Road Trip: Manhattan and Topeka

I am blessed to have a job that involves a little travel.  My co-workers and I will be making stops all over the state during March.

Our first road trip took us to Junction City, Manhattan and Topeka.

Kicking it off in Manhattan, the home of Kansas State University.

Johnny Kaw

We stopped to visit Johnny Kaw in City Park.  He’s hard to miss. He’s a 35-foot-tall concrete statue holding a giant scythe. He was built in 1966 and cost about $7,000.

So, who is Johnny Kaw? He was created by George Filinger, a KSU professor in 1955. He was the Paul Bunyan of Kansas tall tales. The stories were part of the city’s centennial. They originally ran in the Manhattan Mercury. When they were being turned into a book, a KSU art teacher named Elmer Tomascha was brought on to create pictures for the book.

Among the tall tales, Johnny Kaw invented sunflowers and could control the weather.  He could stop tornadoes and wring out clouds to end droughts.  My favorite story is about his two pets, named wildcat and Jayhawk.  They would fight each other all the time.  Their fights created the Dust Bowl.

This is a rare picture of me. Photo courtesy: Ed Young

It’s time to move to Topeka.  Home of the state capitol and several roadside attractions.

The Wren Statue

This is a cool bit of history.  The bird was created in the 1930’s by a local artist when radio station WREN was in Lawrence.  The station and the wren moved to Topeka in 1947.  Interesting side note: WREN was once owned by Former Kansas Governor and presidential candidate Alf Landon. 

The wren named; W.L. Wren became a threatened species when the station sold to a Christian radio network.  The new owners decided to sell the bird as a fundraiser.  There are some reports the bird was going to be sold and moved to Branson.  But a group called, Historic Topeka Inc, raised $1500.  The group restored the wren and installed it at its current nesting location.

Next, we headed to the capitol.  It is a beautiful building, commanding respect and filling the visitor with a sense of greatness in all that is accomplished in this building.  We did not spend enough time inside to give you a good review of the building.  I will return and do our statehouse properly.

Today I was interested in seeing the monuments on the lawn.

The Sitting Lincoln

This statue was dedicated in 1916.  It was the first public commission for artist Robert Merrell Gage. This style of showing a grim, sullen Lincoln was common at the time.  In 1920, the more popular (and upbeat) Lincoln would be seen sitting powerfully in statues across the country, including a popular one in Washington, DC.

Interesting note, the artist was a Topeka native who taught sculpture at Washburn and the Kansas City Art Institute.

Pioneer Women of Kansas

The Pioneer Women’s Association spent ten years fundraising to pay for the monument.  The sculpture by Topekan Robert Merrill Gage, was unveiled on Mother’s Day 1937.

I loved the details, with a baby in her arms and a dog at her feet, this momma of two kids, sits ready to defend their homestead with a musket on her lap.

Interesting Side Note: Gage left Topeka and took over the sculpture school at UCLA.  Gage won an Academy Award for his 1956 film, The Face of Lincoln.

Strengthen the Arms of Liberty

This is one of at least 27 Lady Liberties across Kansas.  You can read more about the series here and the Topeka statue here.

Eisenhower Statue

I love this statue.  It depicts Kansas’ Dwight D. Eisenhower in the hours leading up to the D-Day landings.  He’s in full military uniform.  He would later be the 34th President of the United States. 

The bronze statue stands about seven feet tall, and was created by Eureka, KS native, artist Jim Brothers (1941-2013).  Brothers lived in Lawrence and created the D-Day memorial in Bedford, VA and his sculpture of Eisenhower stands in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Jim Brothers died in his studio five years before the Kansas sculpture was dedicated in 2018.

It’s not on the official website of but I loved this sculpture in downtown Topeka.  A simple pencil with a simple and instantly recognizable inscription:

Here’s a pic of my friends and co-workers.  Thanks to Ashley and Ed, who were kind enough to indulge me in a couple of stops during our work-related road trip.

We did not make to see Chief’s grave at Ft. Riley.  But it’s OK, that will give Jeremy and I an excuse to visit in the future.

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