Monday, February 11, 2013


I don’t know.  These Midwestern states …  They’re just boring.  First there was Illinois.  Then Indiana.  Then Iowa.  And now Kansas.  I need a break.

10. Wonsevu

French?  Native American?  Just made up on the fly?  Particularly bad Scrabble rack?

As far as I can tell, this is Native American – and means something like running deer, or antelope, or thing that moves across the prairie quickly . 

It’s in the center of the state.  Not much there except for a cemetery, some farms, a closed church, a closed school, and a bunch of dirt roads that all run perpendicular to each other.

I actually passed pretty close by here last year.  I was out in Kansas on business, and was taking the scenic route from Wichita to Manhattan.  If I had known, I probably would have stopped by.

Downtown Wonsevu

9. Speed

The town fathers are considering changing the name to Meth.  You know, to keep up with the times.

Actually, I haven’t a clue on this one.  I did get a lot of Google results for it – but mostly for NASCAR, Internet service providers, and the Kansas State Police.

Speed’s in the north central part of the state, almost on the Nebraska border.  Looks like we’ve got a half a dozen streets and a couple dozen buildings, including a church and a grain elevator.

Probably the biggest thing to ever happen to this place came in 2008, when the Hot Wheels 40th Anniversary Cross-Country Road Trip held a special event here.  Over 10,000 people invaded this town of about 40.  Complete details right here.

“But, Officer, the sign said ‘speed!’
What was I supposed to do?”

8. Protection

I wonder if the high school mascot is a Trojan?

Alright, we’ve got two theories for this one:
  • A place for widely scattered homesteaders to get together for protection from Indian attacks
  • To celebrate protectionism (as opposed to free trade), a basic plank of the GOP back when the town was founded, in the late 19th century

This metropolis of 500 is in the south central part of the state, right on the border with Oklahoma.  It’s even big enough to have its own bank, the reassuringly named Bank of Protection.

The town had its 15 minutes of fame in 1955, when it was chosen as a test site to have all its citizens inoculated for polio.

In case you can’t read it:

In Tribute to Protection, Kansas

For leadership and inspiration to the nation as the first city or town to have all citizens under forty inoculated with the Salk polio vaccine.

Basil O’Connor
National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis
December, 1957

So, what're the people over 40 - chopped liver?

7. Liberal

In southwest Kansas?  You have got to be kidding me.

And if that isn’t crazy enough, would you believe calling someone “liberal” used to be a compliment?  The usual story told here is that an early settler made a name for himself by giving water to weary travelers – and not charging them for it!  And that was a good thing!  And people complimented him by calling him liberal and basically naming the town after him!  Strange times, huh?

Some fun facts about this huge conurbation of 20,000:
  • Gas, oil, helium, agriculture, and trucking are big, Big, BIG!
  • It’s the home of the Liberal Mid-America Regional Airport (wow, “liberal mid-america” – there’s a contradiction in terms)
  • It’s famous for its pancake races
  • In the movie National Lampoon's Vacation, Clark wants to take a detour to visit Liberal and see the world's largest house of mud
  • Poet William Stafford was born here

Oh, sorry ...
 It’s also Pancake Hub of the Universe!

6. Skiddy

I wish I could tell you some tall tale about a cowboy whose horse wouldn’t stop, or some train that overshot the end of the line, or something ...  Turns out, though, the town was named after a financier of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (KATY) Railroad – some guy from New York named Francis Skiddy, who most likely never came within 1000 miles of this place.

Well, the railroad giveth, and the railroad taketh away.  When the KATY pulled out in the early 1950s, Skiddy was well on its way to becoming a ghost town.  Today, the few residents are outnumbered by the weathered, abandoned structures that remain. 

It’s a popular place to take pictures.  This photographer couple have a ton of them. 

Some of their work

5. Medicine Lodge

No, this is not some fancy spa for hypochondriacs.  A medicine lodge is essentially a sweat lodge, sort of like a sauna for Native Americans. 

This particular medicine lodge was used by the Kiowa people and was basically an arbor they used to celebrate their annual sun dance.  It’s also the site of an important treaty, and the name was used for a local river.  So, a pretty obvious choice for any settlement that was likely to grow up 'round these parts.

Today, this city of 2000 in the southeast part of the state is known as the “Gateway to the Gyp Hills.”  Sorry, come again?

By the way, prohibitionist Carrie Nation started her campaign here. 


4. Agenda

I don’t know what it is about this place.  Whenever I go there, they always seem to want something from me.  I just can’t tell what it is.  All the townsfolks, they’re just strange.  They all seem to have a …  I’m not sure what it is … a … an …

Well, whatever it is, it certainly isn’t an explanation for how their town got its name. The closest thing I could find was that there was an Indian agency here, and that these places were sometimes called "agendas."   

I was able to find out that this diminutive village of 70 is in the north central part of the state, right along the Nebraska border.

3. Gas

“You just passed Gas!”  “What?”  “You just passed Gas!”  “I did not!”  “Oh, yes you did.”  “Did not!”  “Did too!  We both did!”  “What???  Hey, I don’t know about you, dude, but I definitely did not pass any gas.”

This burg of 560 in the southeast part of the state was named for the abundant reserves of natural gas in the area.  It was originally called Gas City, and is officially known as the City of Gas.

I have a small library of books on humorously named towns, and one of my favorites is called Passing Gas, by Gary Gladstone.  He basically shows up at these crazily named places, meets some locals, takes some pictures, and writes up the experience.  Highly recommended.

Get it?

2. May Day

May day!  May day!  This town’s going down!

May Day got its name when it was founded on May 1.  Buncha commies, huh?

The original name was Stanton, but there was already one of those.  I can just hear the conversation ...  “Well, what’re we gonna do now guys?”  [long pause]  “Today’s Friday, ain’t it?  Why don’t we just call it Friday?” [long pause] "I don't know if that's gonna work, Vern." [long pause] "Alright, what do you propose, Homer?" [long pause] ...

Not much left today.  In fact, this place comes pretty darn close to being an out-and-out ghost town

Old May Day Schoolhouse

1. Zook

No, it’s not Zook Spur, but hey, what is? 

Couldn’t find anything on the origin of this name.  I’m assuming, though, like in Zook Spur, there’s a Mr. Zook lurking in the background somewhere.  It’s a German name, common among Amish and Mennonites, and particularly common in Kansas.  It comes from the Swiss canton of Zug. 

Though Zook definitely does exist, there’s not a whole lot to it.  I could find four streets – Main, Colgazer, Wilcox, Gilkison – and maybe as many buildings.

I understand they like this sport in Kansas
(Zook High Basketball Team, date unknown)

Honorable Mention:

  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Kansas City*, Campus, Trading Post, Plainville, Clay Center, Centerville, Centropolis, Opolis, Home
  • Short & sweet – Park, Woods, Maize, Rock
  • A bad case of the cities – Sun City, Lake City, Park City, Prairie City, Hill City, White City, Bird City
  • Too many mounds – Mound City, South Mound, Half Mound, Blue Mound
  • Just a little out of place – Arkansas City, Minneapolis, Duluth, Detroit, Denver, Erie, Scranton, Manhattan* (home of KSU), Long Island, Atlanta, Iowa Point, Michigan Valley, Lone Star, Toronto, Canada, Tampa, Havana, Cuba, Peru, Zurich, Stuttgart, Dresden, Bavaria, Denmark, Holland, Moscow, Lebanon (geographical center of the US), Paradise
  • Just a little off-color – Athol, Climax
  • Native American mouthfuls – Walulla, Oskaloosa, Tonganoxie
  • Orthographically challenged – Sublette, Studley
  • Atypical adjectives – Covert, Gross, Neutral
  • Abnormal nouns – Monument, Tribune, Walnut, Buttermilk, Beaver, Beagle, Soldier, Friend, Pairs, Tyro, Thrall, Moonlight, Sparks, Radium, Severance
  • Unconventional verbs – Reserve, Admire, Flush
  • Fun to say – Yoder, Le Loup, Olpe, Narka, Mingo, Zenda, Plevna, Piqua (Buster Keaton's birthplace), Petrolia, Bushong, Jarbalo, Wego-Waco
  • Just plain weird – Circleville, Silkville, Oil Hill, Pretty Prairie, Pen Dennis, Punkin Center, Jetmore, Shallow Water, Saxman, Smileyberg, White Cloud, West Mineral
  • I’d like you to meet – Rocky Ford
  • Ghost towns – Constant, Eminence, Santa Fe, Ohio City, Silica, Tweed, Teeterville

* - author has visited

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