Laci M. Gerhart Barley

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Kansas Ambassador

(facepalm)

(facepalm)

When someone mentions the state of Kansas, the conversation often jumps to The Wizard of Oz, with, perhaps a witty aside for the Largest Ball of Twine (see note at bottom of page). While I have nothing personal against twine, I do have a serious dislike for the Wizard of Oz, if only because people seem to always think they are the first person to make the connection between my home state and poor, young Dorothy. This was not helped by the fact that, for some time, our state slogan was “Land of ah’s.” In fact, Kansas has a very rich history and many (non-twine related) attractions for the curious visitor. The University of Kansas has a weekend getaway called the Wheat State Whirlwind Tour which offers new faculty and staff the chance to see such Kansas interests as the Tallgrass National Prairie Nature Preserve and the Brown vs Topeka BOE historical site.

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Posing with the Dorothy II in the Salt Museum. Visitors  wear a hard hat, and a ‘personal breather’ (which can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen) in case of cave-ins in the mine.

My hometown of Hutchinson, KS houses the Underground Salt Museum, taking visitors 650 feet underground to view 275 million year old salt deposits. This museum educates visitors on the history and methodology of salt mining, highlights unique geologic formations, and underground storage. Since the Cold War, unused portions of the mine have been used to store sensitive information and assets. The mine shaft is located far enough underground to be protected from both natural disasters, and ground-level bombings, and also provides constant humidity and temperature – the ideal place for long-term storage. Today, Underground Vaults & Storage uses abandoned mine shafts to house government documents (from numerous countries),  personal items of value (similar to a very-expensive bank deposit box), and a large collection of TV and film memorabilia. In fact, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum is the largest single storage facility for movie and television film internationally. It houses the original film reels of both Gone With the Wind, and (ironically) The Wizard of Oz. Numerous famous movie pieces are on display in the museum, such as George Clooney’s costume from Batman & Robin, Brad Pitt’s shield and spear from Troy, and (also ironically) the Dorothy II data collector from Twister.

The Cosmosphere, in all it's sunset glory

The Cosmosphere, in all it’s sunset glory

Oddly enough, Kansas is home to one of (if not THE) leading space museums in the country, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. The Cosmosphere is one of only three museums in the world to house a spacecraft from each of the three manned missions; Apollo 13 (Apollo Missions), Gemini X (Gemini Missions), and the Liberty Bell 7 (Mercury Missions) which was famously lost at sea for nearly 40 years before being recovered and repaired. The first time I took my husband to the Cosmosphere, I so surprised him with my excitement for these artifacts that he now refers to my excited face as my “Apollo Face.”

Other pieces of note in the Cosmosphere include the rare V-1 and V-2 German rockets from WWI, Sputnik 1 and 2, a 109-foot Titan rocket (clearly visible in the photo at right), a moon rock collected on the Apollo 11 mission, a Russian Vostok spacecraft, and the largest collection of Russian space artifacts outside of Moscow. The main entrance was also built around an SR-71 Blackbird, which (prepare yourself), you are even allowed to touch.

Kansas vs Missouri

In addition to promoting the state in general, I have also made it my personal mission to make sure that everyone I meet understands the true foundations of our pure, unadulterated, and unapologetic hatred for the state of Missouri. This is not, I repeat NOT, an athletic, university-based rivalry (see second note at bottom of page).  Our mutual dislike stems from the pre-Civil War fight over slavery. Specifically, the bloody battles that led to the nickname Bleeding Kansas. Here is the abbreviated version: the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 gave the two states (KS and NE) the right to determine whether they would enter the union as a slave state or a free state. Previously, state’s slavery status had been determined by the Constitution or, more recently, the Missouri Compromise. This democratic approach resulted in lots of fighting and mass migrations of people (both abolotionists and pro-slavery folk) to Kansas to help sway the vote. For some time, Kansas actually had two capitals: Lawrence was the free-state capital, and Lecompton was the slave-state capital. In the early 1860s, a group of Missourians called the Bushwhackers (seriously, I didn’t make that up) and led by William Quantrill raided Lawrence twice, both times burning much of the city and killing numerous civilians. In retaliation, a group of Jayhawkers led by John Brown (before his body lay a mouldrin’ in the grave) raided pro-slavery strongholds in Kansas and Missouri and did pretty much the same thing. Eventually, the abolitionist movement won out and Kansas entered the Union as a free state in 1861.

This mural of John Brown by John Stuart Curry, titled Tragic Prelude hangs in the Kansas capital building in Topeka.

This mural of John Brown by John Stuart Curry, titled Tragic Prelude hangs in the Kansas capital building in Topeka.

Over time, the bloody battles between Kansas and Missouri distilled into a sports-based rivalry between University of Kansas and University of Missouri athletic teams. Interestingly, the University of Missouri mascot (the tigers) also originated in the Civil War. The name stems from a Columbia ‘home guard’ (loosely trained militia) that fortified the city against potential guerrilla raids from abolitionists (according to the MU traditions webpage, the Tiger’s defining glory was preparation for a battle that never actually occurred). University of Kansas students are loathe to forget Bleeding Kansas, and also claim the moral high ground of having fought against slavery. Though John Brown was admittedly a crazy mo-fo (I dare you to find a single portrait or photograph of him that does NOT have crazy eyes), the above mural has become iconic, and was recently used in the most clever Allen Fieldhouse student signage I have ever seen. The photo below is from the 2009 KU vs MU game, the season after we won the NCAA Championship. If you can’t tell, that’s the national trophy in JB’s left hand. When the University of Missouri left the Big XII in 2012, Jayhawks interpreted this as a formal forfeiting of all contests, proving once again that good always triumphs over evil. 

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Note: There is some debate as to whether or not Kansas truly houses the Largest Ball of Twine. The Largest Ball of Twine Rolled by a Community is in Cawker City, KS. The Largest Ball of Twine Rolled by One Man resides in Darwin, Minnesota. The Heaviest Ball of Twine lives in Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin. A millionnaire from Texas created yet another ball (that was not rolled at all, but built with “a system of pulleys”) which was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the true Largest Ball of Twine, and which resides in Branson, Missouri. None of these are to be confused with the various Largest Balls of String.

Note 2: Now that I’m at Kansas State University, I have discovered that K-State views KU as a major rival. This is generally not reciprocated by KU. There is no room in our hearts for dislike of anyone but Missouri. The KU-KState rivalry IS an athletic, university-based rivalry. KU wants to win when we play them, but beyond that, we have little dislike for the university or any of it’s members. Wildcats often feel differently, as they have no other rivalries.