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Caves, First Female Mayor in US, Facial Hair & More on Kansas

Kansas is home to the world’s largest ball of string, in Cawker City in the north central part of the state, where a “Twine-a-Thon” is held every August to add fiber to the ball.

The Sunflower State also represents the geographic center of the contiguous United States, which is approximately two miles northwest of Lebanon in north-central Kansas.

As Kansas prepares to celebrate its 162nd birthday on Sunday, here are eight things you probably didn’t know about the 34th state.

Kansas has more than just underground soil

Kansas is 18th among the 50 states in terms of the number of caves discovered here, which total more than 800, according to the Kansas Geological Survey. Caves have been discovered in 51 of the state’s 105 counties, he said.

Barber and Comanche counties in south-central Kansas contain more caves than all other Kansas counties combined, the Geological Survey said. Comanche County has more than 235 and Barber County more than 205.

The two longest mapped caves in the state are located in Butler County in south-central Kansas, the Geological Survey said. Those are 8,529 feet and 7,285 feet long, respectively, he said.

The nation’s first female mayor

As a joke, several men in 1887 nominated Susanna Madora Salter, a 27-year-old Woman’s Christian Temperance Union official, on the Prohibition Party ticket for mayor of Argonia in south-central Kansas.

But the joke was on them.

“Salter surprised the group and received two-thirds of the vote,” says the Kansas Historical Society website. “She was elected on April 4, 1887, just weeks after Kansas women won the right to vote in city elections.”

Salter became the first female mayor in the U.S. She held that position for a year and later moved to Oklahoma, where she died in 1961 at the age of 101.

First Christian martyr

The Knights of Columbus of Kansas in 1950 erected a cross along US-56, three miles west of Lyons in central Kansas, to honor Father Juan de Padilla, the first Christian martyr to be killed in what is now the United States

Padilla was among four Franciscan priests who accompanied Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado on an expedition he led through Kansas in 1541, according to the Kansas Historical Society website.

Padilla returned to Kansas and began doing missionary work the following year, but was killed when he decided to leave to work with other tribes, that site said.

One city, five restaurant chains

Wichita became the birthplace of the restaurant chains White Castle in 1921, Pizza Hut in 1958, Taco Grande in 1960, Taco Tico in 1962 and Spangles in 1978.

Today, Pizza Hut operates more than 18,000 restaurants worldwide. White Castle has 377, but none in Kansas. Spangles has 27, all in Kansas. Taco Grande has one, in Wichita.

Taco Tico operated seven restaurants as of 2019, all in Kansas, while privately owned Taco Ticos operate 10 other sites in Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Texas, Kentucky and Louisiana.

It was quiet on the streets of Topeka…

Loud singing late at night on the streets of Topeka was illegal.

The ordinance in question was repealed in 2011, The Capital-Journal was told in 2017 by Lisa Robertson, then the Topeka city attorney.

This ordinance prohibited “yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling or singing in the public streets, especially between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., or at any time or place so as to annoy or distribute peace, comfort or rest of persons in any office, or in any house, hotel or other type of residence, or of any person in the city.”

Chiseled from marble

An extravagant grave memorial in Hiawatha, northeast Kansas, features 11 detailed life-size sculptures of the man and woman who are buried there. The statues are mainly made of Italian marble.

John Davis, a wealthy farmer, had the memorial built in Hiawatha’s Mount Hope Cemetery after the 1930 death of his wife, 70-year-old Sarah Davis. John Davis died aged 92 in 1947 and was buried at the site.

The memorial has statues of the couple sitting together at four different times in their lives; John Davis sitting alone near the end of his life in a chair next to an empty chair; Sarah Davis, with angel wings, at the base of her husband’s grave; and John Davis at the base of his wife’s grave. Due to vandalism, the latter statue no longer has a head.

‘Gone With the Wind’

A Kansas native became the first African-American actor to win an Academy Award.

Hattie McDaniel, born in Wichita to formerly slave parents, won Best Supporting Actress for her performance as “Mammy” in the classic 1939 film, “Gone with the Wind.”

McDaniel was not allowed to attend that film’s Atlanta premiere because it was held in a theater open only to whites. He died in 1952 and in 2006 appeared on a postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service.

No mustache, no beard

The first 10 governors of Kansas all had beards and/or mustaches.

Kansas’s first clean-shaven governor was its eleventh, Lyman Underwood Humphrey, of Independence in southeast Kansas, who held that office from 1889 to 1893. Humphrey died in 1915 at the age of 71.

George T. Anthony, governor of the state from 1877 to 1879, is shown clean-shaven in some photos, but wears a mustache in a photo shown on the Kansas Historical Society website.

Contact Tim Hrenchir at [email protected] or 785-213-5934.

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