Hidden Treasures of Kansas

Border Gateways by Oscar Berninghaus

Fort Scott Post Office Mural 

Fort Scott Kansas is home to a little known national art treasure. Tucked away in the decommissioned federal courtroom on the second floor of the post office is a mural by Oscar E Berninghaus titled “Border Gateways.”

Berninghaus was born in 1874 in St. Louis. Self-taught, he sketched the St. Louis waterfront where tales from trappers and cowboys sparked a fascination with the old west. Best known for his work with the Taos Society of Artists, he also competed for commissions to decorate public buildings. In 1937, he won the commission for the Fort Scott Kansas federal court mural.

Often misidentified as “WPA art,” the post office and courtroom murals were commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts. “The Section,” as it was commonly called, was a project of the Treasury Department. The Section’s main function was to enhance public spaces with high quality works of art. Unlike WPA projects, artists were not chosen on the basis of need, but through nationwide competitions. There are 22 intact Section paintings and murals in Kansas.

The Fort Scott mural is in excellent condition – the colors clean and vibrant. It is hard to explain how big this painting is. My estimate was 24 feet by 8 feet. While not open to the public, post office personnel will proudly show it upon request. The post office is located at 120 South National Avenue in Fort Scott Kansas. You can call ahead and ask about a viewing at (620) 223-1410.

I sincerely thank Todd McDermed, Supervisor of Customer Services, and Postmaster Robert Vacca for the chance to view this hidden treasure of Kansas.

Dinosaurs Invade Kansas - Hometown Jurassic Park

A true homegrown treasure awaits those who decide to cut east or west between Highway 59 and Highway 169 via Route 47.  About a mile west of Highway 59, a local family has created their own Jurassic Park. A herd of metal dinosaurs roam and graze on their property, delighting people like me. 

Finally, after driving past the site two days a week while working on an assignment in Independence,  I couldn't take it anymore and pulled in across the road. (Note: Be careful! Depending on what time of day it is, this highway is busy!). Standing on the roadbank, I took these photos. It didn't look like anyone was home, so I stayed on the highway side of the property line. Next spring I want to introduce myself and hopefully get close ups of this amazing artistic wonderland. I believe most of these critters are made of cast-off oil rig parts. If you know differently, please leave a comment.

Apatosaurus is looking for a snack 

An Apatosaurus grazes in the trees. The mobile home in the background gives you some scale. Even so, I can't describe how huge this sculpture is. 

Yes this really is their yard 

While the big dinosaurs are occupied, the smaller ones roam and sun themselves.

The mighty Mastadon 

What kid wouldn't want a pet Mastadon in his backyard?

The herd senses my presence 

Uh oh . . . Raptors . . . 

T Rex surveys his Kingdom 

At the east end of the property, a Tyrannosaurus Rex rules supreme. The T-Rex tail is a masterpiece. The machine parts look just like vertebrae. And kudos to the artist for building T-Rex in the correct posture.

Stop and Read the Signs Part I

I love signs - whether they are crazy, serious, elegant, nostalgic or unintentionally funny. This week I'm starting a new series where I will share some of my favorites. Is there an interesting sign near you that I should come and photograph or you think I would like? Let me know in the comments.

Route 66 near Miami Oklahoma 

Route 66 is a hobby of mine. I've driven the entire length, from Chicago to Santa Monica (once I drove from Tulsa to Santa Rosa New Mexico because I wanted an omelette.) This sign near Miami Oklahoma always makes me smile. Finally, one day, I stopped, and yes, there is nine feet of cracked pavement. One of my friends calls it the "World's Shortest Drag Strip." 

 I bet Elsie made a great tater roll in SE Kansas 

When I had someone in the hospital at the old St. John's in Joplin, I passed by the former home of "Elsie's Homemade Tater Rolls" several times a week. Nothing but a small foundation left now, but I bet her tater rolls were something!

 FEMA Trailer Park near Joplin Missouri 

Not much to laugh about in Joplin this last year. However, I spotted this sign at one of the FEMA trailer camps on the north side of the city. And, no, it is not a joke. The sign in the background reads "EY Street."  I have to confess, if I lived here, that sign would mysteriously disappear one night, never to be seen again, unless you came into my office. Hey, I didn't do it. I just thought about it!

Uncovering Hidden Treasures

Terri CoopWelcome to "Hidden Treasures of Kansas." I'm a transplanted Californian who made my way to Kansas with stops in Chicago, Virginia, and Oklahoma. I came to Fort Scott in 2001 and still marvel at the architectural treasures tucked away on the side streets.

My work takes me around southeast Kansas and I take the back roads whenever I can. My wanderings are always rewarding. A graceful house. A charming cottage. A stunning church. A gothic courthouse. Even the abandoned and faded buildings have an air of dignity and mystery to them. Sometimes it's just a bit of fancy woodwork or a stone carving that makes an otherwise ordinary building unique. Sadly, too many of these treasures are being lost to time, neglect, and shoddy repairs.

Armed with my trusty camera, I'll take you along on my wanderings and give some suggestions on places you might like to visit. Where I can, I will throw in some historical tidbits. Be prepared for some humor as well. Not everything in Kansas is graceful.

If you see something and know more of the story, please leave a comment. The heritage of Kansas is shared and everyone has a piece of the story.

Queen Anne
Victorian mansion:  Fort Scott, Kansas 

At first, you'll see quite a bit of my hometown, Fort Scott, as I sort through and catalog all of my photos. This stunning and immaculately maintained Victorian mansion is located on the 500 block of South Judson Street in Fort Scott. Tucked away on a quiet side street, this painted lady with her fancy rose marble pillars is just the first of many hidden treasures in Kansas.