Kansas Centennial Items

If you thought you knew what you loved about Kansas, it’s time to take another look.The Kansas History Museum in Topeka is featuring “150 Things I Love About Kansas” as a special exhibit in conjunction with the state’s 2011 sesquicentennial celebration. The display of ordinary items (a pair of overalls made in Kansas and worn by a Kansas farmer) mixes with the extraordinary (the first known photo of a tornado from 1884) to inspire visitors to think about the variety of unique people, places and things that make Kansas a place to celebrate.

The “150” is divided into ten categories -selected because they either represent what Kansas is all about or what people think Kansas is about. The exhibit showcases more than the standard line on state history in hopes of upending some stereotypes and giving visitors new reasons to love the state. So, if you thought Kansas was just about the Wizard of Oz and the Wild West, you will find them among the favorites, but be prepared to be surprised. You may also find a reason to put the state’s varied landscapes or notorious weather on your list.

Curators want visitors to think of the exhibit as just a start. Visitors will be asked to contribute their own ideas on “Kansas Favorites” by stepping into a video booth near the end of the exhibit. The best of the video clips will actually become a part of Kansas history when they are posted on the Kansas Memory website alongside thousands of other pictures, letters and other primary sources related to the state’s past.

Of course the exhibit is also a lot of fun, giving you a chance to hear what Governor Brownback and other current-day famous Kansans think about the state and to see what kind of kitsch Kansans bought to celebrate the Centennial in 1961. You can also take a test to find out what kind of Kansas symbol you are most like: Honeybee? Meadowlark? Sunflower? Bison?, or take a moment to vote on your favorite artifact in the exhibit.

My vote goes to the sketch of an infamous Kansas character - hatchet-yielding prohibitionist Carrie Nation. This particular picture shows her with a black eye from a bar-busting brawl. Yet, she is wearing a huge bow and hat for her visit to the Governor’s office, where the sketch was completed.  I think it’s the look on her face that draws me in. She just appears so determined and willing to fight for her cause. It makes me think about the many other Kansans who have made our history what it is because of that same kind of character.

Kansas is nothing ordinary. This exhibit shows it has a lot to celebrate and a lot to love. “150 Things I Love About Kansas” opens January 28th, 2011 and runs until the end of the year.

Karen Ridder is a freelance writer living in Topeka. A former News Producer for KSNW-TV in Wichita, her work can also been seen in print publications including: Topeka Magazine, TK Magazine and the Topeka Capital-Journal. She has written for several national blogs and was recently recognized as one of the 2011 winners in the Annual Kansas Factual Story Contest. Karen has lived in Kansas for 15 years and married a native Wichitan. Together they are raising two little sunflower boys and a dog named George.