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25 Things You Should Know About Wichita, Kansas

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The Midwest meets the Wild West in this city of artists, industrialists, and historic firsts. Here’s a handy guide to the community that helped get America airborne.

1. Wichita is part of Sedgwick County, Kansas, which was named after General John Sedgwick, the highest-ranking Union officer to die on the battlefield during the Civil War.

2. Before Marshal Wyatt Earp earned nationwide fame for his role in the O.K. Corral shootout, he worked as a Wichita city policeman. Suffice it to say that his conduct wasn’t exemplary. After joining the local force in 1875, he participated in a number of fistfights. When, on one famous occasion, his boss was up for re-election as City Marshal, Earp took exception to some disparaging remarks made by another candidate. After beating the man up, he was charged with “violating the peace and order of the city” and forced to turn in his badge.

3. On July 21, 1870, several residents signed a petition that formally granted town status to Wichita. The only woman whose signature graces this document was a laundry service owner named Catherine McCarty. Her son, Henry, would grow up to become a near-mythic outlaw nicknamed “Billy the Kid.”

 


4.
In 1872, a branch of the Santa Fe railroad was established in Wichita. This turned the area into a prime destination for cattlemen as they drove their animals up from Texas. The very next year, some 66,000 bovines were shipped out of the newborn Kansas Cowtown. Hoping to persuade traveling cowboys to spend some cash before moving on, enticing signs that read “Everything Goes in Wichita” were set up near local trails and highways.

5. The cattle industry really put Wichita on the map. In 1887, it had the distinction of being America’s fastest-growing city. However, in typical boomtown fashion, Wichita would lose a third of these new arrivals by the mid-1890s.

6. Wichita made national headlines in 1900. While Kansas had banned the sale of alcohol 20 years earlier, many saloons simply ignored the law and remained in business. Enter Carry Nation, a militant prohibitionist around whom no drink was safe. On December 27, she waltzed into the bar at Wichita’s Eaton Hotel, smashed their glassware, destroyed a mirror, and severely damaged a lewd painting of Cleopatra. Nation was swiftly arrested, but her crusade wasn’t over by a long shot. The activist and her followers would go on to destroy a slew of watering holes (usually via hatchet). Over the next decade, Nation was arrested no less than 30 times.

7. A global player in the healthcare product market, the Mentholatum Company, Inc. was founded in 1889 by Wichita resident and former banker Albert A. Hyde. His cold-fighting Mentholatum ointment remains popular to this day.

8. What’s in a name? Wichita State University’s athletic teams are lovingly called the “Shockers.” Originally, fans knew them as the “Wheatshockers,” a moniker that dates back to the early 1900s. In those days, many a football player earned his tuition money by working as a wheat harvester—or “shocker”—over the summer.

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9. By the way, when the 1928 Shockers basketball team visited Hays, Kansas, to play the Fort Hays State University Tigers, they quietly made transportation history. Never before had a collegiate hoops squad gotten to an away game by flying there.

10. In 1921, White Castle was founded in Wichita by Walter Anderson and Edgar Waldo Ingram, who spent $700 to finance the maiden restaurant. Two years later, they set up duplicate shops in El Dorado, Kansas and Omaha, Nebraska, making White Castle the world’s first fast food hamburger chain. Ironically, however, the franchise has since completely pulled out of Kansas. 

11. Cloud Elementary School in north Wichita is named after Henry Roe Cloud, the first Native American to attend or graduate from Yale University. Cloud would go on to become a prominent intellectual and advocate of Native rights.

12. The city has long called itself “the Air Capital of the World.” It’s never been difficult to see why. In 1920, the Wichita-based E.M. Laird Airplane Manufacturing Co. earned the distinction of being the first U.S. company to mass-produce commercial aircraft. Also, in World War II, 44 percent of the primary trainer planes that were flown by American army and navy pilots were created by Boeing Wichita.

13. The first swept wing jet bomber to have ever been made in the States (a Boeing B-47 Stratojet, to be precise) was built there in 1952.

14. Actress Vera Miles (née Ralston) was uniquely qualified to serve as the leading lady in the classic 1955 film Wichita. A former Miss Kansas, she spent much of her youth in the city. As a teenager, Miles attended Wichita North High school while working at Western Union.

 

Warner Bros.


15.
Civil Rights historians recognize Wichita as the site of the first African American sit-in at a segregated restaurant, which took place at the Dockum Drugstore downtown. For several weeks starting in July, 1958, black students occupied the whites-only stools and asked for service, refusing to budge all the while. Eventually, the owner agreed to serve them.

16. White Castle isn’t the only major chain that can claim Wichita as its hometown. Pizza Hut was also established there in 1958.

17. NFL Hall of Famer Gale Sayers (a.k.a. “the Kansas Comet”) was born in Wichita on May 30, 1943. By pro football standards, the running back’s seven-season career was relatively brief. Despite this, Sayers still managed to become the league’s all-time leader in kickoff returns at the time of his retirement in 1972. 

18. Flag enthusiasts love this town’s offering. In 2004, the North American Vexillological Association invited its members and the general public to rank 150 assorted state, district, and city flags. Wichita’s official city flag design, which was created back in 1937, claimed sixth place. Symbolically, the blue sun represents happiness, the white circle home, the red stripes honor, and the white stripes courage. Taken together, they inform the viewer that people are free to come and go as they wish.

 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain


19.
 In 2008, Wichita resident Dana Warren was honored by Guinness World Records for creating the world's largest stitched teddy bear, which measured 55 feet, 4 inches in length.

20. Wichita’s most famous resident is Dennis Mitchell of Dennis the Menace fame. The comic strip was created by Hank Ketcham, who, in 1990, revealed that his beloved characters lived in a “two-story, three-bedroom fixer upper on the outskirts of Wichita.” Then-mayor Bob Knight rather liked the news. “I had no idea that [Dennis] lived here,” the statesman said, “but he sure is welcome.”

21. The city is home to Chance Rides Manufacturing, the country's largest manufacturer of roller coasters and other amusement park staples. 

22. Next time you’re in town, be sure to visit the Museum of World Treasures. Not only does this establishment possess a prop pitchfork that appeared in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (1939), but it also features one of the most complete T. rex skeletons ever found. Known as “Ivan,” the specimen hails from South Dakota and 60 to 70 percent of its bones have been unearthed.

23. Wichita has its very own troll (of the non-internet commenter variety). Sculptor Connie Ernatt installed the little bronze critter under a grate near the Arkansas River in 2007.

24. Attention film buffs: the Wichita Public Library system has hosted screenings of Oscar-nominated shorts for the past 29 years. Note that only flicks with a runtime of under 40 minutes are considered. 

25. No guide to Wichita would be complete without mentioning its most recognizable landmark. At 44 feet in height and five tons in weight, the Keeper of the Plains is one impressive statue. Designed by Kiowa-Comanche artist Francis Blackbear Bosin, this sculpture of a Native American was created to honor the United States’ bicentennial in 1976. Safely perched on an Arkansas River island, the Keeper is surrounded by fire pits which light up periodically when the weather permits. 

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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environment
Germany Wants to Fight Air Pollution With Free Public Transit
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images

Getting people out of their cars is an essential part of combating climate change. By one estimate, getting people to ditch their two-car household for just one car and a public transit commute could save up to 30 percent in carbon dioxide emissions [PDF]. But how do you convince commuters to take the train or the bus? In Germany, the answer may be making all public transit free, according to The Local.

According to a letter from three of Germany's government ministers to the European Union Environment Commissioner, in 2018, Germany will test free public transit in five western German cities, including Bonn. Germany has failed to meet EU air pollution limits for several years, and has been warned that it could face heavy fines if the country doesn't clean up its air. In a report from 2017, the European Environment Agency estimated that 80,767 premature deaths in Germany in 2014 were due to air pollution.

City officials in the regions where free transport will be tested say there may be some difficulty getting ahold of enough electric buses to support the increase in ridership, though, and their systems will likely need more trains and bus lines to make the plan work.

Germany isn't the first to test out free public transportation, though it may be the first to do it on a nation-wide level. The Estonian capital of Tallinn tried in 2013, with less-than-stellar results. Ridership didn't surge as high as expected—one study found that the elimination of fares only resulted in a 1.2 percent increase in demand for service. And that doesn't necessarily mean that those new riders were jumping out of their cars, since those who would otherwise bike or walk might take the opportunity to hop on the bus more often if they don't have to load a transit card.

Transportation isn't prohibitively expensive in Germany, and Germans already ride public transit at much higher rates than people do in the U.S. In Berlin, it costs about $4 a ride—more expensive than a ride in Paris or Madrid but about what you'd pay in Geneva, and cheaper than the lowest fare in London. And there are already discounts for kids, students, and the elderly. While that doesn't necessarily mean making public transit free isn't worth it, it does mean that eliminating fares might not make the huge dent in car emissions that the government hopes it will.

What could bring in more riders? Improving existing service. According to research on transportation ridership, doing things like improving waits and transfer times bring in far more new riders than reducing fares. As one study puts it, "This seldom happens, however, since transport managers often cannot resist the idea of reducing passenger fares even though the practice is known to have less impact on ridership."

The same study notes that increasing the prices of other modes of transit (say, making road tolls and parking fees higher to make driving the more expensive choice) is a more effective way of forcing people out of their cars and onto trains and buses. But that tends to be more unpopular than just giving people free bus passes.

[h/t The Local]

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