15 Things You Might Not Know About Kansas

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1. Chicago has claimed the “Windy City” nickname, but Kansas’ Dodge City is the true deserver of the superlative. Dodge is considered the windiest city in the United States, with an average wind speed of just under 14 miles per hour. (Chicago averages a mere 10.3 mph.)

2. Those numbers not proof enough for you of Kansas’ blustery cred? Just mention the date “May 20th” to any resident of Codell, and you’re sure to elicit a shudder. The Rooks County city suffered tornados on the 20th of May in three consecutive years: 1916, 1917, and 1918.

3. Kansas may rank 33rd among its fellow states in terms of human population, but it boasts the largest community of lesser prairie chickens in the country. Both the “greater” and “lesser” variations of the genus have long been endangered, but will hopefully soon start bouncing back thanks to conservation efforts.

4. America’s first female mayor was Susanna “Dora” Salter, an Ohio-born politician who served over the town of Argonia, Kansas between 1887 and ’88. Salter represented the Prohibition Party and collected a single dollar in return for her governing duties.

5. Another Kansas first, though one of somewhat less sociopolitical importance: the founding of Pizza Hut. In 1958, brothers Dan and Frank Carney opened the first store in their blossoming franchise in Wichita.

6. As the old saying goes, the heart of America lies in Lebanon. The very center of the contiguous United States falls in the tiny town of Lebanon, Kansas, close to the northern border of the state. The point, as decreed as such by the National Geodetic Survey in 1912, is marked by a stone monument, celebratory plaque, American flag, and picnic table setup. (The actual center is a few miles away in a farm, though.)

7. Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam may house some of the world's most revered works of art, but Goodland, Kansas boasts one pretty picture that beats the lot in sheer size. Travelers on U.S. Route 24 will spot (it’s quite hard not to) the world’s tallest easel, standing roadside at a proud height of 80 feet, displaying a 32-by-24-foot representation of one of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflower” paintings. Appropriate, since Kansas is the Sunflower State.

8. Kansas is a central location in the most watched movie of all time, The Wizard of Oz (according to the Library of Congress). It's also home to Clark Kent/Superman, who appears in the most valuable comic book of all time, Action Comics #1, which sold on eBay in August of 2014 for $3.2 million. (Kansas doesn't make an appearance in that comic book, though; it wouldn't be revealed as Supes' home until later.)

9. Speaking of The Wizard of Oz, it’s appropriate that a balloon ride was the Plan A to get Dorothy back home. In 1903, Kansan geologist Erasmus Haworth noticed a peculiar gas leaking from a drilled geyser in the town of Dexter: helium. After the initial discovery of the chemical element in 1868 by French astronomer Jules Janssen, Haworth’s revelation was among the first bits of evidence that the gas could exist naturally and in concentrated forms on Earth.

10. Generally speaking, sinkholes are a more common natural occurrence in waterside areas, though they may also materialize as a result of industrial drilling. But Wallace County, Kansas’ tremendous pit is an enigma. In August of 2013, a local farmer happened upon the 90-foot-deep hole, which stretches between 200 and 300 feet wide. Despite all the dangers inherent in stepping in the vicinity of a sinkhole, the particularly shocking phenomenon has led to a good deal of tourist attention.

11. All throughout the country, by way of Wawa, Target, Wal-Mart, Burger King, AMC Theatre, or the odd bodega, you may find yourself in the sweet embrace of a cold, refreshing ICEE. While the beverage company’s home base is located in Ontario, California, the ICEE dates back to a Dairy Queen in Coffeyville, Kansas, in 1958. The Barnes-born World War II vet and DQ owner Omar Knedlik invented the frozen delicacy to compensate for his lack of a soda fountain. Prompted by the popularity of his concoction, Knedlik began developing ICEE machines with a Dallas-based corporation, eventually selling a number of these machines to 7-11 to reappropriate as “Slurpees.”

12. Just as refreshing in the summer months as a supersized ICEE: a supersized water slide. In July of 2014, Kansas City’s Schlitterbahn Water Park unveiled the world’s tallest water slide, the Verrückt … that’s German for “insane,” as if the thought of a 168-foot-tall ride wasn’t terrifying enough.

13. For years now, Cawker City’s approximately 20,000-pound ball of twine has run neck and neck with the behemoth plastic sphere of Branson, Missouri in a race for the Guinness Book World Record. One superlative that Kansas’ can claim for sure: it is the largest twine ball constructed by a community. The project began in 1953 when Cawker City local Frank Stoeber wanted to one-up the previous record holder of Darwin, Minnesota. In 1961, Stoeber handed his 5,000-pound creation over to the city. Presently open to the public 24 hours a day, the ball stands 11 feet high, measures 42 feet in circumference, and claims 8,090,380 feet of twine, according to caretaker Linda Clover.

14. A cheeky answer to the very phenomenon of celebrating big-for-the-sake-of-big items like the Cawker City twine ball, Lucas, Kansas hosts the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things. Taking shelter in the passenger van of one Erika Nelson, the traveling sideshow exhibits tiny reproductions with wide enough variety to include folk hero Paul Bunyan and the Conan O’Brien blimp.

15. Kansas should be proud of the care and attention afforded to the patients of one of its most esteemed medical facilities. That facility is Kansas State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. And those patients are horses. Any horse that pays a visit to the institution is allowed access to a tremendous treadmill, controlled humidity for workouts, and a video camera to look inside the horse.