, while the man himself lays on display in his coffin in a mausoleum out back. Populists believed that humor could help get people’s attention, and the sheer audacity of the Garden must have brought a lot of grins.
But the town wasn’t always crazy about it. At one point, there was serious talk of bulldozing the Garden down. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed. And Dinsmoor’s vision (or something in the water!) seemed to have rubbed off on more than a few others.
And if the art isn’t enough to get you to stop the car…when he died in 1933, Dinsmoor had himself embalmed and placed in a glass-sided coffin in the large limestone Mausoleum he’d built on the grounds in the 1920s. He’s buried there with his first wife and you can see him there on display when you take the tour. No pictures, please.
“[On Resurrection morn] if I have to go up, I have a cement angel outside, above the door, to take me up. If I have to go below, I’ll grab my [two-gallon cement] jug and fill it with water on the way down. I think I am well prepared for the good old orthodox future.”
“If the Garden of Eden is not right, Moses is to blame. He wrote it up and I built it.” – S.P. Dinsmoor