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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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This Just In
Kentucky City Lets Residents Pay Parking Tickets With Canned Goods
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Racking up parking fines? If you live in Lexington, Kentucky, you can pay off your tickets with canned food donations.

ABC 36 reports that, for the fourth year in a row, the city's “Food for Fines” program will help stock the shelves of God’s Pantry Food Bank—a member of Feeding America—throughout the holiday season. Beginning today, the city’s local parking authority is allowing residents with outstanding citations to donate preserved goods in lieu of cash through December 15.

Ten cans will get residents a $15 credit on any parking citation. And for drivers with a drawer-full of tickets, they can bring as many cans as they can carry to earn a $15 credit per 10-can donation. (Yes, even past due citations are eligible.)

"During the previous three years we have collected 24,500 cans of food, which is the equivalent of 12 tons or 16,000 meals,” Parking Authority executive director Gary Means said in a press release.

If you're planning on donating, make sure to check the date: Expired items won't be accepted.

[h/t ABC 36]  

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Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY
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Art
A New Exhibit Celebrates New York City's Public Art Legacy
Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY
Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Walking through New York City could be likened to strolling through a smog-filled gallery. For the past 50 years and more, artists have brightened its streets, subways, and buildings with vibrant mosaics, installations, sculptures, and murals. To celebrate their creativity—and the pioneering public art initiatives that made these works possible—the Museum of the City of New York has created a new exhibit, "Art in the Open: Fifty Years of Public Art."

"Art in the Open" features over 125 works by artists such as Kara Walker, Keith Haring, and Roy Lichtenstein, among others, all of which once graced the city's five boroughs. The exhibit explores the social and historical motivation behind outdoor art, and also connects it with overarching urban themes.

“The ubiquity of public art is a big part of what makes New York City so special,” said Museum of the City of New York director Whitney Donhauser in a statement. “From parks to the subways, from Staten Island to the Bronx, creativity is all around us. Experiencing the wide variety of art created for public spaces gathered together within the walls of a museum offers visitors a new lens for appreciating and understanding our city’s extraordinary 50-year commitment to public art.”

The exhibit runs from November 10, 2017 through May 13, 2018. Head to the Museum of the City of New York website for more details, or check out some photos below.

Jane Dickson's 1982 artwork "Untitled," part of "Messages to the Public"

Jane Dickson, Untitled, part of Messages to the Public, Times Square, 1982.

Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Ugo Rondinone's 2013 installation "Human Nature"

Ugo Rondinone, Human Nature, Rockefeller Center, 2013. Presented by Nespresso, Organized by Tishman Speyer and Public Art Fund.

Photograph by Bart Barlow. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Subway artwork "Times Square Mural" designed by Roy Lichtenstein,
Times Square Mural (2002) © Roy Lichtenstein, NYCT Times Square-42nd Street Station. Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design.
Courtesy of Museum of the City of New York

Vik Muniz's 2017 subway artwork "Perfect Strangers"

Perfect Strangers (2017) © Vik Muniz, NYCT Second Avenue-72nd Street Station. Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design.

Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Rob Pruitt's 2011 artwork "The Andy Monument"

Rob Pruitt, The Andy Monument, Union Square, 2011.

Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Laurie Hawkinson, Erika Rothenberg, and John Malpede's 2004 artwork "Freedom of Expression National Monument"

Laurie Hawkinson, Erika Rothenberg, and John Malpede, Freedom of Expression National Monument, 2004, Foley Square.

Photo courtesy of Erika Rothenberg

Artist Kara Walker's 2014 work "A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby"

At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected: A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. A project of Creative Time. Domino Sugar Refinery, Brooklyn, NY, May 10 to July 6, 2014. 

Jason Wyche, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Artwork © 2014 Kara Walker.

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