Visiting the United States? There are 50 states in all.
The prairie state of Kansas is endless wheat fields and the explosion of sunflowers in August. It played a pivotal role in the struggle to abolish slavery and, a century later, to end school segregation. It’s a hub for builders of sleek business jets and, in the past, military behemoths.
Kansas is Middle America, the place from which a fictional tornado lifted a farm girl, Dorothy, and deposited her in Oz and to which she happily returned at the end of her adventure.
The presidential library of Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander in World War II and 34th U.S. president, is in Abilene, where Ike grew up. The aviator Amelia Earhart, first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, was born in Atchison. Basketball great Wilt “the Stilt” Chamberlain came from Philadelphia, but rose to fame playing for the powerhouse University of Kansas Jayhawks.
A rich harvest
Those yellow-and-brown sunflowers produce cooking oil, snacks and birdseed in enormous quantities. And Kansas grows enough wheat to make 23 billion loaves of bread each year. Visitors to the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame outside Kansas City can see antique machinery and experience pioneer farm life.
Civil rights history
Anti-slave Kansas settlers fought pro-slavery neighbors in Missouri in the buildup to the Civil War, earning the territory the name “Bleeding Kansas.” Abolitionist John Brown played a part.
The Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka commemorates the end of school segregation. Linda Brown’s family brought the suit that led to the monumental 1954 Supreme Court decision. Fourth and fifth graders at the all-black Monroe Elementary School in Topeka, which Brown attended, are depicted in the 1949 photo above. (Linda Brown is not in the photo.)
Follow the yellow brick road
The Oz Museum in Wamego features more than 2,000 artifacts from The Wizard of Oz movie made in 1939 and the L. Frank Baum books on which it was based, including replicas of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Wicked Witch of the West. The museum is outside Manhattan, a lively college town.
Air capital of the world
The Kansas Aviation Museum celebrates the rich history of Wichita’s aviation industry. Cessnas and LearJets are still manufactured in Wichita, and for years Boeing built B-29, B-47 and B-52 bombers, the workhorse 737 passenger jet and many other aircraft there.
Sights not to miss
The Strataca underground salt mine offers tours through miles of tunnels 200 meters down in Hutchinson. Visit historic Fort Hays, where George Armstrong Custer, Wild Bill Hickok and the Buffalo Soldiers — an African-American cavalry regiment — served. Stop at the Pawnee Indian Museum in Republic and witness prescribed fires that the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve sets in the Flint Hills. Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City invokes the Wild West.