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Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Homespun Facts About Kansas

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

When Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz said “There’s no place like home,” she was, of course, referring to Kansas. From rolling wheat fields to a landmark-filled historic legacy, here are 25 ways the Midwestern state isn’t like anywhere else in the United States.

1. Kansas was once home to countless Native American tribes, who settled the area long before European explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado arrived in 1541. The state was named after the Kansas River, which derives its own name from the region's Kansa tribe.

2. The largest and most-well known city in Kansas is Wichita, but the state’s actual capital is Topeka.

3. Nicknames for Kansas include the Sunflower State, the Jayhawk State, the Midway State, and the Wheat State. 

4. During the settlement of Kansas, the U.S. government allowed residents to vote whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state. The political climate turned tumultuous, and a series of bloody clashes between pro and anti-slavery groups prompted New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley to invent the term “Bleeding Kansas.” The conflict presaged the Civil War, setting the stage for the violent years ahead.  

5. Early Kansans were concerned with women’s equality, and granted them the right to vote in school district elections as early as 1861. By 1887, women were participating in municipal elections, and by 1912 Kansas had finally extended them equal voting rights—a full eight years before the 19th amendment was ratified.

6. Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case that ruled against segregation in public schools, started as a class-action lawsuit in Topeka after African-American children were denied admission to their local public schools.

7. In 1905, two chemistry professors at the University of Kansas discovered helium

8. For years now, Cawker City, Kansas, and Darwin, Minnesota, have argued over which town is home to the world’s biggest ball of twine. In the mid-1950s, a Cawker City man named Frank Stoeber began fashioning an enormous twine ball. Several years later, he donated the final product—a sprawling 5000-pound sphere of string—to the town. After his death, residents added to it each year in an annual "Twine-a-thon,” as did visitors.

Currently, the Cawker City ball holds the record for the World's Largest Ball of Twine—a fact that the people of Darwin resent. They believe that Cawker City is cheating, since a Darwin man named Francis A. Johnson rolled his own 17,400 pound ball over the course of 29 years. Darwin's residents console themselves by calling their novelty attraction the "World's Largest Twine Ball Rolled By One Man."

9. Other quirky roadside attractions in Kansas include Subterra Castle, an underground missile launch complex that was transformed into a livable home; the World’s Largest Easel, an 8-foot stand that displays a 32-by-24 foot replica of one of Van Gogh’s  “Sunflower” paintings; and a bizarre grassroots sculpture garden called the Garden of Eden, which showcases political and religious-themed works.

10. In the 1870s, Kansas resident Dr. Brewster M. Higley wrote a poem called “My Western Home.” Its words were set to music, and eventually became the basis for the iconic Western ballad Home on the Range. In 1947, Kansas designated "Home on the Range" as its official state song.

11. The Wizard of Oz never specified Dorothy Gale's hometown, so in 1981 the city of Liberal decided to claim the honor. A historic farmhouse was transformed into “Dorothy’s House,” complete with a yellow brick road, tour guides dressed in blue-and-white gingham, and a “Tornado Simulation Room.” 

12. Apart from Dorothy Gale, real-life famous individuals from Kansas include everyone from actress Kirstie Alley and singer Melissa Etheridge to pioneering female aviator Amelia Earhart and the poet Langston Hughes.

13. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s nostalgic childhood novel Little House on the Prairie and Truman Capote’s true crime tale In Cold Blood are two classic works of literature set in Kansas.

14. This may not surprise anyone, but the American rock band Kansas did, in fact, form in Kansas—more specifically, in Topeka.

15. The world’s very first Pizza Hut was opened in Wichita, Kansas, in 1958 by two brothers named Dan and Frank Carney. They were still in school at Wichita State University, so they paid for their business endeavor by borrowing $600 from their mother. 

16. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, spent much of his early life in Abilene, Kansas, and considered it his hometown.

17. It's home to the contiguous 48 states' geographic center, located about two miles outside of Lebanon, Kansas. 

18. Kansas produces more wheat than any other state in the country. Nearly one-fifth of all wheat grown in the United States is grown in Kansas, and it’s said that enough is cultivated to bake 36 billion loaves of bread, or feed everyone in the world for about two weeks.

19. Speaking of wheat, the graham cracker gets its name from the Reverend Sylvester Graham (1794-1851), a Presbyterian minister and nutrition advocate from Kansas. He’s credited with inventing the bland snack food because he believed that it would help curb sexual urges.

20. Kansas is so dry and dusty that it might surprise you to know that millions of years ago, a succession of ancient seas once covered its plains. Today, geologists can find fossils of corals, shelled sea creatures, and larger aquatic animals like fish, sharks, and reptiles.

21. Ever heard the expression “Kansas is flatter than a pancake?” In 2003, geographers decided to test the colloquialism by making a topographic profile of an IHOP pancake using a laser microscope. They compared it with a digital model of the state’s elevation date, and found that Kansas was, indeed, flatter than a pancake. Subsequent research, however, shows that six states—including Florida, Illinois, and North Dakota—are actually flatter than the Sunflower State. 

22. Dodge City, Kansas—not Chicago—is, according to NOAA data, the windiest city in America.  

23. Former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole launched his political career as a Kansas senator.

24. Kansas' first airplane factory was built in Wichita in 1919. The city would later go on to become one of the nation's leading plane manufacturers.

25. It's not a stereotype: Kansas does have a lot of tornados. From 1950 to 2012, the state experienced an average 61 twisters a year. However, if you look at the data from 2003 to 2012, that figure jumps to 112 per year. 

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6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)

Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (female writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), and Beery won for The Champ, which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. BEST SOUND EDITING // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

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11 Haunting Facts About Beloved

Toni Morrison—who was born on February 18, 1931—made a name for herself with The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon, but it wasn’t until 1987’s Beloved, about a runaway slave haunted by the death of her infant daughter, that her legacy was secured. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and was a key factor in the decision to award Morrison the Nobel Prize in 1993. All the awards aside, Beloved is a testament to the horrors of slavery, with its narrative of suffering and repressed memory and its dedication to the more than 60 million who died in bondage. Here are some notable facts about Morrison’s process and the novel’s legacy.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

While compiling research for 1974's The Black Book, Morrison came across the story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave from Kentucky who escaped with her husband and four children to Ohio in 1856. A posse caught up with Garner, who killed her youngest daughter and attempted to do the same to her other children rather than let them return to bondage. Once apprehended, her trial transfixed the nation. "She was very calm; she said, 'I’d do it again,'" Morrison told The Paris Review. "That was more than enough to fire my imagination."

2. MORRISON CAME UP WITH THE CHARACTER BELOVED AFTER SHE STARTED WRITING.

The book was originally going to be about the haunting of Sethe by her infant daughter, who she killed (just as Garner did) rather than allow her to return to slavery. A third of the way through writing, though, Morrison realized she needed a flesh-and-blood character who could judge Sethe’s decision. She needed the daughter to come back to life in another form (some interpret it as a grief-driven case of mistaken identity). As she told the National Endowment for the Arts’ NEA Magazine: "I thought the only person who was legitimate, who could decide whether [the killing] was a good thing or not, was the dead girl."

3. SHE WROTE THE ENDING EARLY IN THE WRITING PROCESS.

Morrison has said she likes to know the ending of her books early on, and to write them down once she does. With Beloved, she wrote the ending about a quarter of the way in. "You are forced into having a certain kind of language that will keep the reader asking questions," she told author Carolyn Denard in Toni Morrison: Conversations.

4. MORRISON BECAME FASCINATED WITH SMALL HISTORICAL DETAILS.

To help readers understand the particulars of slavery, Morrison carefully researched historical documents and artifacts. One particular item she became fascinated with: the "bit" that masters would put in slaves' mouths as punishment. She couldn’t find much in the way of pictures or descriptions, but she found enough to imagine the shame slaves would feel. In Beloved, Paul D. tells Sethe that a rooster smiled at him while he wore the bit, indicating that he felt lower than a barnyard animal.

5. SHE ONLY RECENTLY READ THE BOOK HERSELF.

In an appearance on The Colbert Report last year, Morrison said she finally got around to reading Beloved after almost 30 years. Her verdict: "It’s really good!"

6. THE BOOK INSPIRED READERS TO BUILD BENCHES.

When accepting an award from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988, Morrison observed that there is no suitable memorial to slavery, "no small bench by the road." Inspired by this line, the Toni Morrison Society started the Bench by the Road Project to remedy the issue. Since 2006, the project has placed 15 benches in locations significant to the history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, which served as the point of entry for 40% of slaves brought to America.

7. WHEN BELOVED DIDN’T WIN THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN 1987, FELLOW WRITERS PROTESTED.

After the snub, 48 African-American writers, including Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., signed a letter that appeared in the New York Times Book Review. "For all of America, for all of American letters," the letter addressing Morrison read, "you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people."

8. IT’S ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY CHALLENGED BOOKS.

Between 2000 and 2009, Beloved ranked 26th on the American Library Association’s list of most banned/challenged books. A recent challenge in Fairfax County, Virginia, cited the novel as too intense for teenage readers, while another challenge in Michigan said the book was, incredibly, overly simplistic and pornographic. Thankfully, both challenges were denied.

9. MORRISON ALSO WROTE AN OPERA BASED ON GARNER’S LIFE.

Ten years ago, Morrison collaborated with Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour on Margaret Garner, an opera about the real-life inspiration behind Beloved. It opened in Detroit in 2005, and played in Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York before closing in 2008.

10. MORRISON DID NOT WANT IT MADE INTO A MOVIE.

Although she publicly claims otherwise, according to a New York magazine story, Morrison told friends she didn’t want Beloved made into a movie. And she didn’t want Oprah Winfrey (who bought the film rights in 1988) to be in it. Nevertheless, the film came out in 1998 and was a total flop.

11. THERE'S AN ILLUSTRATED VERSION.

The Folio Society, a London-based company that creates fancy special editions of classic books, released the first-ever illustrated Beloved in 2015. Artist Joe Morse had to be personally approved by Morrison for the project. Check out a few of his hauntingly beautiful illustrations here.

This article originally appeared in 2015.

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