Day Two – August 4, 2004
Independence, MO to Wichita, KS
The second day of our vacation found us waking up in a very drenched Independence, MO. A strong storm had come through the Kansas City area early in the morning, dropping a large amount of rain and filling the sky with lightning and thunder. By 8 AM, when we left our hotel room, the sky was still very dark and menacing.
The primary site I wanted to see in Independence was the Harry S. Truman House. The house in Independence is the one Truman lived in for the majority of his life, right up to the time of his death in 1972. The Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum and Library, where Truman is buried, is also located in Independence, only a short drive away from his house.
Getting to the house was a bit tricky, but luckily Independence has some very nice signs that guide visitors to all the attractions within the city. Getting in to see the house is a bit strange, however, since visitors must first buy tickets to see it – about five blocks away in an old, refurbished fire station. Only 8 people are allowed into the house at a time, and tours are given every 15 minutes during the summer season. We arrived shortly after the ticket center opened at 8:30, along with a woman from northeast Iowa whose goal it is to see as many presidential homes and museums, like the Truman one, as possible. We purchased our tickets, and then were treated to a short slide show about the Truman’s life. After watching this, the park ranger said that we were going to be the only people going on the tour, and that a tour guide was waiting for us at the house.
We then drove the five blocks west to the house and parked in front of it. Sure enough, three park rangers – two for security and one for giving the tour – were waiting for us at the front gate to the house. We were then led in the back door to the house and shown around the bottom floor.
The National Park Service had a pretty strict rule banning photography inside the house, so, unfortunately, I can’t show you what it looked like inside. However, I can say that it was pretty interesting to see just how Truman lived, which is to say pretty simplistically and uncomplicated. The slide show we watched at the ticket center even talked about how he would frequently go for walks, with Secret Service guarding him, around his Independence neighborhood after he had served his term as president.
We were only allowed to see the bottom floor of the house; the Truman family still retains control the top floors, and does not want people peeking around up there. This made the tour seem a little short, but, like I said, it was still pretty interesting, nonetheless.
We then went over to the Truman Library and Museum, not too far north from the site of the house. However, because there was so many other attractions I wanted to get to on this day, I didn’t think we had enough time to go through the entire museum. I regret not being able to go, but hopefully I can make it back there someday.
So, we got on the road and traveled through Independence and Kansas City. The dark clouds that were in the sky in Independence began to lift just as we crossed the Kansas border; the sun was even out for a while, too. However, such is typical for Kansas – as I later found out – the sun was short lived, and it soon looked like it was going to rain once again.
Interstate 70, which is what we used getting out of Kansas City, turns into the Kansas Turnpike west of Kansas City, and we were greeted with our first toll ticket of this trip. We weren’t on the turnpike for long, however, since we got off at the University of Kansas exit in Lawrence (population 80,098).
Although there wasn’t anything I really wanted to see in Lawrence, there were a few things 10 miles away in Lecompton that I really wanted to see. If you dust off your America: Past and Present and read about the United States just prior to the Civil War, you’ll remember that Lecompton is the place where the “Lecompton Constitution” was written, which was supposed to end the dispute over whether Kansas would be a free or slave state. The constitution was later struck down by Kansas voters, but, in many ways, the aggressive fighting that occurred between pro-slave (“border ruffian”) and anti-slave forces in Lecompton and Lawrence initiated the Civil War.
Lecompton was, for a time, the capital of Kansas territory. Later on, however, the territorial capital was moved to Lawrence. Construction was started to build the capital building in Lecompton, but hardly any of it was actually completed. Today, what was completed is home to the Lane University & Territorial Capital Museum, a three-story structure that is full of exhibits relating to the history of the Lecompton area. Click on the link provided to read more about the interesting history of this building.
Lecompton is a very small town (population 608), not to mention quite a distance from the nearest exit on the turnpike. This meant that when we got to the Territorial Capital Museum, nobody else was there. We were treated to a guided tour of all the exhibits in the building, which ended up being more than 2 hours worth. I couldn’t believe how much stuff was in the building, and, if anybody from Lecompton is reading this right now, rest assured that you have one of the best local historical society museums I have ever been to.
Because of the time spent at the Territorial Capital Museum, we were not able to make it to the other historical sites in Lecompton: The Constitution Hall Historical Site and Democratic Headquarters. However, we were able to drive by the building where the Lecompton Constitution was written.
From Lecompton, we took the very scenic way into Topeka, some 15 miles to the west. Check out my pictures below for some of what we saw.
The main attraction I wanted to see in Topeka was the recently restored and turned-into-a-museum Monroe Elementary School, the school named in the historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court ruling that effectively ended segregation in public schools.
School hasn’t been held at Monroe Elementary for a couple of decades now, and, even though it was declared a National Historic Site in 1991, the building has been largely vacant until recently. The Museum was just opened to the public on May 17, 2004, precisely 50 years to the day the Supreme Court issued its ruling.
Walking inside the school – which has been completely restored inside and out to look exactly as it did when school was held there – was really amazing. The exhibits and historical lessons presented in the museum were really some of the best and most inventive that I have seen so far within the National Park Service’s system. I wish I would have taken some pictures of the main hallway and classrooms within the school, but I didn’t take my camera with me inside, since it’s hard to know which places will make you go through metal detectors and/or forbid you from taking photographs.
I passed up the opportunity, regretfully, to see the Kansas Museum of History, but I did get to walk around the grounds of the state capital. Topeka seemed like a very nice mid-sized city for me, not too big and not too small.
After I realized it was almost 3:00 PM and we still had to get to Wichita before night, it was time to get back on the road. Instead of taking the more direct route from Topeka to Wichita, which would have been I-335 and I-35, I decided to go the longer way on I-70 and I-135 by way of Salina in the central part of the state. My intentions make sense once you realize this route is the more scenic of the two, and also includes the Dwight D. Eisenhower Center.
This 5-building, 22 acre complex in Abilene, KS (population 6,543) includes the home where Eisenhower lived from 1898 to 1946, presidential museum, library, visitors center, and place of meditation (the burial site of President and Mrs. Eisenhower and their first-born son Doud Dwight).
Unfortunately, by the time we got to Abilene, it was about 5 PM, and the museum and family home were closed for the day. However, the visitors’ center and gift shop were still open, as was the place of meditation. I was able to see and take pictures of the rather small farm house that Eisenhower lived in for much of his life, as well as see the place where he is buried. Like the Truman House I visited earlier in the day, it was all very interesting.
After spending about 45 minutes at the Eisenhower Center, we went to Salina, where we turned to head south on I-335. This route brought us into Wichita at about 7:30 PM. We spent the night here.
The Truman House
Other side of Truman House (with sign)
Looking Down the Street of Truman's Neighborhood
The Truman Museum and Library (I'd love to show you what I was standing next to when taking this picture, but that would give away the answer to a virtual cache located here)
Independence is Located on the Outskirts of the Missouri River Valley
Some of the Kansas City Skyline
What the Front of a Kasnsas Toll Ticket Looks Like
And What the Back of a Kansas Toll Ticket Looks Like
The Historic Union Pacific Depot in Lawrence Has Been Turned Into a Visitors' Center
An Artsy Black & White Photo at the Depot
If Only There Would Have Been a Train on the Tracks
Lawrence has a huge grain elevator right in the middle of town
Constitution Hall: where the Lecompton Constitution was written
The scenic route to Topeka
Monroe Elementary School
Plaque on Monroe School
The front of the Kansas State Capital
More of the capital building
There was a big Abraham Lincoln statue on the capital grounds
Some of downtown Topeka
The Eisenhowers' final resting place (President Eisenhower's tomb is on the left)
A water fountain outside the building the Eisenhowers' graves are (the house is in the background)
The Eisenhower Center sign (with the Eisenhower statue in the background, along with another giant grain elevator)
Close-up of the tall Eisenhower Statue
The Eisenhower Home
Central Kansas scenery in Salina
I saw a few of these signs on the trip, attached to hotels, gas stations, etc.
Welcome to Kansas
Toll plaza sign
Stop and get a ticket
More of the scenic way into Topeka
Some more of the scenic way into Topeka
East-central Kansas scenery
More east-central Kansas scenery
scenery near Salina
Note: to see full-sized versions of any of the photos above, select the download feature above the picture. The photo will then be downloaded to your computer, and you can view the full resolution version of the picture (800 pixels in width)