Archive for Sunday, March 4, 2007

Kansas curiosity marks 100th year

Garden of Eden was one man’s paradise

March 4, 2007


Garden of Eden

Garden of Eden. 1907-2007. Lucas, Kansas Enlarge video

Garden of Eden

Hours of operation for The Garden of Eden and Cabin Home in Lucas: ¢ 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily, March and April.¢ 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, May through October.¢ 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, November through February.The cost is $6 for adults and children older than 12, and $1 for children ages 6-12. Special group rates are available.For more information, call (785) 525-6395, or go to

Today in lawrence

Garden of Eden Inc. is throwing a party to mark the 100th anniversary of Samuel Perry Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden.

The event is from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. today at Turnhalle, 900 R.I. Music will be provided by the Alferd Packer Memorial String Band. There will be a barn dance with Mike Rundle as caller and music provided by Fox On The Run.

Free State Brewing Co. has made a S.P. Dinsmoor Scotch Ale for the occasion. There also will be a raffle of donated items by artists and businesses.

The cost is $15, which will include a free tour of the Garden of Eden. Children who are ages 12 and under will get in free.

— The small north-central Kansas town of Lucas has a one-of-a-kind garden that attracts 10,000 people a year.

It isn't your typical garden of vegetables and flowers. This one contains huge concrete sculptures portraying biblical and political messages that the creator favored. It also contains the creator himself.

Samuel Perry Dinsmoor - a retired teacher, Civil War veteran and Populist politician - began building The Garden of Eden and Cabin Home in 1907 at age 64.

Today's owner, Garden of Eden Inc., is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Dinsmoor's creation, which includes 113 tons of concrete.

Jon Blumb, a Lawrence photographer, is president of the group whose main focus is to preserve the site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Garden of Eden Inc., which has 17 Lawrence area members, took possession of the property in 1990.

Blumb said he first set sights on it in October 1979 when he was in graduate school at Kansas University. He described Dinsmoor's work as straightforward, honest, outrageous and very creative.

"Most people really can't make up their mind the first time they see it," he said. "It's a lot to absorb. It's something that can be enjoyed or interpreted on several levels, and the obvious thing is it's just an impressive amount of work and vision for one person to have accomplished in his retirement."

His work

Dinsmoor's 11-room home is built from limestone that he carved in the shape of logs. His creativeness can be seen in the designs of the doors and windows - no two alike - and the furniture that he built. One table is made from 343 pieces of wood, and a desk contains a secret drawer where he stored his money. He didn't trust bankers.

A life-size Adam and Eve welcome visitors to the garden of 150 sculptures of varying sizes and shapes. The cement trees range from 8 feet tall to 40 feet tall. The sculptures include angels, devils, American flags, storks and the "all-seeing eye."

Lynn Schneider, tour guide, said the "all-seeing eye" included a hose that ran from the basement of the house so that he could use it to shout at passersby, pretending to be God speaking to them.

There's also a sculpture that represents the survival of the fittest. It portrays a soldier, Indian, dog, fox, bird, worm and leaf. Dinsmoor's last work was the Crucifixion of Labor. Mankind - represented by labor - is crucified while a banker, lawyer, preacher and doctor look on.

Lawrence resident John Hachmeister, a Kansas University associate professor of sculpture, led the formation of the Garden of Eden Inc.

As a member, Hachmeister said he enjoyed learning about the meanings behind the sculptures.

"It was easy to say the guy was just nuts," Hachmeister said. "But when you find out what he worked for and what he really believed in and what the sculpture represents which is as meaningful today and it was then, it's fascinating. There was a genius about him."

Among the most bizarre items is the mausoleum. When his first wife, Francis A. Journey, died in 1917, he built it and then dug her up from the local cemetery. He surrounded her coffin in cement inside the mausoleum to ensure it wouldn't be moved. At his request, when he died in 1932, he was placed in a glass-sided coffin and put on display where he can be seen today.

A century goes by

Dinsmoor was always turning heads, and it wasn't just with his creations.

Schneider said he had the first electric lights in Lucas and used light bulbs in his outdoor artwork to bring additional attention to them. He also touted the fact that he had a "spring with natural water" in his yard. Later, the city found out he had tapped into the city's main water line.

At age 81, he married his second wife, Emilie Brozek, a 20-year-old housekeeper, and they had two children.

After Dinsmoor's death, the family moved and the house was turned into three apartments, Schneider said. The property was neglected and became overgrown with vines.

Hachmeister, who grew up in nearby Natoma, recalls seeing it as a child: "These vines and Chinese Elm trees had grown up around all of the sculptures. It was like looking at this Mayan ruin. It was just so fascinating and you could not really make out everything. There was just a real mystery to it."

In 1968, Wayne and Lou Ella Naegele, who were born and raised in Lucas and still live there, purchased the property.

Wayne Naegele said he was in the plumbing and heating business and had done some work in the apartments. He said the property was owned by a son-in-law of Dinsmoor who had offered to sell it to them. They originally didn't plan to keep it, but ended up falling in love with it.

Wayne Naegele said the restoration process took about two years and continued throughout the years that they owned it. They reopened it as a tourist attraction in the 1970s.

"It was a wonderful experience for us," Wayne Naegele said. "We enjoyed every bit of it. ... We don't regret it at all."

When the Naegeles retired in 1989 and put the property up for sale, Hachmeister was interested. He said he didn't have the money at the time and consulted a "lawyer friend" who suggested forming Garden of Eden Inc. and selling stock. The idea worked, and the organization continues to own and preserve the property.

Among the group's latest preservation projects: re-attaching a roof, creating a drainage system and installing central heating and air conditioning in the home.

"We are about preservation," Hachmeister said. "Restoration certainly is something that we want to do, but our biggest thing is preservation."

Harriette Horner, a retired art teacher of Kansas City, Kan., said she became a member of Garden of Eden Inc. because she "thought it was a really important piece to keep in north-central Kansas. ... And that it could benefit that community and the whole area."

She was right.

The Garden of Eden has created a spark in the community of 425 residents, which is now known as the "Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas." The Grassroots Art Center opened in 1995, and several professional artists have moved to town where they showcase their talent.

Among the artists is Erika Nelson, a KU graduate, who bought a house next to the Garden of Eden for a price "less than a used car" in 2003. Not only does she live next door, but she impersonates the 5-foot-2-inch tall Dinsmoor. She said her words are based on his tour book and the recollections of townspeople.

Rosslyn Schultz, executive director of the Grassroots Art Center, said Dinsmoor was marketing "a niche" for the town.

In the Garden of Eden's 100th year, she is sure the "granddaddy" of grassroots is pleased to be getting his due and glory by the city that he once battled with. The city will pay tribute to his work Oct. 5.


nbnozzy 11 years, 2 months ago

I visited over 20 years ago and hope to go back again soon.

Janet Lowther 11 years, 2 months ago

It is a cool place, but maintaining all the sculpture has to be a nightmare! When I was there last there were some places where the rebar was sticking out.

When I was there last it turned out to be Lodge night so I visited them and the secretary pulled out and showed me an old book of records written in Dinsmore's elegant Spencerian script.

It was a Lodge night, they and they had petitions from people wanting to become new members, but they hadn't been able to manage a quorum in months. And it only takes three for a quorum!

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