Monday, August 27, 2007

My Kansas Kronikles: Oklahoma's strange panhandle

So, let's hear it for Ohio
And the rippling redwood forest
Or the Sawmill River Parkway
Oklahoma's strange panhandle
Aren't they all wonderful?
Oh, yeah, yeah yeah!

Loudon Wainwright III, Bicentennial, 1976

Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. The Wizard of Oz, 1939.

Now when I was a little chap, I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, an lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting (but they all look like that) I would put my finger on it and say, 'When I grow up I will go there.' Joseph Conrad's Marlow character, Heart of Darkness, 1902.

Now I'm grown up, and last month it was time for me to briefly leave Kansas and head to an inviting spot on a map, the Oklahoma panhandle. It's not quite a blank space, but no one will confuse it with Manhattan Island, or Manhattan, Kansas, either.

Drive two miles south from Liberal, Kansas on US Route 54, and you'll enter the panhandle, also known as No Man's Land.

As I wrote in this live Treo-blog post, the panhandle was once called No Man's Land because it was the last section of the continental United States to be organized by the federal government; that occurred in 1889 when it was joined with the Oklahoma Territory.

Oh, before I forget, Loudon Wainwright III sang of the panhandle in his song, Bicentennial, but this year, Oklahoma is celebrating its statehood centennial.

The panhandle is 170 miles wide, but only 34 miles top-to-bottom. Like much of western Kansas, the terrain is mostly plains, with farms and ranches scattered throughout. On the left is the typical natural habitat of the area.

No Man's Land may have few men and women living there, and it is small, but not too small to have a museum, called of course, The No Man's Land Museum. I found out about the museum in one of my travel books, Off The Beaten Path. The museum is free and worth visiting even if it there was an admission fee.

Debbie Colson is in charge of the No Man's Land Museum, and she is assisted by Sue Weissinger. The pair were only vaguely aware that "a book" made reference to their museum, but I went out to my car and retrieved Off The Beaten Path. They were impressed, and were also pleased that I would mention their workplace on Marathon Pundit, and I handed each my blog-card. That seemed to please Debbie and Sue. However, since one of them--and I'm not saying which one--left the museum and drove off in a car with a bumper sticker stating something like, "Don't Like The Way Things Are? Vote Democratic", at least that woman was probably not thrilled by the conservative tone found on Marathon Pundit if she visited here after I visited there.

The museum is in Goodwell, on the campus of Oklahoma Panhandle State University. The largest town in the panhandle is Guymon, just to the north. Below is Guymon's Main Street and its now-closed American Theater.

Guymon is not an Oklahoma "Beef Kingdom," but a porcine one. It's largest employer is a pork processing plant. In 2005, Guymon became an official Oklahoma Main Street Community.

The panhandle has some notoriety. It was the epicenter of the 1930s Dust Bowl--the book The Worst Hard Time zeroed in on the panhandle town of Boise City.

Next: The Texas panhandle

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