Kansas history honored through continuing local customs
INMAN — On Sept. 10, the Kansas Sampler Foundation announced the 8 Wonders of Kansas Customs finalists at the Kansas Sampler Center near Inman. The finalists are continuing activities in a place where a custom is uniquely expressed. The 24 finalists were selected from a pool of public nominations. Criteria required that the custom be interpreted at or near the site and that it be available live or in a display format at least 40 out of 52 weeks of the year.

"This list gives a wonderful overview of our quirky humor, cultural traditions, and history," said foundation director Marci Penner, "but it also reflects our hobbies, entertainment, and recreational activities. More than anything, the customs help tell the story of Kansas communities."

In alphabetical order, the custom finalists include the following:

  • bringing musicians together: For a decade there's been a lively jam session at the Emma Chase Café in Cottonwood Falls almost every Friday night at 7:30 p.m.;
  • building wide main streets — The widest Main Street in the United States is in Plains;
  • chanting a school fight song — The University of Kansas Rock Chalk Jayhawk cheer is one of the best-known in the nation;
  • checking the weather — In Harper, townspeople watch the red fish weather vane at the top of the water tower for weather changes;
  • clicking your heels three times and saying "There's no place like home" — Oz attractions in Wamego and Liberal tell the beloved story of the Wizard of Oz;
  • commemorating Veterans Day — An Emporia man helped change Armistice Day into Veterans Day and made Emporia the Founding City of Veterans Day;
  • connecting underground businesses — The Underground Tunnels of Ellinwood are open for tours of a mysterious past;
  • converting rails to trails — The Prairie Spirit Trail, started in 1996, now spans 51 miles from Ottawa through Garnett and other small towns to Iola;
  • cruising main — It happens a little differently in Blue Rapids because they have the only round square in Kansas;
  • displaying an ethnic handicraft — Traditional and pop-art Dala horses can be seen throughout Lindsborg;
  • eating dinner prior to watching community theater — This custom has been going on longer at the Topeka Civic Theatre than anywhere else in the country;
  • ordering a soda fountain treat — Go while you can to one of the 37 operating soda fountains left in Kansas;
  • putting shoes on a tree — A giant cottonwood near Wetmore is famous as The Shoe Tree;
  • racing greyhounds — This custom started in Kansas and is told well at the Greyhound Hall of Fame in Abilene;
  • racing motorcycles — The Kansas Motorcycle Museum in Marquette tells about this intriguing culture;
  • racing on a dirt track — The oldest continuously-used dirt track in the U.S. is High Banks in Belleville and the High Banks Hall of Fame and National Midget Auto Racing Museum tells all about it;
  • reciting and chanting the Psalms — The Benedictine monks at St. Benedict's Abbey in Atchison do this four times a day, seven days a week;
  • recognizing those who came in second — The "They Also Ran Gallery" in Norton features those who came in second in the presidential race;
  • riding a carousel — Ride, and learn about, the famous C.W. Parker carousels in Abilene and Leavenworth;
  • saving a seat — It's been going on in Concordia since the 1960s, most recently at the Kearn Auction House;
  • saving twine — Frugality led to the World's Largest Ball of Sisal twine in Cawker City;
  • swimming in the summer — Garden City has the state's oldest continuously-open and largest municipal hand-dug swimming pool;
  • using natural material for fencing — Learn the story of these hardy fence posts at the Post Rock Museum in Lacrosse; and
  • walking to school — In 1936, walking to school became much easier as the longest sidewalk in the U.S. to connect two towns opened between Franklin and Arma.

Public vote will determine the top eight. People are encouraged to vote online at www.8wonders.org but can phone 620-585-2374 for a ballot or pick up a ballot from a finalist. Voting has begun and will end Oct. 20 at midnight. The top eight will be announced before the end of October. The contest web site, www.8wonders.org , provides background information on each custom plus hours, directions, and numerous photos.