‘World Capital of Peace’ arrives in north Kansas
Transcendental meditation, organic farming will be emphasis of $14 million complex
Smith Center ? Followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi have acquired 480 acres here near the exact geographical center of the continental United States.
Last week they broke ground on a planned $14 million complex they are calling the World Capital of Peace. Among other things, the planners say, it will be a haven for transcendental meditation and organic farming.
The arrival of the Maharishi’s followers and their plans to build is a very big deal in this town where little else has happened lately on the economic front. Or as Mayor Randy Archer put it, “With a population of 1,800 and the oldest population in Kansas, we don’t have much going for us.”
Archer said he attended the ground breaking for the World Capital of Peace last week.
“I’m glad I went because the rumors are it’s a cult and they are going to make underground bunkers and build nuclear weapons. That’s not what they are about,” he said.
Beatles were disciples
The Maharishi is perhaps best known as the founder of the transcendental meditation movement and for some of his celebrity disciples, which over the years included the Beatles and Mike Love of the Beach Boys.
Smith Center, near the Nebraska border in central Kansas, is perhaps best known for being near the precise center of the lower 48 states and as the birthplace of silent film star Fatty Arbuckle.
The Maharishi-affiliated groups at work in Smith Center are two nonprofit organizations, the U.S. Peace Government and the Global Country of World Peace.
They are unusual groups by Smith Center standards and some people are understandably concerned about what the newcomers will be up to, despite the expected influx of dollars associated with the project.
“A lot of people are pro, and a lot of people are con. A lot of people think it will bring a lot of business to town,” said Lynn Pickel, owner of Second Cup Cafe and Pastries on Main Street. “My policy is to stay out of it as a business owner. The water issue, as far as I know, is the biggest they are up against.”
Water is relatively scarce in Smith County, and there is concern there might not be enough to support the planned World Capital of Peace.
Kent Boyum, an ecologist and the director of government relations for the Global Country of World Peace, said the groups aim to be good neighbors.
“It’s not a closed community that won’t let anybody else be a part of what we are doing,” Boyum said of the World Peace Capital.
Smith County was chosen, he said, because it is in the middle of quiet, rural America. He said the organization intends to build “Peace Palaces,” which would be single buildings, across the Midwest with plans to build in Lawrence and the Kansas City area.
On the Smith Center property, 12 to 15 buildings are planned and those who live in the community will focus on practicing transcendental meditation and organic farming. Each building will be about 12,000 square feet, Boyum said, and will including living quarters and meeting space. The site will also be open to tourists.
$14 million project
The president of the U.S. Peace Government is John Hagelin, a quantum physicist and a fringe U.S. presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000. He has said the U.S. Peace Government is meant to complement rather than replace the existing government and aims to “promote prevention-oriented, problem-free administration.”
Boyum said all types of people are drawn to transcendental meditation.
“The people who practice are all kinds of people – all shapes, all colors. Some have religion. Some don’t,” Boyum said. “It isn’t an absolute way of life. Some people just add to their normal way of life and have less stress,”
Boyum said the buildings for the World Capital of Peace will mostly be built in a factory and then erected on the site. He estimated the project’s cost at about $14 million, and said the groups are working with engineers in Salina to develop the land and the rural water district there.
As residents have learned more about the project, Archer said about “95 percent” of the people in Smith Center he has talked with seem to be for it.
“I really felt good about it. I think they will blend and mesh with the community and the county. But any time a change comes in, usually it’s scary,” Archer said.
‘They are professional’
“There’s so many rumors floating around that are really pretty laughable,” said Charles Sellens, an administrative assistant for the Smith County Commissioners. “I feel very positive about it. The thought of people coming in and spending money is very positive.
“They not only sound professional. They are professional,” Sellens said. “There’s some feeling that a lot of them would be moving in and out. The people, their beliefs would be really different – a reliance on a form of meditation to bring inner peace to be happy and cheerful. They are not in a position to order anybody to do anything.
“People coming in might buy a business or might buy a house.”