The Martin + Osa Johnson Story - Chanute
I find Martin & Osa Johnson to be among the most fascinating couples in Kansas’ history. Their love story was built for a big screen as these southeast Kansas sweethearts won the hearts of millions across the world with their pioneering spirit and exotic adventures.
Martin Johnson grew up in Lincoln and Independence, where his passion for travel was ignited as his father, a jeweler, would receive crates from faraway lands, prompting Martin to stow away on a ship to Europe as a teenager. Soon after, Martin would travel the world as a chef on Jack London’s 45-foot boat from 1907 to 1909. When Martin returned, he would spend his time showcasing the photographs and artifacts he collected in a traveling exhibit. It was while he was in Chanute displaying his worldly collection that he met Osa. Although it wasn’t loved at first sight for Osa, Martin & Osa married a few months after meeting in May of 1910.
The Johnsons had plans to operate the Snark Theaters in Independence, but Martin was destined to live a life of travel and exploration. His passion was enough to convince Osa to give the expedition lifestyle a chance. In 1917, they left for their first trip together to the South Seas, resulting in their first movie, Among the Cannibals of the South Pacific, premiering in 1918. Martin & Osa would then go on several African safaris over the next few years exploring Uganda, Serengeti Plains, Belgian Congo, and Borneo.
Over their career, the Johnsons made eight feature movies, published nine books, and had a photography portfolio in the thousands. Upon returning home, they lectured throughout the United States, telling honest and real depictions of their explorations in a time when far-off lands were out of reach for ordinary people. You can learn more about Martin & Osa’s incredible life by visiting the Martin & Osa Johnson Safari Museum, in Chanute, Kansas. You can see artifacts from their travels, read fascinating snippets about their wanderlust life, and get an inside look at the tribes and people that welcomed and entrusted this adventurous couple into their world to be some of the first photojournalists to document the cultural diversity amongst humanity.
The museum is in downtown Chanute where you can find local retail gems, a classic car collection at Howard’s Toys for Big Boys, eateries (I had a delicious panini with hand-cut fries at The Outsiders Bar and Grill), grab an ol’ fashioned soda at Cardinal Drug Store, or even a community-wide festival, like their Artist Alley Festival that spans several blocks. Be sure to stop and see the Google Earth street mural commemorating Chanute as the Center of Google Earth on Apple products at the intersection of Main and Lincoln.