Kansas' Hidden Artistic Gem: Lucas
When searching for the larger than life roadside stops across America it is easy to see a few similarities across the board. You might find several stops with Texas-Sized chairs, Muffler Men, oversized mascots or a variety of places spanning from the somewhat normal to the crazy. Oversized has always been an obsession it seems and with Ripley’s and Guinness Book entertaining the ever ongoing search for the next big thing, quite literally, the list continues to grow.
But with that said, as long as there is a goal of continuing to make a statement, draw in tourists or simply create something unique there will always be new ideas just waiting to be discovered on a good road trip.
Kansas is known for quite a few of these locations. From the large to the strange and everything in between you will find that the location is much more than Ruby Slippers and College Basketball contenders.
I made a stop in a unique community located just off 70 when traveling through Kansas with big promise of delivering an art flair unmatched by other communities. Not knowing fully what to expect I was very interested in the hype of the stories surrounding Lucas.
Lucas, is a small town, and when I say small I mean very small. A 2010 census recorded only 393 people in the population, despite this however, the art scene seems to be very large. The town is little more than a small downtown and a few local homes, but there you can find 3 of the most interesting and unique pieces in Kansas.
From 70 you are drawn to the town by brown signs captioned “Garden of Eden”. That in itself was intriguing to me as I passed down the road and drew near. I had no idea what exactly to expect and intentionally did not allow myself to look up the site so I could be surprised. When I arrived, I half expected a grand garden, but boy was I shocked to find that the Garden they spoke of was not a regal garden or lush area with unique plants.
What was it?
The Kansas Garden of Eden is a unique artistic piece to say the least. When you arrive there are towering 40 foot statues constructed around the original home place of a man named Sam Dinsmoor. The sight is unlike any structure you will find in any other location and can be toured for a small fee.
The site was originally established in the early 1900’s when Dinsmoor as a tourist attraction for the community of Lucas. Positioned very near the railroad station it could quickly be accessed by tourists to the area or passing through. Over time it evolved more and more adding unique pieces and before long the spectacle was being viewed by those in the area via the surrounding sidewalks instead of people paying for tours.
Dinsmoor found a way to solve this and draw people toward the property, a speaking tube placed in the mouth of one of his angels around the fence line which ran inside and could be spoken into to give the appearance of the angel speaking. It was an odd site to say the least, perhaps becoming even more odd as he had his wife relocated from her resting place in the cemetery to a mausoleum constructed on the property.
He then for a quarter would allow people to pose in photos next to him in his own casket in the tomb. Following his death he was placed in this casket with a glass top to continue his legacy of this service even in death, placed above his former wife for eternity.
Following his death, the property went into disrepair and through years of neglect was sold and abandoned. Until the late 60’s when the property was given a second chance, the statues were a haunting piece of the community and the legends behind their creator and his ways were spun like terrible campfire stories.
The house and the property are said to be an evil that never will die. People were afraid to bulldoze the property for years and even those making improvements on the property were hesitant to make changes. Now guests can walk through “dead stuffed animal garden”, see the revealing statues which once were petitioned to be covered by city officials for being proactive and of course visit the former master of the property. Tours are a step back in time but also a very interesting look at a mans life and legacy which might have been a bit sinister.
The Garden of Eden isn’t the only unique location however in the small town. It seems the entire community has embraced the idea of being on the fringe of the artsy and seemingly in the shadow of the giant stone structures rests the Miller Garden.
The garden itself I honestly didn’t know anything about until I ventured into town a bit more and asked but seeing it was unique at the time. Large stone towers, each adorned with differing types of rock were stacked in unique formations and enclosed within a 4 foot high fence.
Miniature stone buildings resembled a ghost town of small proportions and looked like there had to have been a bigger story than just the visual appeal of seeing them.
Sure enough, the sculptures and buildings had been relocated to town from an outlaying park and had a unique story. In 1921 the couple Roy and Clara Miller had begun construction of several small stone buildings and sculptures as their own way to salute the town of Lucas. The buildings they created were designed to closely resemble those in the original community of Lucas.
They continued to grow their garden of sculptures and buildings until the 60s adding unique rocks they found on their travels. People could come and visit their creation and be able to enjoy picnic tables, fresh water and even cabins with a playground but the property was sold in 1969 and from that point the sculptures were put into limbo.
The sculptures were moved to Hays, Kansas as a part of Frontier Village, which was short lived. The sculptures were then abandoned until they were recovered in 2013 when the same group responsible for the preservation of the Garden of Eden took note and once again relocated the sculptures to Lucas in the adjoining lot.
But as though these two stops were not enough, Lucas is in more recent years perhaps most well known for Bowl Plaza. This actually was the main reason I wanted to come to Lucas because it is listed on all of the odd roadside sites as one of the Must See things in Kansas.
What is Bowl Plaza??
Well it isn’t a place commemorating a football victory, and it isn’t a place to share the love of the sport of bowling… so naturally the next best bowl you can think of…. A TOILET BOWL!!
Yep, this site has been named America’s Most Artistic Toilet!
I know, I know, you are probably thinking why would anyone ever want to go see a toilet? Well simply put it is a piece of art!! The building itself is shaped like a large toilet with the seat itself being large concrete benches, the bowl being the building itself with flusher in tact. But what makes this quirky stop something you will want to check out is the mosaic style that is embedded into every surface of this unique attraction.
I can honestly say I have never seen anything like this anywhere. The detail in each surface is so unique and combines traditional mosaic materials and items which are completely unexpected such as toys, mirrors, dominoes and even plates boasting a variety of states. It is one of the best examples of up cycling into something beautiful I have seen.
The inside of the toilet itself is a fun commentary of all things which might be flushed showing the contrast between how we flush unwanted items, we throw away and essentially flush money.
And did I mention this is an actual public restroom?? Inside the building itself you can find a restroom for your road weary self to take a break or to find tourism information in the lobby.
This place is one you have to make sure you stop along your trip through Kansas for sure.