Halfway between Hays and Salina, turn north at Kansas Interstate 70 Exit 232 on the Post Rock Scenic Byway. Post Rock is one of our favorite Kansas scenic drives. The byway terminates at Lucas, Kansas’s quirkiest city. As you approach Lucas, look for the World’s Largest Souvenir Plate, a recycled satellite dish. Lucas is one of our favorite little-known adventures in the Midwest.
Grassroots art is everywhere in Lucas. Even Main Street power poles wear decorations. The city boasts one of the world’s greatest public toilets. Bowl Plaza alone makes Lucas worth visiting. Explore these six quirky attractions.
1. Quirky Lucas Starts With The Garden of Eden
Samuel P. Dinsmoor was nuts. Or so his neighbors believed. Dinsmoor, a Civil War veteran, believed that elite groups were crushing the masses through banks and governments. Dinsmoor was a skilled artisan. He had built his home from limestone “logs,” and now he proceeded to sculpt an array of figures around his home. Adam and Eve appeared, with a snake flicking its tongue at an apple. He sculpted even more elaborate and complex creations until his house and yard were surrounded by statues on trees standing 30 to 40 feet high, all made from cement. The property’s west side featured a Bible motif. The north side dramatized modern civilization. In his backyard, Dinsmoor built a mausoleum where people can still watch his body decay. It’s perfect for a Halloween tour. Nearby, the labor movement hangs crucified.
The railroad stopped in Lucas at night. Dinsmoor saw an opportunity to spread his odd vision and make some money. He electrified his home and sculptures, enticing curious visitors to stop by. The neighbors were scandalized and tried to force him to leave Lucas, but Dinsmoor was too stubborn for them. He stayed.
Ironically, the man they scorned was putting Lucas on a path to fame.
2. From A Rock Garden To A Toy Story
Florence Deeble traveled extensively within the United States. Inspired by Dinsmoor’s curious example, Deeble brought home rocks and postcards. Over the course of 40 years, using the souvenir rocks mixed with colored concrete, she created miniatures replicas of places like Mount Rushmore, Estes Park, and Capitol Reef National Park in her backyard. Dinsmoor appears in the “Kansas Mount Rushmore” with other well-known Lucas citizens.
Artist Mri Pilar remodeled Deeble’s home into the Garden of Isis. Pilar papered the walls with foil. My husband and I toured it as part of a Lucas Halloween celebration. That was appropriate. Her sculptures, called Rebarbs and Unlocks, inhabit the house. Some reminded me of Sid’s tortured toys in Toy Story. If you enjoy horror flicks, the house is perfect. I haven’t looked at dolls the same way since.
3. Follow The Giant Toilet Paper Roll To Bowl Plaza
By this time, you surely need to visit the facilities. Most communities make you hunt for a gas station or restaurant to relieve your needs, but not in Lucas. Instead, the public restroom, Bowl Plaza, is an attraction that’s attuned to the town’s personality. A wall shaped like a toilet paper roll defines the property. The walkway beside the roll is a 16-foot toilet seat lid with a drain sculpture in the center. A small dog named Beauregard Flushmeister chosen from hundreds of suggestions examines the drain’s contents, full of items lost down the drain. The toilet lid frames the entrance to a building shaped like a toilet tank. Inside is decorated with mosaics. The men’s room is embedded with toy cars, robots, and doughnuts. The ladies’ facility has tiny glass flowers, kittens, and teacups.
4. Eccentricities Abound At The Grassroots Art Center
The artwork in the Grassroots Art Center pushes the boundaries of artistic media. Many of the artists picked up their hobby during retirement or during an illness. Herman Divers used pull tabs. His creations ranged from his initial bedspread to a full-sized automobile. Betty Milliken changed chewing gum and grapefruit rinds into creatures, cameos, and portraits. Inez Marshall carved sculptures from solid rock.
After you admire the quirky works, head outside to the center’s Limestone Courtyard to see Post Rock Limestone carvings from about 1870 to 1920.
Pro Tip: Grassroots Art Center tickets include admission to Deeble’s garden and the House of Isis.
5. Experience A Tiny, Rocky Town At Miller’s Park
Miller’s Park stands behind the Garden of Eden. In the 1920s, Roy and Clara Miller created a small park filled with charming sculptures. They built a tiny town. Like Deeble, they constructed rock and shell “mountains” from stones they gathered on their travels. Eventually, the sculptures were moved to Hays, where they deteriorated. A Kohler Foundation grant enabled Lucas to reclaim the sculptures in the 2010s. Wire fencing protects the sculptures. For the best eye-level images, place your camera lens between the wires.
6. Experience The World’s Largest Collection Of The World’s Smallest Versions Of The World’s Largest Things
Artist Erika Nelson originally housed her collection in a house next to the Garden of Eden. The front yard holds a sculpture created from political signs, but the collection is now in a downtown storefront. Since Nelson is often on the road, the collection is only open by chance or appointment. When she’s not there, she’s looking for the world’s largest things. She visits, photographs, and replicates the “monsters of the road,” then photographs them together. Afterward, she exhibits the photo and the replica. She also consults with communities who want to build their own world’s-largest thing.
Pro Tip: Before you leave, stop at Brant’s Market. The company has been crafting bologna and sausage since 1922. The family recipes originated in Czechoslovakia, and they are delicious. Choose some Kansas-made Alma Cheese to go with your meats. Stay at the throwback Horseshoe Lodge.
Kansas and other midwestern towns often can be surprising and entertaining destinations: