September 11, 2012

« September 2012

Below are the diary entries for September 11, 2012, with the newest entries added at the bottom. Also, check out today’s photos.

Nicoline Capitals and constitutions
Nicoline (September 11, 2012)

Last modified: September 12, 2012 at 21:55:09

I’ve kind of lost track of the date. It wasn’t until I saw flags flying at half-staff everywhere that I realized it must be September 11. Strange to think it’s been 11 years already. The sky today was as bright blue as it was then, and it was pretty warm even though we got an early start. We were in the car by 8:30 and arrived at the John Brown Memorial Park before the museum even opened.

The park was open, so we just walked around and read all the information on the signs. Some appeared to have been put up just recently, maybe in preparation for the festival next weekend. And because we were very quiet and stood quiet still, Eric got a couple of really nice shots of a squirrel. OK, I know squirrels are no big deal, but still.

When the museum opened at 10, the site superintendent showed us in and gave us some information about the place. The stone building that houses the museum is actually built right over the log cabin that housed John Brown’s half-sister and her husband, Samuel Adair and Florella Brown Adair, who were both also involved in abolitionist work and had both been educated at Oberlin College in Ohio, a hotbed of abolitionism. In addition to housing the Adairs and their two children, it also housed John Brown and five of his sons (he had 20 children in total by two wives) and served as a station on the underground railroad. Brown and his sons attacked a group of pro-slavery settlers in May 1856 and on August 30, a pro-slavery militia led by John Reid attacked John Brown’s group in retaliation, resulting in the battle of Osawatomie.

Reid’s men then proceeded to loot and burn the town of Osawatomie, which did the pro-slavery cause a lot of harm in the court of public opinion. As a result of the battle of Osawatomie, John Brown gained fame - or notoriety, depending on your point of view - throughout the United States and became known as Old Osawatomie Brown. He used this new-found fame to plan the 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, which involved robbing a federal arsenal to arm the slaves so they would rise up in a massive revolt and overthrown the government. This plan was foiled by Col. Robert E. Lee of the U.S. Army and Brown was hanged for treason on December 2, 1859. The last words he wrote were: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.” The Civil War, which is still the bloodiest war the U.S. has ever fought, began less than two years later, hence the slogan on the billboard outside town: “Cradle of the Civil War.”

From Osawatomie we backtracked along state route 7, because there was supposed to be a Olathe Visitors Bureau on 106th street where we thought they might have a road map of Kansas of the kind you normally get at a state welcome center. Kansas only has one welcome center, and it’s located at the western end of I-70 in the state. We preferred to get a map before leaving the state, but unfortunately we could not find 106th street. The numbers went from 119th to 83rd street with nothing in between. By now it was about noon, so we stopped at a grocery store to pick up some stuff for lunch and dinner and any meal in between. We had lunch right in the parking lot, because we were famished, and those baguettes with blueberry Stilton and yoghurt for desert sure tasted good, even if the other shoppers probably thought we were crazy.

After lunch we proceeded to follow state route 7 into Ft. Leavenworth, thinking we’d be sure to see signs for the Buffalo Soldiers Monument and the site of the fort that was home to the black cavalry regiment first authorized by Congress in 1866. That didn’t quite work out. We did find a marker for the place where the first landing that later became Ft. Leavenworth was located, but nothing else. A website for Ft. Leavenworth says that the monument to the Buffalo Soldiers wasn’t dedicated until June 25, 1992, when Colin L. Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first black man to serve as such. Better late than never, I suppose. Anyway, we gave up the hunt and decided to follow the Kansas Turnpike, which coincides with I-70 for a bit, to see if we could find a service center where there might be stack of Kansas highway maps available. As it turned out, the only service center on the turnpike was one that had a gas station and a fast food place and a whole bunch of touristy junk for sale, but no friggin’ highway maps or any other kind of useful information. That had to wait until we got off the turnpike in Lawrence and found a place where they not only had maps galore but a very helpful lady at the information desk who helped us find a bunch of stuff. They even had a display called “around I-70”!

Lawrence is home to Kansas University and former U.S. Senator Robert J. “Bob” Dole. After he retired from the Senate, Mr. Dole donated his papers to the university and it built the Robert J. Dole Center for Politics to house a research library and museum. It’s as close as he got to a presidential library, I suppose. One of its windows is a giant stained-glass American flag, very appropriate for 9/11, especially since the window is flanked by two sections of I-beams from the World Trade Center.

Having learned at the John Brown Memorial Park that Kansas had no fewer than 8 state capitals and 4 constitutions, we were eager to see at least one of them. One of the brochures we picked up in Osawatomie said that Ft. Riley, which was the state capital for a few days (!) happened to be closed, so we settled for Lecompton, where the 1857 pro-slavery constitution was created. According to the Kansas Historical Society the first capital was an office at Ft. Leavenworth. The next year, in 1855, the legislature met at Ft. Riley, but after 5 days it moved to the Shawnee Methodist Mission near Kansas City. In 1857 it met at Lecompton (see above) and Lawrence. In 1859 the Wyandotte Constitution named Topeka as its temporary capital. It was under this constitution that Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861. In the next election Topeka was voted the permanent state capital, although the state house wasn’t ready for occupation until 1869 and not completely finished until 1903. I suppose you could count Topeka twice, once because it was only the temporary capital and another time when it was voted the permanent capital, in which case you come to 8 capitals.

The history of Kansas’ constitutions is equally convoluted. Depending on whether pro-slavery or abolitionists (free-staters) were in the ascendant, Kansas territory legislators debated constitutions in Pawnee (slavery), Lawrence and Big Spring (free-staters), leading to a constitution approved on December 15 that forbade slavery but also did not allow free blacks to settle in the state. Congress disapproved and rejected Kansas’ application to be admitted to the Union. The next constitutional debate took place in Lecompton. The pro-slavery constitution it produced was submitted to the people to “ [...] on a special slavery article only: in other words, ‘for the constitution with slavery’ or ‘for the constitution without slavery.’ Because a vote ‘for the constitution without slavery’ meant Kansans could keep the slaves they already owned, freestaters refused to participate. On December 21, the ‘constitution with slavery’ won 6,226 to 569.” Meanwhile, the governor had called the legislature into special session on December 7, to schedule another vote on the Lecompton constitution. This time, it was defeated. The debate on the third constitution took place at Ft. Leavenworth in March 1858. It was the most radical document so far. According to the Kansas Historical Society, “The word ‘white’ did not appear in this proposed document, and it would not have excluded free ‘Negroes and mulattoes’ from the state. The Leavenworth Constitution was ratified on May 18, 1858.” Finally, the legislature, now firmly under the control of free-staters, met in Wyandotte to debate yet another constitution. The document was adopted and signed on July 29 and was finally approved by voters on October 4, 1859. This is the the constitution that allowed Kansas to be admitted to the Union as a free state in 1861.

We didn’t learn any of this in Lecompton, though, because all of its historic sites are open only from Wednesday through Saturday. That’s what you get when you go places on a whim. Oh well.

By this time we had been on the road for nearly 10 hours and we were finished for the day. So we turned picked up I-70 at Topeka and drove to an exit where the signs promised motels galore. First we drove a couple of miles north: No motels. We did, however, come to a beautiful scenic overlook. Then we drove back and a couple of miles south of the interstate: still no motels. By then we were about halfway to Council Grove, where a Madonna of the Trail was waiting, so we decided to drive all the way down there, hoping there’d be some sort of motel or hotel. And there was, but it didn’t offer internet. So we settled down with Doritos and M&Ms for dinner and a book instead of a laptop. And you know what: It was quite restful.

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Eric First Day in Kansas
Eric (September 11, 2012)

Last modified: September 12, 2012 at 21:52:23

Yesterday we entered Kansas and stayed in Olathe, halfway between the I-70 and Osawatomie. Today we continued into Osawatomie, famous because John Brown (the same John Brown from Harpers Ferry) defended the town against an attack by the pro slavery militia in the largest battle during the "bleeding Kansas era." This was the time between 1854 and 1861 when the question of whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free state or a slave state was hotly contested. (In the end, Kansas entered the Union as a free state in 1861.)

We head to the John Brown Memorial Park in Osawatomie, where the history of the battle is remembered in a series of signs. The signs must have been brand spanking new; there was a lady walking her dog, who said she came to the park all the time, and asked us what those signs were.

We also visited the John Brown museum, which is actually a stone building that was built over the log cabin of John Brown's half sister lived.

On the way back from Osawatomie we stopped at a supermarket to stock up on some supplies, and hand lunch in the parking lot with baguette and cheese. We then continued on to Leavenworth, but weren't able to find the ford that the city is famous for, or the museum. Getting frustrated with not having found a welcome center for Kansas yet, and not having a highway map, we went back to the I-70 and stopped at the first service center. They still didn't have the Kansas state highway map, although they did have coffee tables that are, let's say, an acquired taste... The lady at the rest stop did mention that there was a welcome center at the next exit, Lawrence, but we'd have to get off the toll road. I don't know what it is with Kansas DOT and why they don't have a welcome center on I-70 for people coming from the east, and I really don't know why the rest stop on the toll turnpike can't have some basic tourist information, but whatever.

We got off the toll road and into Lawrence, where the visitor center is in an old train depot. There was a very nice lady in the visitor center who helped us with a load of brochures, so many that we had to sit down at a table and organize them all. One completely unexpected item she directed us to was the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics. It has an exhibition about Bob Dole, and a huge stained glass American flag, and probably an interesting collection of papers and artifacts if you'd really want to study the history of Dole.

After Lawrence we continued to Lecompton, one of the various ex-capitals of Kansas. All the museums were closed so we only got to see the outside of Constitution Hall and the Democratic Headquarters there. But we did get to wait at a railroad crossing for a train. There seem to be trains continuously all over Kansas, day and night. Actually, the lady at the visitor center told us that there were 170 trains a day passing by the visitor center...

We continued on to Council Grove, where there was another Madonna of the Trail to photograph. Along the road on US-24 we passed by a September-11 tribute. On the way to Council Grove we passed by a scenic stop with a great view of the Kansas landscape. I don't understand how people can say Kansas is boring...

By the time I've taken the photos of the Madonna we're really tired and end up in the Cottage House motel in Council Grove. No internet, but we're too tired to work on the site anyway...

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