There’s more than Dorothy in Kansas

The Oz Museum is just the beginning of this family destination

By Phyllis Steinberg

“Follow the yellow brick road to Kansas,” Dorothy says to her companions in the 1939 hit movie, The Wizard of Oz. Well, I did just that and discovered many wonderful unexpected treasures on my journey.

Among those treasures is the OZ Museum, located in Wamego, a small Kansas community. The museum opened in 2004 and contains more than 2,000 Oz artifacts. The non-profit museum was built with a grant from the state of Kansas and the citizens of Wamego. Local resident, Tod Machin was a big Oz fan and a collector of Oz memorabilia and donated his massive collection to the museum. That was just the beginning.

The Oz Museum has everything from the early books by L. Frank Baum, which were the inspiration for the movie to board games and props. All of the unforgettable Oz characters are there, too! The characters are beautifully sculpted out of wood, colorfully costumed and placed in settings from the movie. A fully stocked gift shop of Oz memorabilia, from handbags to lunch boxes and books and pens, is fun for visitors to browse when they leave the museum, as they shop for souvenirs for friends and family.

Next door to the Oz museum is another unexpected treasure, the Columbian Theater, which has a collection of murals and artifacts from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The Columbian produces plays throughout the year and you guessed it, an annual performance of the The Wizard of Oz.

Following the yellow brick road I stopped in Atchison, and paid a visit to the home of Amelia Earhart. Born in 1897 in Atchinson, Earhart was the first woman to attempt to fly around the world. Earhart was a woman’s libber, long from the term ever came into use. She loved to fly and when she married, she had a pre-nuptial agreement drawn up stating that she would be allowed to continue her aviation career, a bold move for a woman in the early 1900’s in Kansas.

The 1860’s home of the famous aviator has been authentically resorted and is a museum and national Historic Site. It overlooks the Missouri River and contains many mementos of Earhart’s aviation career.

Continuing on the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, is the world’s largest surviving tallgrass prairie. The 11,000-acre Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City protects a tallgrass ecosystem. A park ranger takes groups into the Preserve and explains about the 450 species that make their home there from wildflowers to birds and reptiles. These beautiful prairie lands are located 85 miles north of Wichita on Kansas State Highway 177. Here, I connected with nature under sunny skies and could hear the sounds of grasshoppers and crickets, unfamiliar sounds for a big city dweller, like myself from Florida. The grass was taller in spots and towered high above me.

Don’t plan a visit to Kansas without planning a day at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, located in Hutchinson, Kansas. A highlight of my visit to Kansas, the Center houses the most significant collection of U.S. Space artifacts outside of the National Air and Space Museum and the largest collection of Soviet space artifacts in the Western world. This interesting family attraction tells the history of the space race in an innovative way for adults and school-age children. I was fascinated by the exhibits and the information they contained. The Cosmosphere also has an Elderhostel Astronaut Training Program where seniors can learn how to train as an astronaut with equipment acquired from the U.S. Space Center. The Cosmosphere’s collection includes the Apollo 13 Command Module, Odyssey, the SR-71 Blackbird and Russian rockets.

I even saw Egyptian mummies and dinosaurs in Kansas. The Museum of World Treasures in Wichita has priceless gems from around the world. The museum, owned by a local retired physician, has mementos from presidents, prehistoric dinosaurs, Asian art, weapons from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam, wild west exhibit, and more. If you plan on visiting Wichita, check out this fun and different museum of unexpected treasures.

Kansas has a tradition of cowboys and celebrating that tradition is the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper where barbecued beef with all the fixins are served family style by cowboys. There is also family entertainment with cowboys singing and telling jokes. The Prairie Rose also has a Hopalong Cassidy Museum on the premises and theaters that show old cowboy movies. It’s a fun tourist attraction and also a working cowboy ranch located in Benton, Kansas.

Another local Kansas pastime is spending an evening at a local café. The small town of Cottonwood Falls has the Emma Chase Café. Here, the townsfolk enjoy home-cooking in a delightful country kitchen atmosphere where the food is hearty and the prices are low. You can have a slice of homemade pie for $2. And along with your pie is great local entertainment at no additional charge. The band sings and strums cowboy tunes and all kinds of music and someone is bound to show up playing spoons in the band.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower was born in Abiline, Kansas and a visit to the Eisenhower Center in Abiline is a must for every Kansas tourist. The Presidential Museum contains mementos of Eisenhower’s life from his childhood through his presidential years. American history comes to life in this wonderful museum. The Eisenhower Center also has the boyhood home of the former president and the Place of Meditation, where he and his wife, Mamie and son, Doud are buried. There is also a Visitors Center where souvenirs can be purchased and a Research Library.

After a day at the Eisenhower Center at Abiline, a worthwhile endeavor for lunch or dinner is the famous Brookville Hotel, which has been serving fried chicken dinners since 1870. The chicken is delicious and is all you can eat with generous portions of mashed potatoes, creamy corn and hot biscuits. If you like chicken, you won’t find any better than at this landmark hotel.

Just to set the record straight, there are two Kansas cities, one is Kansas City, Kansas and the other is Kansas City, Missouri. When you fly into Kansas City International Airport, you are right in between these two cities.

I also opted to take a 40-minute ride to Independence, Missouri, home of former president, Harry Truman. Independence is a great family destination. I enjoyed a visit to the Truman Presidential Library and also to the Truman home where the former president spent a good many years of his life. In fact, his hat and coat are still hanging on a rack in the hall.

The Truman Presidential Library has fascinating exhibits of the Cold War years, spies in government, post war America and the election year decisions made by presidents and what guides them. It also has exhibits about Truman’s early years and how he spent his retirement. The gallery on what a president’s job is especially informative for school age children.

The White House in Miniature exhibit will be at the Truman Presidential Library until July 9, 2006 and is a breathtaking scale model of the White House and all of its rooms with painstaking reproduced original furnishings.

I stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast in Independence called the Woodstock Inn. Owners Todd and Patricia Justice make guests feel right at home in their comfy residence. They also served a great hot breakfast, including a delicious frittata . I stayed in the Oriental Suite which had a Jacuzzi, four poster antique Asian bed and a fireplace. I highly recommend this bed and breakfast for those planning a visit to Independence.

Photos by Phyllis Steinberg



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