This Saturday’s tour of north central Kansas brought us to some of our state’s unique historical sites and geographic oddities that made for an excellent mini-road trip. Eight folks from the Prairie Fire meetup piled into two vehicles and set off for a day of defying the cold and avoiding home.
The first stop was the Concordia World War II Prisoner of War camp. We met a guide who gave us a private tour of one of the few remaining original buildings at the camp. Over 40,000 German soldiers were held here in what turns out to be a surprisingly compassionate story of Americans treating their enemies with care and respect. The prisoners were treated so well that few ever tried to escape and many stayed or returned to the area after the war.
Our second stop was the National Orphan Train museum. Here we learned the sad story of poverty and squalid, overcrowded streets in the mid-1800s that led to countless abandoned children living on the streets of New York. Charles Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society to help the homeless youth improve their lot in life. One tactic was a train that would place thousands of kids with willing families throughout the rest of the country. The museum, while mostly text-based, did a good job of preserving the records and history of this unique story. Occasionally they hold events in which actual orphans that rode the train talk to the public.
We ate lunch at Heavy’s BBQ where some of us devoured large piles of sauce-drenched meat’ while the vegetarians scored cheap meals consisting of side dishes. Everyone was relatively happy.
Next was the Pawnee Indian Museum. They had intended to close for the day, citing impassable snow drifts as the reason. But we convinced the lone staff member that our group had journeyed a long ways and he must let us in. He yielded and gave us a quick tour. The museum was a building constructed around the site of an ancient earth lodge of the Pawnee tribe. The ground in the middle remained undisturbed, with various artifacts lying as they were found during the excavation.
Back in the cars, we drove to the geographic center of the lower 48 Untied States. The exact spot was determined in the 1930s, according to Wikipedia, by scientists who made a cardboard cutout of the US and balanced it on a pin. There was a stone marker, flag pole, stone post arch, and a little chapel.
Finally, conveniently on the way home was the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City. It was pretty neat.