This Friday is Kansas Day, marking the 160th anniversary of our state’s admission to the Union in 1861. Kansas Day was first celebrated in 1877 by the school children in Paola, and I imagine, the children at Kinsley-Offerle Elementary School are still carrying out that tradition this week.
But Kansas Day has not always been reserved for school children to learn about and appreciate their state. In 1892, the Republican Kansas Day Club was formed, and for over a century, they organized partisan breakfasts, luncheons, and banquets in Topeka.
The Leavenworth Weekly in 1897 wrote, “January 29 should be a red-letter day celebrated in every part of the State with public decorations and mass meetings.”
An article in the Kinsley Graphic on February 3, 1910 describes a large crowd assembled at the Flohr Opera House (625 Colony Ave.) to hear a lecture by Thomas A. McNeal. He was the third speaker in an “All Kansas Entertainment” series organized by Cora Lewis.
T. A. McNeal was well known in Kansas. He left Ohio to settle in Medicine Lodge in 1879 where he owned and edited the local paper. In the next few years, as a Republican, he represented Barber County in the Kansas legislature and also served as the mayor of Medicine Lodge.
In 1887 he was admitted to the bar and practiced law until 1897 when he moved to Topeka and established the “Kansas Breeze” newspaper. In 1905 McNeal was appointed private secretary to Republican Governor Edward Hoch and then became the State Printer, the office which he held at the time of his visit to Kinsley.
Graphic editor J. M. Lewis wrote about the lecture. “Believing the matter of the greatest moment in the state to be the development of men and women of fine character, the speaker took for his theme ‘The Future Kansas Citizen.’ It was a speech worthy of the day – full of clear thought, plain speaking, high ideals, and just estimates of present-day tendencies and problems. It was full of good stories and humorous illustrations, which kept the audience vibrating between laughter and serious attention, and was greeted with applause, genuine and sincere.”
Charles R Edwards, editor of the rival Republican Kinsley Mercury, wrote similar praise. “Tom McNeal stands before the people in a most favorable light, as a consistent square dealer, and the political significance of his talk was not missed by the crowd. He is a candidate for the Republican nomination for congress running against Dan Anthony in the First district. The Mercury believes and hopes that he will be successful…. Standing as they do at the head of the Democratic party in this county, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis showed a broadminded tolerance in presenting Mr. McNeal to our people.”
Another Kansas Day celebration was described in the 1917 Graphic, just 3 months before the United States entered WWI. The Kinsley Woman’s Club served quite an elaborate banquet and program in the Knights of Pythias Hall (107 E. Sixth St., Young’s Club). Of particular interest to me is that the profits from tickets sold to the event were to build a club house and library in Kinsley.
“Large artificial sunflowers covered the lights and large baskets filled with them were placed on the small tables in the main room. Doorways were draped with black and yellow bunting, while at the end of the room the United States flag and the white Peace flag were artistically draped. A candy table also was an attractive place, in more than one sense. In the dining room the long tables were decorated with black vases filled with yellow narcissae…. Beck’s orchestra added greatly to the occasion.”
I’m not sure how long it has been since Kinsley has celebrated Kansas Day outside of the schools. But if you’re looking to add a little variety to your life during this gray pandemic winter, here are some ideas: 1) check out T. A. McNeal’s book, “When Kansas was Young” or another Kansas history book from the library, 2) make some sunflower seed cookies, 3) sing “Home on the Range” while sipping your favorite beverage, 4) Google “Kansas Symbols” to find out just how many state symbols you don’t know, 5) Visit the StoryWalk in South Park and enjoy some images and thoughts about Kansas, 6) or my personal favorite, enjoy a hot bowl of buffalo chili.