Thursday, April 21, 2011
Topeka, KS Part II, Section A
Because I promised more about our day of sightseeing…
We started the day off by driving past Topeka High School, home of the Trojans. Topeka High does not look like an average high school…as a matter of fact, for some reason, Topeka High reminds me of Cornell, what with its collegiate gothic good-looks, its bell tower and its bronze Trojan statue out front. All they need is a quad with a pair of statues of the founding fathers who, as legend goes, will get up from their pedestals at midnight, walk to greet each other with a handshake, and then exchange places (which Cornell has…Arts Quad, statues of founders Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White…but I think there has to be a virgin standing in the quad, too, and maybe the chimes have to be ringing, also…what are the odds of that all happening at the same time? Thus, old Ezra and Andy have never actually changed places…that we know of). But, Topeka High has something Cornell doesn’t…one of the spars from Old Ironsides. They use the spar as a flagpole.
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more. (part of Old Ironsides by Olive Wendell Holmes)
Next, we went to the Kansas state capital, which is undergoing some major renovations (much to the consternation of some government spending watchdog groups). The capital is a beautiful domed building, in the traditional domed-capital sense. And it has a lovely statue of a Native American shooting an arrow to the stars on top. But, what thrilled me to NO END about this capitol were the murals painted on the walls within…specifically, one mural in particular: John Steuart Curry's John Brown mural entitled Tragic Prelude. I grew up listening to the 70s band Kansas, especially their first, self-titled album featuring a close up of this mural on the cover (another tidbit: Kansas founder Kerry Livgren is still very active in the Topeka music scene. Lauri and George have heard him collaborate with the symphony.). To finally see this mural was incredible (Slim had mentioned a particular mural of John Brown that he wanted me to see. I had no idea that it was THE mural of John Brown. Thank you, Slim.)
A little John Brown aside: John Brown was an abolitionist. He did not believe in passive resistance. He believed in straight-up, full-contact resistance. I read somewhere that he suffered from eye inflammations…which may be why in every photograph I see of him, he has the crazy eyes. But, seriously, I don’t really think his crazy eyes came from inflammations, I think he had the crazy eyes because of all the hardship he had in his life, and because of his fiery dedication to end slavery.
See, back in the day (Civil War), pro-slavery supporters called the Border Ruffians were “willing to violate the rule of law” to turn Kansas into a slave state. Bleeding Kansas was a period of skirmishes and out-and-out bloody battles that were an attempt by the Border Ruffians to exterminate the anti-slavery contingent. From the sound of things, Brown was ticked off at both sides of the conflict: the pro-slavery folks for using such violent tactics; the anti-slavery folks for being so weak and passive in their defense. Brown, who was living in New York at the time, headed to Kansas to help out (he was not the only person who helped out the anti-slavery Kansans. Henry Ward Beecher, a preacher and abolitionist, snuck rifles to the anti-slavery settlers by hiding them in boxes of Bibles). One such skirmish was the attack on Lawrence where the pro-slavery folks destroyed the press, several homes, some people, intimidated women and children…and generally acted like dangerous fooligans. Yup, those ruffians were definitely willing to violate the rule of the law.
I think Curry’s mural depicts a rightly ticked off John Brown. He’s got a Bible in one hand, a gun in the other, and he’s mad. Clearly depicted on either side of him are the two opposing forces. There are two dead soldiers on the ground at his feet: one union, one confederate. There is a tornado tearing its way across the plains to the left, raging prairie fires to the right, which somehow makes me think that John Brown wasn’t the only one upset. Looked to me like the good Lord may have been a bit unhappy at all that foolishness, too. I’m just sayin.’
I’ve got to take a break from Part II. Today is colonoscopy/endoscopy day. I will refrain from the jokes I could crack right now. Yesterday’s prep wasn’t too bad (a nasty headache complicated things a bit. I was unable to take the meds I normally take for headaches, and was unable to keep down the meds I was able to take. At least I was eventually able to keep down the laxatives). I slept well last night, but I am so hungry, my shoes are looking edible. Slim is to have me at the center by 6:40AM, so I am only an hour or two away. I don’t know why, but I have the Paper Lace song The Night Chicago Died stuck in my head. Mix that with anesthesia, and everybody in the place is going to get a real show today. Please Lord, just help me keep my mouth shut…
In the heat of a summer night
In the land of the dollar bill…