Sunday, September 6, 2015

Getting Out of Dodge

September 3, 2015(more photos to come)

We woke up this morning in the Walmart parking lot, and tried not to spend too much extra time there. We headed for the Boot Hill Museum and Front Street just after 9am, and drove the few blocks through town. We were surprised to be driving on streets paved with bricks—we learned at the museum that Dodge City has a LOT of streets paved this way.

The museum consists of about 30 buildings, some of which are original buildings, and most of which are replicas of the original buildings in Dodge City, copied carefully from photographs. It was remarkably well done and we were there for a couple of hours altogether. We entered the Museum through the Great Western Hotel, which contained the ticket office and the gift shop, plus a small movie room where we watched a short video about the history of Dodge City. From there, we walked upstairs and out of the building onto the top of Boot Hill, where “they were buried with their boots on.” There are no actual graves there anymore (the bodies were moved when the town expanded), but there was information about a number of people who HAD been buried there. No one died of old age—most of them were shot in brawls.
Joe in the Long Branch Saloon.

Next we went into a building containing exhibits called “People of the Plains.” This had displays about the Native Americans who first lived in Kansas, tributes to the soldiers, the buffalo hunters, and the railroad, a collection of Victorian clothing, a tribute to the early settlers, and a portrayal of Dodge City’s influence on Hollywood, including a 1950s living room with a period tv playing “Gunsmoke”.

The rest of the museum consisted of buildings along what was then Front Street. Inside all of them were exhibits corresponding with the type of business it had been. In the General Store, several types of items were for sale (for real, I mean!) and in the Long Branch Saloon, we could buy drinks. The lady running the saloon told us a bit about it, including the fact that one of the owners came from Long Branch, NJ, which is where it got its name.  We continued from the saloon through the backs of all the buildings. In Morris Collar’s Dry Good Store, we saw the types of ready-made clothing and the dress making items the shop would have had. The “Tonsorial Parlor” had barbers’ chairs; the gunsmith’s shop had a collection of firearms, the Dodge City Jail had displays about many of the more disreputable citizens of Dodge, including information about the “soiled doves” who lived there. There was a Drug Store, a newspaper office, a boot shop, the State Bank, and the undertaker’s supplies. All of these buildings housed collections appropriate to the period, as well as a lot of information about the individual lives of the particular citizens who lived in town—we learned their names, where they came from, and what they were like. It was really quite fascinating.
Tonsorial Shop

There were additional buildings as well—the one room schoolhouse, the blacksmith shop, the Hardesty House (which we wandered through to see what life was like at home for one of Dodge’s wealthiest citizens), and the First Union Church. In the church, there was a display about all of the religious groups in Dodge. That was where we found out that in the 1880s, a Passover seder was held at the home of Morris Collar, the dry goods merchant, and that “a good number” of citizens had celebrated the Jewish New Year. 

When we finally finished at the museum, it was lunchtime, so we ate before hitting the road and “getting the hell out of Dodge.” The rest of the afternoon, until just about 4pm, we drove through Kansas countryside—flat, and fairly uninteresting. After about an hour or so, we finally got to I-70, and even the diversion of small town main streets, which had slowed us but provided local interest, was ended.
Front Street Restoration (the original was destroyed by fire)
Then suddenly I saw a billboard—“Visit the Oz Museum.” I looked it up, and discovered that in about an hour, we would be passing the exit for Wamego, KS, where there is a museum containing a lot of memorabilia and information about The Wizard of Oz—both the books and the movie(s). The reviews on TripAdvisor etc were very good, so we decided to stop there. The museum was open until 6:00pm, but we didn’t make it there until about 5:20. We jumped out of the rv as fast as we could and rushed into the museum.
We entered the Land of Oz through the farmhouse door

We realized within 5 minutes that we could have easily spent several hours there—it was so full of fascinating stuff! I myself tried to spend less time looking at all the Oz memorabilia that had been marketed (just like popular books and movies end up today with everything from lunch boxes to board games and “Oz peanut butter”) and ignored the life-size replicas of Dorothy and all her friends. Instead, I focused on the information about Frank L. Baum and his books, and details about the making of the 1939 movie. There were 3 films to watch (including one from the Smithsonian), and I only caught snippets of the first two. I finally spent the most time with the one detailing what went into making the original movie. The full-length movie itself plays in the theater in the back of the museum, but I totally ignored that, since of course I’ve seen it many times. The snippets in the display films made it so tantalizing to want to watch again, however.

One really amazing tidbit of information: At some point, Frank Morgan, who played the Wizard, found a jacket which he thought was perfect for Professor Marvel (one of his alternate characters) to wear. It wasn’t until later that he noticed that inside, there was a label which said “Frank L Baum.” He was able to confirm with Baum’s widow and tailer that the jacket had, indeed, belonged to the author of the original Oz books!

The exhibits included posters, features on the lives of all the actors, toys and dolls, and at one point, we walked through a replica of the Haunted Forest—it was VERY well done and VERY spooky, along with the sign at the beginning, “I’d turn back if I were you!” The very end of the museum had cases devoted to other versions of the story (“The Wiz”, “Wicked”) but I really didn’t look at them either. At about 6:10, the woman who had let us in came to tell us that she really did have to turn off the videos and lock up the museum. We had to skip the gift shop, which had what looked like some wonderful Oz-themed goodies. The second most frustrating thing for me—after the fact that we had to look at everything so quickly—was that I had left my camera in the rv and my phone was completely dead. So I didn’t take ANY photos inside, even though invited to by the docent. I didn’t want to spare the 5 (or fewer) minutes to run back outside and get the camera! (I borrowed photos from the internet to illustrate this blog.)

So we left saying we would go back again next time we pass through Kansas. I actually considered finding a campground nearby and going back tomorrow! But instead, we got back on the road for about an hour more before getting off at Lawrence (home of the University of Kansas) and finding our way to Clinton Lake State Park. We are parked in a nice campsite, not too close to anyone, with electricity (air conditioning!) and water. Both utilities are much appreciated—we were very low on water, and it was up in the 90s again today—we would have been pretty warm without the AC. And, tomorrow morning we’ll use the showers—it’s been a while J The only thing we are missing is wifi—maybe tomorrow I’ll find another Walmart, or maybe I’ll try using my cell phone. I don’t have a huge amount of “bars” here and I’m tired, or I might try using it tonight as a hot spot. That’s a trick I haven’t used yet this vacation.

So…. I can’t actually say “it looks like we’re not in Kansas anymore” yet—but we are only about 45 miles from the Missouri state line now, and most likely tomorrow night we will be in Illinois or Indiana. Unless, of course, an unexpected tourist opportunity comes up like it did today.

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