The Lope: May 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Greensburg "After" - Downtown

One hardly needs to explain, "after what?" On the night of May 4, an EF5 tornado, reportedly 1.7 miles wide, turned most structures in the town of about 1400 into shattered remnants of their component materials. Many areas looked as if a Cuisinart had been inverted over them. The photos on this post were taken May 8; Greensburg has had quite a bit of clean-up since.

Cars of residents were marked with their addresses; whether or not there were consequences to people found away from their addresses, I do not know. Regulation was looser today, but the day before, residents were restricted to their own addresses. The previous day, Monday May 7, was the first day residents had been allowed in to collect possessions, but they'd had to evacuate before the day was over due to an ammonia leak in a railroad car.

I was hired by Land Line magazine to gather photos of Greensburg for an article on how the tornado affected truckers who lived there. I was also allowed to gather photos for this blog. Getting into Greensburg was not a given; everyone needed some sort of paperwork or credentials which showed they had a reason to be there. Traffic was backed up on Hwy 54, east of the city, while highway patrol and National Guard officers checked IDs for residents, press, contractors, etc.


The National Guard controlled the city, though I don't know if, technically, martial law was in effect. We were ushered into the press area, which was the two blocks of Main Street on the north side of Hwy 54. The press was confined there, unless accompanied by a National Guard escort to other parts of the city.

The downtown area looked like a huge construction play set after a kid threw a tantrum and trashed it. Bricks were everywhere.

Much of the national media was there; it looked like a sales lot of satellite trucks.

A residential area visible to the west of downtown showed the kind of destruction that came to wooden buildings.

It was drear and overcast that morning; even red refused to be colorful.

One rapidly got used to seeing cars in odd places.

And everyday objects were damaged in odd ways, like these blinds.

I'm still trying to figure out how this happened.

While downtown, we met up with truckers Darrell and Velda Wadel, who live south of Greensburg, out of the tornado's path. They told us of their reactions the night of Friday, May 4th, when they drove into Greensburg after the twister. They had no idea a tornado has passed.

"When you figure that that fury of that was within a mile of us, you know, it's humbling it..makes you very thankful" said Darrell. "I was kinda griping about my broken windows and it seems so small right now you know compared to the extent of the damage that these other people had. I feel bad that I felt sorry for myself for a little bit. We haven't got a convenience store; we haven't got a grocery store. we haven't got a place to buy gas, you know, in the whole town"

"we had no clue that there was a tornado this close"

Darrell described their drive into Greensburg that night: "you know at night when you come up on a small town, there's could see nothing towards town; it was erie"

"We actually got lost...we didn’t know where we were at," said Velma in an interview with Land Line magazine, "Nothing was recognizable. It was unbelievable."

We saw more flags draped over things as the day progressed.

All over town, most street signs had been destroyed. One of the first things emergency workers had done the day after the tornado was to paint the names of streets at intersections.

Traffic signals had been destroyed as well.

This train crossing signal had been at the Union Pacific's crossing of Main Street.

I believe this was a This is a view west, down Ohio Street, which is two blocks north of Hwy 54.

There's a special sadness to a musical instrument that will never play again.

This tattered flag was in what had been an interior room at the Fleener Chapel funeral home

This was on the door of the funeral home. Honestly, except for the courthouse and the grain elevator, I can't think of structure in town that was safe to enter.

This was the newspaper office - the Kiowa County Signal. They'd managed to publish a paper; I think their press is actually in Pratt, about 30 miles away. The headline was "Blown Away."

Irony littered the street.

I believe the "Horror" tag belonged to a video store.

These goats wandered around North Main, trying to eat the scarce bark from downed trees.

Other media people told me the owner of the goats had been around the day before, but could not get a trailer into town to pick them up.

Note that the "horror" plaque has been moved. A guy taping a tornado documentary came along and placed it here for what he thought was a better shot. Of course, for all I know it had been moved a few times previously.

These mangled trucks were just west of downtown.

U.S. Postal Inspector Police dig through the ruin of the post office.

Postal inspector Paul Mezzanotte carries a tub of mail excavated from the ruins of the Greensburg post office.

Most of the people we saw in the area we were confined to were media. There was a press conference coming up.

"We're gonna rebuild; we're gonna have a brand new town here."

Mayor Lonnie McCollom spoke to the press that day, May 8, 2007 -
"We're gonna have a brand new town and...we have one of the state's top tourist attractions and it's legitimately the biggest hand dug well in the world and we have 35,000 people sign our guest register every year...I've had people stop and they want it opened up Sunday and I go down there and open it up for them...we can't let that go. And we have one of the world's premier meteorite sites, the pallisite meteorite that's...very rare in the world and we have that here. And there's a lot of other things."

"This town owes it to our historical roots and what we have here to rebuild and we're gonna rebuild it. It'll'll be nice folks. Every body's gonna wanna live in a brand new town, and that's what we're gonna have."

I was impressed. Unfortunately, between then and now, McCollom has resigned, saying he is not the leader the town needs at this time, and that he wishes to spend more time with his family. Last I heard, Greensburg had not accepted his resignation and considered him on sabbatical.

Later that day, postal workers found and erected a flag pole.

The sun had come out, and red was red again.

Sunlight shown through where there used to be a roof into Fleener Funeral Home.

This overturned truck was actually in better shape than many trucks in town. As medieval towns had cathedrals and centers of the industrial revolution had grand train stations, 20th century agrarian towns built grain elevators. The Farmers Grain and Supply Company grain elevator sustained minimal damage and, due to a lack of trees and buildings after the tornado, became even more of a visual reference when driving about town than it was before.

Although the main structure of the grain elevator was undamaged, the peripheral structures did not fare so well.

I was reminded of aluminum cans.

Eventually we were able to leave our two-block area while accompanied by a National Guardsman. We headed to the part of downtown south of Hwy 54. The state of Greensburg's most noted downtown business, Hunter Drug, is shown in the post Greensburg Before and After, as is Greensburg's main tourist attraction, The Big Well.

These are businesses on the west side of Main, south of Hwy 54.

The interior of a local beauty shop was laid open.

The side of this bank tilted in an an odd angle; at first glance it almost has a mid-century modern feel.

Heart to Heart International Inc., a humanitarian organization, had a mobile medical van set up on Florida Street, just off of South Main.

On the east side of Main, our National Guard escort photographs emergency workers in front of the ruins of the Twilight Theater. I believe they might be from the Dodge City Police Department.

I regret that I never saw the Twilight Theater interior before the tornado. It has quite a history, having been a theater since 1917 when silent films were shown there. You can see a hint of art deco in the front. If you want a little bit of irony, consider that according to their website (which apparently has not been updated since the tornado), the next movie the theater was to show is entitled "Are We Done Yet?"

This building is just to the north of the Twilight Theater.

This had been a restaurant and gift shop. For a long time it was called Peddlers; most recently it was the Main Street Cafe. In both incarnations, it was known for vintage Christmas displays. Read about it here, and weep.

A vintage Santa (made by, I think, the David Hamberger Display Company of New York) is apparently pinned to rubble by a fallen column. I'll always wonder how cool this place looked upstairs; the world already had too few vintage automated Christmas displays.

The Twilight Theater and the Main Street Cafe are two examples of a lesson I did not learn well enough: There are neat things around us, virtually in our own back yards; we should see such things while we can.

Some of these photos were used in an interview CNN conducted with me. See it here.
See also my CNN I-report, here.

"The Lope" Greensburg posts as of June 11, 2007:
Remembering Greensburg
Greensburg Before and After
Greensburg "After" - Downtown
Greensburg "After" - Highway 54

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Sacred Grove on Route 66

Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is located 50 Miles south of Chicago at the south edge of Elwood, IL, on the northwest side of Route 66.

Though I more often seek the environs of Celtic crosses and Victorian angels, the stoic geometry of the national cemeteries evokes a certain placid dignity. I think of an sleeping army - thousands of soldiers waiting underground.

The 982 acre cemetery is a relatively recent addition to the landscape and to Route 66. It was dedicated in 1999 and sits on the former Joliet, IL Army Ammunition Plant site, also called the Joliet Arsenal. According to their website, 13,497 were interred here as of sometime in 2006.

We were virtually alone in the cemetery that day last July, the only sounds being the wind and the occasional bird. Anyone who has a loved one buried here and hopes it is a peaceful place should take comfort in that this Memorial Day.

These electronically controlled chimes played patriotic tunes every so often.

Abraham Lincoln founded the National Cemetery system in 1862 in response to a need to deal with casualties of the Civil War.

In 1870, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted acted as a consultant regarding the appearance of national cemeteries. He suggested they be "studiously simple...the main object should be to establish permanent dignity and tranquility - a sacred grove - sacredness being expressed in the enclosing wall and in the perfect tranquility of the trees within."

I'm not sure what Olmsted would have thought of the power lines.

For more about Illinois, see He Belongs to the Ages (but you can still buy a souvenir), and The Beginning of Route 66.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


I never thought that I'd photograph a sitting President of the United States and view it as a parenthetical event, but that was pretty much the case on May 9. Word had circulated a couple days before that George W. Bush would be visiting Greensburg, KS, five days after a tornado destroyed most buildings and houses in the town of about 1,400. I was part of a team on assignment for Land Line magazine and my greatest concern was that Bush's visit would cause a heightened level of security that would inhibit us doing our job and speaking to the truckers that the magazine serves. Fortunately, that wasn't a problem.

We had stayed in Pratt, about 30 minutes away, the night before. On the way back over to Greensburg I couldn't resist this shot of a train passing a billboard for a place that no longer exists. If such businesses do not rebuild, the various billboards will be come poignant reminders of a Greensburg that was.

Bush had flown into McConnell Air force base in Wichita, and taken the Presidential helicopter, Marine One, on to Greensburg where he circled the town a couple times. This is actually one of the accompanying helicopters. It was raining really hard at this point.

This is Marine One, though I didn't know that at the time. I simply photographed all three copters and figured I'd sort it out later. The designation, "Marine One" presently belongs to this Sikorsky VH-3 Sea King, but that is apparently soon to change, according to an article in Live Science. The fact that many of the replacement's parts will be made overseas has spurred some controversy. Read more about the battle for the contract between Lockheed and Sikorsky, here.

We didn't have much hope of being close enough to Bush to photograph him, but I did hope for a good motorcade shot. I waited with much of the rest of the press at the intersection of Main and Ohio, at the north end of the designated press area. I'd been told by several National Guard folks that the motorcade would pass there.

It didn't. I noticed a police car stopped at the intersection of Sycamore and Ohio, one block to the west and had started to cross the street to ask if he knew anymore about the route. I stepped into the street and saw a car full of very heavily armed, dark-clad troops of some sort, who gazed at me observantly though not particularly threateningly. I guess a soaked-to-the-bone guy in a tiki shirt didn't seem like much of a threat. The camera had timed out as I was concealing it from the rain. It did power up in time for me to get this picture of one of the lead vehicles. I was surprised that the whole string of vehicles made no noise. I was expecting to hear a siren.

This is a close-up of the last photo. I still don't know which vehicle carried the President.

The tail end of the Motorcade, having turned off Sycamore onto Ohio, proceeds west, past Greensburg scenery.

I'd heard Bush would go to the Kiowa County courthouse, which suffered relatively minimal damage. Rules as to press movement were confusing and contradictory at this point, and I wandered that way unopposed.

On the north lawn of the courthouse, past a plethora of FEMA trailers, I ran into Congressman Jerry Moran, who kindly confirmed the President's location within the grounds. Here, Moran greets supporters.

Check out the guys on the courthouse roof. Man, this is one place where you sure want to watch your choice of words - no "shooting" a subject rather than photographing them. I'd been mindful of that all day.

That's one luminous smile, Congressman.

After trying a couple other "photographing" positions, I found the most practical view could be had from the top of this wrecked car on the courthouse lawn. These girls thought so too.

And here we are, President George W. Bush in Greensburg, KS. I feel for the lady trying to get her picture through the other guy's head. I hope she got an opening in the crowd like I did.

My impression was that Bush was greeting first responders and volunteers at this point. He was about 1/4 block from me and I was very happy that I had a 12x zoom.

"W" pals around. Earlier that day he had visited a John Deere dealer, revved up a chainsaw for a photo-op and greeted various townspeople in a drive around Greensburg. Opinions I heard varied from "I don't think much of the man" to genuine outpourings of gratitude for the visit. The locals I met on the courthouse lawn seemed to welcome the distraction and, as far as I could tell, it didn't impede anything.

I shot this for republican K-State fans. Here ya go, guys; enjoy the power cat and the pres. I'm having a good year for seeing presidents; I saw Bill Clinton back in March, partially at K-State, as a matter of fact.

And now for someone completely different. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius chats with Kiowa County Sheriff's officer Bill Odle.

It had been a trying few days for Odle, of course. I'm glad to be a voter in a state where the Governor gives comforting hugs.

Major General Tod M. Bunting, Adjutant General of the Kansas National Guard, speaks at a subsequent press conference, back over in the press area downtown.

In the photo below, that's Greensburg City Administrator Steve Hewitt on the left. He gave an account of what happened after he and his family waited out the tornado in their basement to KWCH news; it was a story I heard echoed countless times by other Greensburg residents: "I held my son as he cried, my wife was crying...I walked around the corner, I looked up the stairs and I saw nothing but sky - no more house. I walked up and looked and - no more neighborhood"

On the right is Kansas State Representative Dennis McKinney of Greensburg; he and his daughter huddled in a basement bathtub while their house dissolved above them. Right after the tornado's passage, McKinney personally rescued his neighbor and her one year old baby from the rubble of the neighbor's house.

Underlying the presence of both Sebelius and Bush in Greensburg was the knowledge that she'd been critical of National Guard resources being deployed in Iraq, thus making fewer such resources available domestically. When asked if she had discussed this with Bush that day, she said she had not, but that she had before and he was well aware of her concerns. She then focused on the possibilities of a rebuilt Greensburg as a "green" city.

"The Lope" Greensburg posts as of June 11, 2007:
Remembering Greensburg
Greensburg Before and After
Greensburg "After" - Downtown
Greensburg "After" - Highway 54

Greensburg Before and After

The photos of Greensburg before the tornado, which I posted on May 5, certainly sparked a lot of interest as to the current state of the places shown. I was back in Greensburg on May 8 and 9, working for Land Line magazine. While there, I was also able to take some photos for The Lope and update that "before" post. Here are the same places as of May 8 and 9. I'm sure substantial clean-up has occurred since.

Hunter Drug

This was Greensburg's Hunter Drug store, with its old Rexall sign, on Feb 9, 2006.

It says a lot that the front of Hunter Drug used to be a vertical shot and now it's horizontal. The place was destroyed so thoroughly that it wasn't until I saw the remains of the blue and white cloth awnings that I was sure I had the right building. This is May 8, 2007.

The soda fountain was the heart of Hunter Drug.

It is still visible within the rubble. I believe it to be salvageable - or at least to have been so on May 9. It has rained a few times since then and I'm concerned that the structure may have survived the impact of debris only to warp from subsequent moisture.

This pattern on the front of the counter is quite distinctive. I've seen a lot of lunch counters and soda fountains over the years, having made a point to frequent them, but the Hunter Drug counter is the only one I'd seen with this pattern.

Richard Huckriede had manned these soda water spigots since 1952; here he is on May 9, 2006. He manned this station right up until the day of the tornado, May 4, 2007.

When trying to discern recognizable objects in rubble...well, it's like excavating with your eyes. I had a very mixed reaction to seeing the spigots. On the one hand, this counter had been the nexus of Greensburg to me, Sure, the Big Well is cool, and who wouldn't like a big rock from space? But the soda fountain was a social center of the town; and here is it, entombed in rubble, yet exposed to the elements. On the other hand, there it is...not destroyed, just...well, extremely inconvenienced at the moment.

I hope that the soda fountain is saved. Even if very battered, it would still make a great centerpiece for a Greensburg museum, its every dent a part of the story. But what I really cross my fingers for is that the soda fountain is restorable to the point of operability - that future residents and tourists can experience it as a living part of the city, a social nexus once more.

This is all I could see of the back bar on May 8.

On May 9 this note, which had apparently been posted in the store, was out on the sidewalk. It had been set there with obvious care.

Perhaps someone can explain this to us.

Dillon's Food Market

Dillon's Food Market, Feb 9, 2006

On May 8, 2007, Dillon's looked almost normal at first glance when seen from the west.

However, a front view reveals the damage to the east side of the building.

This is a view toward the interior from the front. Dillon's made news - other than the fact of its damage - in that five people were arrested for looting it. Four were soldiers from Fort Riley Army base and one was a reserve police officer.

The BIG Well

The World's Largest Hand Dug Well was Greensburg's main tourist attraction. Most of the reports I've read indicate the well itself is fine, but some technicalities have to be dealt with before it could open. On the left you can see part of the green legs of the water tower.

The building is simply gone. The pallisite meteorite was found intact and is in storage. The water tower is crumpled and on the ground now.

On the left is part of a little building which covered the ground entrance into the well.

The little building is gone, but these boards cover the actual entrance to the well.

Old Sinclair Station

I am told this used to be a Sinclair station. Here it is on Feb 9, 2006.

This is May 8, 2007.

This is the east end of the building. I like the masonry above the doors; it's too bad I didn't photograph it when the building was complete.

Perhaps someone can comment and tell us about the rocket.

A grandfather clock lies in the ruins.

Cowboy Supply Company

The Cowboy Supply Company had a beautifully dated sign.

May 8 - no cowboy, no anything. As a matter of fact, note the other posts without signs in the distance.

western town

A reader responding to my previous Greensburg post informs us that this western town used to be Burketown, part of Burke's Restaurant and Gift Shop. More recently, it may have been part of the grounds of Faith Tabernacle church, which was between it and Hwy 54.

On May 8, this was the only recognizable part of the western town I could find.


And what of the people shown in that post? I know only about the two shown in this picture, the soda jerk and the girl in the mirror. Richard Huckriede is fine, though he lost his home. The woman is named Angelique, and she and her family are also OK, though they lost their home and their dog to the storm. She wrote to tell me how they were doing and gave me permission to reprint this account of she and her husband and kids during the tornado:

"We have no home or vehicle but we have our lives and our children...I can't even explain how scary this was. We hid under my desk in the back room of Kwik Shop with a single dad with his 2 children and a college student with our 2 children. I was still closing down the computers in the checkstand area when it started to hit. The first window shattered and I took off running for the backroom. We had all 4 kids against the wall under the desk with the college student next with the father and me hiding our heads only under the desk so we could talk to the kids to try to calm them down. Trav couldn't fit under the desk so he layed across my back to keep me from being hit from debris. He had absolutely no protection and it scared the hell out of me."

I dearly hope to see those folks at that soda fountain again. It'd be a different building, but the same syrupy charm.

Many of these photos were used in a short televised feature CNN aired; they archived it here.
See also my CNN I-report, here.

"The Lope" Greensburg posts as of June 11, 2007:
Remembering Greensburg
Greensburg Before and After
Greensburg "After" - Downtown
Greensburg "After" - Highway 54

Another 15 Minutes

I'm on again, here. They're featuring some photos I took of Greensburg, KS before and after the tornado that struck it earlier this month. Those photos will follow shortly in my own post.

Ace and I may also be able to be described with one of my favorite 1960s packaging phrases, "As Seen on TV", by the end of this weekend. Diane Hawkins-Cox of CNN's Sci-Tech unit interviewed me via phone on Thursday, mostly about Greensburg. As I replay the conversation in my head, I wonder when "uh" and "um" crept into my speech.

Update: CNN archived it here. The audio doesn't sound too good - not their fault; I think it was my cell phone. It hasn't played much so far. I was upstaged by a giant pig, two gay flamingos and a drunk Lindsay Lohan. Life is nothing if not comedic.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Three Decades of The Force

...and 30 years of broken wrapping paper rolls.

Thirty years ago today, Star Wars premiered. Big budget science fiction movies gained a renewed viability, satirists got a boon of new material to play with and zillions of kids learned that it was fun to duel with empty Christmas wrapping paper rolls while making a "vreowww, vreowww" noise. I was one of them.

Jeremy Bullock played Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Here, he helps Ace the Jedi Lope duel with a miniature bounty hunter at Trek Expo in Tulsa, back in 2005.

Ace enjoyed the fringe benefits of being a Jedi.

It's funny how pervasive the imagery of Star Wars has become.

Siths abound.

Which means you need some rebel forces to pal around with them.

And of course, ya gotta have Jedi.

Here, a storm trooper marches in a 4th of July parade last year in Centerville, Ohio. The funny thing is, I didn't think it unusual.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Some Flood Pictures

Yep; the weather just keeps coming. Many streets flooded in Hutchinson KS last night. I'll plug in rainfall figures when I get them. All photos were shot near the intersection of Avenue A and Severance.

A whirlpool marks the location of a storm drain.

A resident couldn't resist taking pictures either.

Severance, just south of Avenue A, has a swift and visible flow.

The sidewalk on the north side of Avenue A between Severance and Reformatory became a rather brisk little stream.

Ace tries a bit of boating on Avenue A.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


It hailed this evening in Hutchinson Kansas...two large distinct waves that I counted, plus a few smaller ones peppered in here and there.

4:11 PM - Of course, I was outside. A view across Avenue A in Hutchinson shows the heavy rain and hail during the first wave.

4:11 PM - Hail on a lawn

4:13 PM - I made it inside and began to assess my damage. One of the west-facing attic windows had a screen blown through.

6:06 PM - The hail had stopped over an hour ago, so I set out to a friend's house. This was my car, tastefully decorated with leaves.

6:10 PM - Surprise! A second wave of hail...I sought temporary refuge under the K-61 overpass on Avenue A. I aborted the mission to a friend's house when I saw the street flooding, which I was just barely bright enough not to try to shoot while driving.

The side of the street. I made it home in a few minutes.

6:16 PM - During the 2nd wave, I discovered that hail now comes in convenient lozenges.

See more hail and flood pictures at the blog of Patsy Terrell.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Happy Birthday, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

May 22, 1859 – July 7, 1930
From Baker Street to the Lost World, we loved it when he took us along.

Deanna's Flowers

There is a wildflower garden near me, one I quite enjoy this time of year. Its chief bounty is a thick stand of Bachelor's Button, also called the Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus).

Although most of these are blue, there are a few other colors sprinkled in, like this mostly white one.

Purple ones make an occasional appearance.

A pink specimen hosts a flying passer-by.

Butterflies find Deanna's flowers to be good flitting (is that a word?) grounds.

Perhaps someone can comment and identify these butterflies.

Aside from a regular clientele of butterflies, various bees utilize them.

This is a Honeybee (Apis mellifera).

And this is good - last I heard, Kansas was a having a bee shortage.

It's amazing how close bees will let you come to them.

The Honeybee is the state insect of Kansas, by the way.

The red eyes of this Green Bottle fly (Lucilia caesar) were a nice accent. It's funny how something so annoying in your home can be like a flying jewel outside in the sun. In reading about the Green Bottle fly, I am surprised it was attracted to Bachelor's Buttons, as I read in quite a few places that it was attracted only to rather unpleasantly smelly flowers (among other nastier things) and the Bachelor's Buttons have no odor that I can discern.

And where is this garden?

It's the front lawn of one of my neighbors. Unfortunately, the city of Hutchinson, KS, has often complained about it over the years. Ironic, you know, that in an age of falling water tables, her drought-tolerant lawn is sometimes seen as such a pariah.

Ace and I think she's just ahead of her time.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Right Now

Right now the moon is dancing with a star. Go look at it.
(Actually, it could be a planet)

25 minutes later, after some research: Hey! It is a planet - no less than Venus, the goddess of love. No wonder I was so attracted to it. Read more at

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Where is Ace Jackalope? (Episode 16)

What sort of disguise is Ace attempting?

What is the formal title of the position he is trying to impersonate?

What is the more commonly used name of that position?

Of course, there is a danger of inaccuracy in choosing a disguise based on pop-culture impressions and available clothing which Ace...uh "persuades" small stuffed souvenir animals to give up. Why is the color he has chosen inappropriate for just an ordinary day in this job?

And, of course...Where is Ace Jackalope?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

Does your mother have a back seat drivers license?

Ace's favorite mom does; she uses it too.

Do you suppose those things grant any real legal authority?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Remembering Greensburg

slightly updated on May 27, 2007

As many of you know, the town of Greensburg, Kansas was virtually destroyed by a tornado last night. I visited Greensburg a little over a year ago, on February 9 of 2006. Here are some scenes from that pleasant day in Greensburg, one I had hoped to repeat someday.

Let me start with what was, for me, the highlight.

Richard Huckriede started work at Hunter Drugstore in Greensburg in 1952.

Last I knew, he still worked there, having long ago earned the title of the world's oldest soda jerk. "Soda jerk" was a term used for people, usually young men, who operated a soda fountain. The "jerk" comes from the motion of pulling the levers that added soda water.

What those of us who grew up drinking fountain pop from machines may not appreciate is that the process of making a soft drink used to be more mixology than mechanization.

Convenience stores didn't exist back then, and unless you bought it bottled, getting a soda while out and about meant a trip to a dime store or drug store soda fountain.

Hunter Drug was a typical outlet for its time.

The classic Rexall sign - I see more of these in museums and private collections these days than in actual use.

When I would mention an impending trip to Greensburg to a couple friends who lived there, they didn't just urge that I go to the World's Largest Hand Dug Well. As a matter of fact, Angelique, the young woman in this picture is one of Ace's readers and insisted he be photographed at this soda fountain.

Anyone who enjoys classic Americana loves a "soda guy."

I had him fix me a cherry vanilla coke, as I recall. Read more about Richard Huckriede here.

Vintage advertisements adorned the soda fountain area.

The once ubiquitous and now antique Hamilton Beach malt mixers.

There were walnut and marble booths in the back of the store.

Elsewhere in the store you could find this old display case for Sheaffer's pens.

Many downtown businesses in small Kansas towns still had their old tin ceiling tiles; Hunter Drug was no exception.

This is what I saw just before I walked out of Hunter Drug for what would I didn't know would be the last time.

Hunter Drug was destroyed last night, along with most of Greensburg. 13 people lost their lives in this storm. That rather puts the loss of buildings in perspective. Update, May 11- Richard Huckriede is alive and well, and worked at Hunter Drug until May 4. Angelique is fine too, though she and her family lost their home. I have no information as to whether Hunter Drug will rebuild. See Greensburg Before and After for an update.

Another structure that was heavily damaged is this older Dillon's Food Market. See Greensburg Before and After for an update.

I don't know the status of this old service station across Hwy 54 from Dillon's. I was intrigued by the little rocket. See Greensburg Before and After for an update.

And Greensburg was not without its western appeal. The Cowboy Supply sign was a classic - "Howdy, Podner - COME IN." Judging from video I saw today, it's gone. Update: It's gone; see Greensburg Before and After.

The BIG Well

All is not lost in Greensburg. The town's claim to fame is the World's Largest Hand Dug Well. Although the buildings atop it were destroyed, the well itself survives.

This is the view from the top, looking down through the metal mesh covering. According to the website of the city of Greensburg Chamber of Commerce, the well is 109 feet deep, 32 feet wide, and was dug in 1897. And why dig such a thing? For the steam locomotives of the Rock Island and Santa Fe railroads. Steam engines use a lot of water.

Just past a short stairway under the entrance, there are four long flights of metal stairs. You can see the mixture of color temperatures in the lights they use to illuminate the chasm.

The stairs themselves can be a thrilling experience if you are a little hesitant about heights. They were sturdy, however, and I bet they still are.

From the bottom, you can see through the structure at top.

A metal framed wood platform lies at the bottom. I always found the life preserver on the fence at the edge of the platform to be slightly humorous, though I suppose it's possible someone with not too much sense could leap over into the actual well water.

Speaking of which, here's the top of the water at the bottom of the well. It is very dark and still.

The walls are decorated - if that's the word - with graffiti of varied ages.

Moving back up the stairs, the windows at top are a welcome view to some.

The "World's Largest Pallasite Meteorite" shared billing with the big well. The meteorite was housed in the now-destroyed ticket office, museum and gift shop near the top of the well. And what is a pallasite meteorite? According to Meteorite Central it is "A class of meteorite (stony-iron) That usually contains equal amounts of metal and olivine (a silicate of magnesium/iron). The olivine appears as 'granules' or grains."

"World's Largest" may no longer have been an accurate title for Greensburg's treasure; a larger pallasite meteorite was found recently, also in Kansas. Who's got meteorites? We've got meteorites - Yeah! I saw the new title-holder on display at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center last year. I think the one in Greensburg is far more loved, however. Here's a close-up of the texture of the Greensburg pallasite meteorite; you can really see the metal in it.

The gift shop of the well/meteorite was a good one. It had a nice mix of educational material and just plain fun old-style touristic stuff. It reminds me of the really cool Lincoln Gift Shop in Springfield, IL. In addition to the classic back scratchers and leather pouches, notice that they sold a postcard of an "angel over Greensburg" (in the clouds I presume).

My favorite piece is one that used to be a standard of tourist attractions, but which you don't see all that much anymore - the little plastic slide viewer.

Here's the view inside one of the viewers. For some reason I find these charming; I bought one, of course.

Update, May 11 - The meteorite is safe and sound, having been found to have pretty much fallen in place. I was not worried about it; after all, it survived a fiery plunge through the atmosphere and a high-speed impact with the ground, so it probably laughed at a 205 mph tornado. The Big Well is OK too, though it is closed at the moment. For pictures of the site, post-tornado, see Greensburg Before and After. For info on how to help the Big Well, see

We remember the Big, well. And we hope to visit it again soon.

There's been so much interest in this post that I'm expanding it to include a faux western town which was behind the Faith Tabernacle Church on Hwy 54 on the west side of town. Out front, one could find this slightly googie-style recycled sign. After I requested more information, an anonymous reader kindly supplied the following comment:

"Faith Tabernacle resides (or resided) in what use to be Burke's Restaurant and Gift Shop. Behind Burke's was Burketown, an old western town, which in it heyday, was something to see. When I was growing up in Greensburg, I remember old time stage shows being offered, on occasion, at the opry house. Burke's was the 'fancy' restaurant, and my family always ate at the more common place, the Kansan, on the east side of town."

I visited Greensburg, post-tornado, on assignment for Landline Magazine on May 8 an 9, 2007. As noted in a few places above, I have posted before and after pictures of the sites above, here. It's not pretty

Some of these photos were used in a televised interview CNN conducted with me. See it here.
See also my CNN I-report, here.

"The Lope" Greensburg posts as of June 11, 2007:
Remembering Greensburg
Greensburg Before and After
Greensburg "After" - Downtown
Greensburg "After" - Highway 54

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Where is Ace Jackalope (episode 15)

Ace Jackalope ate here, but he wasn't offered a box of these candies. Where did Ace have breakfast?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Nosferatu to Primavera

You can bring in the garlic now.

Today is May Day - the first day of May. Yesterday, to prepare for this, we went shopping the local greenhouses looking for Lily of the Valley, a flower traditionally sold and worn in France on May 1. I've always had a thing for May Day; it's one of the things the French do so right. We didn't find any Lily of the Valley that was blooming, but if we do in the next few days, I'll add a picture here.

May Day was the traditional summer holiday in many pre-Christian cultures. In fact, the reason midsummer's day is "midsummer's" day is that they'd already started to refer to the time of year as "summer" (or whatever their word was) on May 1 so the summer solstice was at about the middle of their definition of "summer." I like that better than the modern system...seems more logical

Traditional Roman Catholicism referred to summer as "Mary's Month" and the Lily of the Valley became symbolic of Mary's tears.

When I asked my neighbor if she had any Lily of the Valley blooming, she told me of the tradition of giving May baskets, which she remembered as a little girl in the Midwest. May baskets were baskets of flowers - real or craft-made - which were left, usually anonymously, on the porches of friends, neighbors or strangers. It sounds like a charming custom; it's too bad it has faded away.

Today in the USA, May 1 is the rather vestigial holiday, Loyalty Day, used to re-affirm loyalty to the USA and its principles. The holiday is legal, but not federal, so you don't get time off to do this; I suppose we'll just have to re-affirm in whatever way the Patriot Act dictates. Loyalty Day started out in 1921 as "Americanization Day" and was intended to counterbalance Labor Day, which many saw as communist. Fun story, isn't it, considering that we now regard Labor Day as about all-American as it gets? I guess that Loyalty Day is sort of "Independence Day lite". I want fireworks; we should get to blow stuff up at least twice a year.

As to older May Day practices, The maypole is one of those delightful left-overs from Germanic paganism that survives to the present day. Here, young people in the Swedish-themed town of Lindsborg, KS practice a maypole dance for their October Svensk Hyllninfest in 2005. Although this was a Fall festival, and maypoles are traditionally used more at midsummer in Sweden, there are also traditions in Europe which involve maypole dances on May Day. Like almost anything else that is fun, maypoles have been occasional victims of evangelical Protestants over the centuries; they didn't like mixed-gender dancing.

Here's an ornate maypole at Lindsborg's McPherson County Old Mill Museum.

And here's a closer view of the top. Maypoles were often a source of civic pride, and had to be protected from raids carried out by neighboring villages. This was usually only as serious as a modern college stealing another college's mascot, but was occasionally more serious, as in England's Hertfordshire in 1602 and Warwickshire in 1639, when such pole theft incidents were a catalyst to violence.

Maypole dances are the most apparent post-Christianization traces of the earliest European May Day celebrations, such as the Celtic celebration of Beltane, and the Germanic Walpurgis Night, which is the night before the dawn of May 1.

Fans of Bram Stoker's Dracula may remember that the events of the 1931 film began on Walpurgis Night. This was appropriate, since the events of Stoker's short story, "Dracula's Guest", which is actually the deleted first chapter of "Dracula", took place that night.

Stoker: "Walpurgis Night was when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad – when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel."

Wasn't that a ray of May sunshine? Actually, it's a rainy night here in Kansas, with a bit of a chill in the air; the sun never really rose today. We're suspended between Nosferatu and Primavera - the darkness of Walpurgis Night and the light of Spring.

Sweet dreams and, uh, Happy May Day.

Spring 2007 Great Plains Renaissance Festival

Ace Jackalope joins fair goers Jayna and Laura as they enjoy a Viking boat at the Spring 2007 Great Plains Renaissance Festival held this past April 21 and 22 in Wichita KS' Sedgwick County Park.

The boat is the property of Sam Shoults, a.k.a. Viking Sam, who is seen here raising the sail, a task he had to repeat at least twice, as the Kansas wind forced him to lower it at times.

Shoults is a history reenactor specializing in Viking culture. He bought the boat from builder Kerry Eikenskold of Inyokern, California.

His shallow keel Viking raider longboat is named Yrsa. According to wikipedia, Yrsa is the name of a tragic Scandinavian heroine.

For those of you into historic boat recreations, here's a front view. Yrsa is constructed using the "lap-strake" or "clinker" design of slightly overlapping wooden planks. You can read much more about Viking ships here.

Longboats are sometimes called "dragon ships" for obvious reasons. If you take a liking to Viking ships, you might consider watching the Viking longboat races on the Isle of Man in the UK.

The boat was also a background favored by Anthony and Deborah Russell of Wichita, who appear here in their Society for Creative Anachronism identities as Baron Thomas Foxleye of the Grenewode and Baroness Cerridwyn Eurgledde ferch Owain ap Bychan ap Gruffudd ap Llywellyn ap Siesyllt ap Meredudd. I must make a mental note to not attempt to identify people in the future with names that long.

And just what is the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA)? From the website of a local chapter of the SCA: "The SCA is an international organization renowned for its dedication towards researching and recreating aspects of the Middle Ages, not as they were, but as we would have liked them to have been." More information can be had here.

Armed combat is a common recreational pursuit in the SCA. Here, two SCA members battle with padded rattan weapons. I've seen the SCA at every renaissance festival I've attended, but had never stopped to watch them.

The yellow strip on the weapon denotes what would be the sharp edge, were it actually a blade. I'd rather look at the Skeletor-like helmet than the weapon; it reminded me of watching an action figure fight.

Now that's recycling. As this inside view shows, this armor is made from a (legally obtained, I am told) yield sign.

Warriors bash each other while keeping track of what would be wounds if the weapons were real. They largely use the honor system to report whether they'd be injured and to what degree, and I saw no conflicts while I was there.

This young woman, known locally as Meg the Sexy Faerie Girl, is one of Ace's readers. We're always thrilled to run into a reader in the real word. I know about how many people view this blog, and even have good stats on their geography, but I seldom get to meet any. Stats are nice, but real faeries are nicer. Meg had waited til I got her photo with Ace to remove the wings, which were problematic in the Kansas wind.

Pirates seemed more in evidence than usual this time, partly due to the popularity of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean movies. This is Rick Rousseau, whose card identifies him as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Where there are pirates there are pirate wenches. This is Sheila of the piratical entertainment group Musical Blades. I like "piratical" as a word; mind you, I don't know if it's really recognized, but I don't care as it sounds cool and is self-explanatory. They use it on their website and who am I to argue with people with swords and wenches?

The "tree lady" was particularly floral this year. It's the third year I've photographed her, having seen her in Spring of 2006 and Fall of 2005. I just can't seem to pass her up.

This time, she was listed as "Mother Nature." I still think of Tolkien's Entwives, the long-departed mates of Ents like Treebeard, which were mentioned in Lord of the Rings but never described.

The festival has it's own royalty. Ace pays a diplomatic visit to Allen and Christine Leddon, a.k.a. His Royal Highness Axel Hans Von Blingenstein & Her Royal Highness Catherine d' Bajor.

The rest of the royal court.

Curtis Newsom and Byron T. Bear specialize in increasing awareness of bear conservation.

Byron gives a bear hug to a young woman named Layla.

Jousting shows were performed by Joustevolution Jousting.

Once unhorsed, combat continues on foot.

There were two belly dancing areas at the festival.

They furnish a nice balance to the testosterone of the fighting.