Hutchinson is home to two of the Eight Wonders of Kansas. One of the finalists in that contest was a residence in the tiny town of Lucas (population 430). The highway sign might conjure images of a journey to the beginning of time, but Lucas's Eden is a 20th-century project.
Lucas is a fly-in delight. Nothing in town is more than 3/4 mile from the
airport, and there's a diner right next to the runway. This is the first
house we saw in Lucas. Like many houses in town, it uses post rock
abundantly. Every school kid knows that Kansas homesteaders first lived in
sod houses because there were hardly any trees. Homesteaders needed fences,
too, but how to build them? In this part of the state, there is abundant
limestone fairly close to the surface. Limestone is soft enough to work with
hand tools when it's first quarried, but it hardens as it weathers. There
are hundreds of miles of stone fence posts in this part of Kansas.
Samuel Perry Dinsmoor was born in 1843, in Ohio. He read the Bible from cover to cover twice, before he was 16. As a Union Army medic in the Civil War, he was profoundly moved by the slaughter he witnessed first hand. Dinsmoor was in at least a dozen major battles, including Gettysburg and Robert E. Lee's last stand at Appomattox. After the war, he returned to Ohio and joined the Masonic Lodge, another major influence on his thoughts about religion and philosophy.
In 1866, Dinsmoor moved to Illinois, where he married Frances Barlow Journey. On horseback. A widow with two young children, she gave him five more children of his own. They moved to Lucas in 1888 and worked a farm there. When Dinsmoor retired from farming about twenty years later, he moved to town and built a house that he meant to be a source of income as well as a residence.
He called his house Cabin Home, but it isn't built of wood. The construction
is of Kansas postrock limestone. The stones are cut in the shape of logs, and
used to build the house in exactly the way one would build a log cabin. The
trim isn't wood, either - it's concrete. But one of the porch columns, seen
in this picture, is made to resemble a tree trunk, complete with knots.
Dinsmoor did this because, in his own words, "I ... thought ... if I was a
girl on the porch, and my fellow down below, if he could not climb that post,
with all these knots, I would fire him and get one that could."
Dinsmoor built a hollow pipe into a sculpture in his yard, with one end near his front gate and the other in the master bedroom. He used it to speak to visitors who came by to view his work. He had a lot of fun with it, and it was effective at luring people in.
These decorations were added during Prohibition years. Dinsmoor used beer bottles for molds, breaking the glass away when the cement hardened. He reasoned that if Americans couldn't drink, they could at least look at the contents of his beer bottles.
Passing a deer in the front yard (it once had antlers), the visitor sees that the house's main floor was obviously designed for entertainment. Over 3000 feet of oak, redwood, and walnut were used to make elaborate mouldings and baseboards. No two doors or windows are built the same size.
Since this story was written, the Kohler Foundation has restored the Garden of Eden and recreated Miller's Park, a sculpture garden and rest stop that once stood by the state highway at Lucas. Dinsmoor's buck not only has antlers again, but he also got his ears back. These photos show the property as we saw it in 2008.
The house is surrounded by reinforced concrete sculptures, beginning with the Tree of Life that forms the gate to Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden. He worked on this project just over twenty years, from 1907 to 1928, using over 113 tons of cement. Two snakes form the grape arbor. One is giving Eve the apple.
But Adam's snake didn't have an apple, so he got mad and stepped on its head. If Adam looks familiar, it's because Dinsmoor used himself as a model. Adam and Eve were originally naked, but the people of Lucas complained. So Eve got a cloak, and Adam got the sculptor's Masonic apron.
Dinsmoor began his work as a whimsical interpretation of Bible stories. In 1914, the Ludlow Massacre changed his direction, almost overnight. At the low point of the Colorado Coal Field War, National Guardsmen, paid by Rockefellers, opened fire on striking miners and their families. Then they set fire to the miners' tent city. Eleven women and children were burned to death in a pit they had dug as a hiding place beneath one of the tents. The President sent in Federal troops, which restored order; but the union did not gain recognition, and the miners ended up no better off than before.
Dinsmoor was always a populist, but the Ludlow Massacre re-awakened his antagonism toward monopolies with a vengeance, This is part of Survival of the Fittest, a series that shows how one animal is always after another. A fox is chasing a bird, which is after a worm that is eating a leaf. On the other side of the concrete tree, a dog is chasing the fox. An Indian is aiming at the dog from another tree, and elsewhere a soldier is taking a shot at the Indian. Finally, there is a girl who is after the soldier. But it isn't done yet. There is an octopus, named Trust, who has a tentacle wrapped around the girl's waist. Another tentacle reaches into the soldier's backpack, stealing his rations.
There are several concrete flags around the property. This one is on a ball
bearing mount. Dinsmoor wanted to sell concrete flags to the public. They
would tolerate any weather, and with lights could even be "flown" at night.
Dinsmoor devised a special technique to add color to the concrete, but he kept
it to himself. Whatever it was, it's held up for almost a hundred years.
The bird at the top of the flagpole is a turkey. There are other statues of turkeys on the property. Like Ben Franklin, Dinsmoor believed that the turkey was a better symbol for America than the eagle.
Many of the statues are in the "trees" above Second Street.
Labor Crucified. This was the last sculpture added to the garden; it is known to be incomplete. Dinsmoor was past 80 when he began it, and his cataracts were beginning to blind him. Adding a bit of humor to the work's bitter political statement, Dinsmoor modelled the Lawyer's face after his own. Again quoting the artist,
I believe Labor has been crucified between a thousand grafters ever since Labor begun, but I could not put them all up, so I have put up only the leaders - Lawyer, Doctor, Preacher and Banker. I do not say they are all grafters, but I do say they are the leaders of all who eat cake by the sweat of the other fellow's face. The Lawyer interprets the law. The Doctor has his knife ready to carve up the bones. The Preacher is saying to this poor fellow crucified, "Never mind your suffering here on earth, my friend, never mind your suffering here, secure home in heaven for A-l-l E-t-e-r-n-i-t-y and you'll be all right." This is the stuff he is giving Labor for his cake. ... What fools we be to sweat to give the other fellow cake. The Banker has the money, takes the interest and breaks up more people than any other class.
There was a pool in the garden in Dinsmoor's day, but it's gone now. When he drilled for water, he hit the city water main. Deciding that his spring had especially good water, he enjoyed it for a few years before the government figured out what was going on and made him repair the pipe.
It was no accident that Dinsmoor made his home and garden in the very center of town. It was a short walk from the main street, and visible from the railroad track. The project was a popular attraction, and Dinsmoor was always ready to stop his work to entertain a visitor – for a fee. He also saw them well fed, but read carefully:
This is my visitors' dining hall where they eat lunch. 21 ft. square, concrete floor, roof and tables. No wood used except the seats. The tables are 4 feet wide and 17½ feet long. A good well of water adjoining [the aforementioned "spring"]. Over 1000 visitors have eaten dinner at my tables and not one has ever complained of their grub, something I don't think any hotel man in Kansas can boast of. They don't seem to know how to run their hotel without complaint. If I were running a hotel I would let them furnish their own grub as I do here. There are 4 lights over the tables and 4 lights about 20 feet above the roof, which light up the tables and yard at night.
There was even a little zoo. The structure on the left held badgers, owls,
and pigeons. The badger pen goes five feet below ground, with a concrete
floor. Four feet above ground is a pen for a monkey-faced owl. The top tier
held 28 pigeon roosts.
The right-hand structure is the coyote and eagle roost, ten feet square. The coyote den goes three feet below ground level. Obviously, the eagles got the second floor.
One of the prime draws to this site is a little eerie - Samuel Dinsmoor's mausoleum. Its construction is similar to the house, like a log cabin but triangular. Dinsmoor's wife died long before he did, but the town fathers didn't want him to inter her on his property. So he buried her conventionally, in the local cemetery. Then he dug her up one night, put her in the mausoleum, and covered her over in concrete. There was no question after that, that she would remain there forever. His own tomb is directly above hers. Part of his enclosure is glass, and visitors may view his remains today. His body was mummified when he died.
No photography is permitted within the mausoleum. Visitors to the site can sign a guest book. All of those books since the site was opened are stored in a small locked compartment just above the coffin. The photo at right, displayed in the dining pavilion, is a double exposure that Dinsmoor had printed as a postcard. He is looking at his own body in the same cement coffin where he now lies in his mausoleum.
Dinsmoor's wife died in 1917, about halfway through his magnum opus. Alone and deep in his work, Dinsmoor hired a young Czech immigrant as housekeeper. She was Emilie Brozek, whom he married when she reached twenty years of age. He was 81 at the time. They had two children, who are alive today – possibly the last living children of a Civil War veteran. His daughter Emily has said that her life story will begin with the words, "I was the first child born in the Garden of Eden." His son John is a highly decorated veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Dinsmoor said of his second marriage,
An old man needs a nurse, a young man wants a companion. I got both. And notwithstanding the predictions of almost all our acquaintances and visitors who came to see this place that we would not live together a year, we are still living together, and the prospects are that we'll still live together until my wife puts me in the mausoleum. I was 81 years and she was 20 years old when we were married.
S.P. Dinsmoor died in 1932. We saw him in his mausoleum, so we know his second wife kept her promise about his funeral. She remarried in 1933, and lived until 1995. She is buried in Excelsior Springs, Mo.
All of the Dinsmoor quotes are from a delightful guidebook that can be bought at the site, Pictorial History of the Cabin Home in Garden of Eden.
This story was written in 2008. Dinsmoor's two youngest children both died in 2013, Emily D. Stevens in March (88 years) and John Dinsmoor in November (85). There are still a few known living children of Civil War Veterans, all very old. The U.S. government protects their identities.
"Outsider Art" refers to works produced by self-taught artists, particularly those with no formal training. The term sometimes also refers to any art that's outside the mainstream. S.P. Dinsmoor was a prime example of an outsider artist. The Garden of Eden laid the foundation for Lucas to become a haven for outsider art. At the Field of Art, outsider art is also outside art. We enjoyed the sculpture there while we waited for a gallery to open. (The truck is part of the display.)
As we approached this part of the display, several very agitated birds flew around and dived at us. This was our first encounter with Kansas's state bird, the meadowlark. It didn't take long to find the reason for the activity. One of the sculptures had a practical use for them.
Outsider Art is also called Grassroots Art. This is the Grassroots Art Center, and they know what they want (second photo). The sign in the window advertises The Great Toilet Seat Art Show and Auction, to be held in October 2008. The proceeds will be used to build a public restroom. This is a project to fill a need recognized by the art center's directors. Lucas gets a lot of visitors, but there isn't enough provision for one of life's basic needs. Several painted toilet seats are already on display inside.
The Grassroots Art Center also owns the Deeble House and Garden, which is also the home of artist Mri Pilar. If the house's appearance didn't alert you that it's a bit unusual, this sign on a tree removes all doubt.
Florence Deeble grew up around the corner from S.P. Dinsmoor while he was building the Garden of Eden. She was a school teacher who travelled a lot, bringing home rocks from around the world. When she was about 50, she began to use these rocks to make sculptures in her garden, sort of three-dimensional "postcards" to remind her of her travels. She lived another 50 years, adding to her collection the whole time.
Mrs. Deeble built the organ as a tribute to the Lucas Band. Each of the little white tablets beneath the steps has a statement about one of her ancestors. Together, they tell the history of her family, and a little bit about Lucas.
Mrs. Deeble lived almost 100 years, until 1999. Three years after she died,
Mri Pilar came to live in the house.
Feelings about her presence here are
This garage is her studio.
The fence is white. It was erected by the neighbor to block the view of the
bright orange paint you see reflected from the garage.
Some of Pilar's work is on display at the Grassroots Art Center,
but much more of it is here, in the front yard and inside the house. It all
uses recycled materials.
Here's a different point of view about Mri Pilar and the Deeble home.
The fork motif is taken to extreme with Pilar's installation in the Field of
Art, American Fork Art. (If you'd like a closer look, there's a much
larger version of this picture
here). The art center is running a contest, looking for the most
photos people have taken of themselves with this display. The path in
front of the installation will eventually lead to public rest rooms, when that
project is finished.
Not all of the forks are behind the path. When the work is done, there will be a complete set of croquet wickets.
on to Dodge City