Black squirrels of Marysville, Vivian Vance, Marais des Cygnes Massacre

(Frank) Today Around Kansas starts with a story about the black squirrels of Marysville – they are the official town mascot! Next we get a better look at Vivian Vance, the actress you may know better as Ethel Mertz from the I Loe Lucy TV show; and learn about the Marais des Cygnes Massacre in 1858. We’ll end with a poem from Ron Wilson.Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

(Frank) Good morning. This is Around Kansas. I am Frank Chaffin. And this is… (Deb) …I am Deb Goodrich. Welcome, what a gorgeous day we’ve got outside here. (Frank) It is. We’re standing in the shade on the front porch, I guess this is the front porch of the historic Dillon House here in Topeka, Kansas, in the shade of the Capitol. It’s right over there. And this is where we do our show for you each week. (Deb) You know having shade is really nice. Our spring was so cold and so rainy and now it’s summer and man, we can feel it. (Frank) Yea, we finally got summer. (Deb) We finally got summer. (Frank) Watch out what you wish for. (Deb) 80’s, 90’s, you know, welcome to summer. Exactly. (Frank) Oh yes. But, what’s up with you? (Deb) Well, it doesn’t slow you down does it? There’s just so much to see and do. I was going through the calendar of events last night, just scrolling through stuff that’s coming up, and I’m like, geez, you know they just had the River Festival down in Wichita. They just had so many things going on all over the state and there’s so many things I want to do. I’m going through there, trying to like…how can I be in two places at one time? You know, it’s like beam me up Scotty and beam me over there. And of course the Travel Kansas, the Travel and Tourism, does a great guide for Kansas and they’ve got those; now they’ve got the scenic byway brochures. Make sure you pick up some of those. When you’re headed wherever you’re gonna go in Kansas this summer to see the sights, make sure you get off the main roads and see some of these scenic byways. The, what is it? The Post Rock Byway? (Frank) Right. Over in the Flint Hills. (Deb) Right. (Frank) I’ll tell you one thing to do. Sometime just for the fun of it drive the four corners of Kansas. Because if you do that you’re going to see such a change in topography and geography that you just don’t, you can’t imagine. Cause a lot of people think, well Kansas is flat. No, here you start up in the northeast corner and take Highway 36 across and then down the western edge and back across the southern edge, you’re gonna see something that you’ve never experienced before. And not too many states can brag that. Maybe…South Dakota because… (Deb) I was….right. (Frank) ….the eastern part of the Mississippi is kind of one state and the western is like another. (Deb) You know, I was just…it’s funny because I was just writing about that. I was looking at doing an episode or a segment on, just the four corners and what they look like. Because White Cloud, you can see three states. You’re looking into Iowa, for heaven’s sake, from the bluffs there at White Cloud. And then the corner… (Frank) Southeast, yea, you’re looking at Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas. (Deb) It’s unreal. It really is a tremendous variety. So, much to get out and see and do. What are you waiting for?

(Frank) Hey, we’re back. And you know we were just talking about traveling around the state of Kansas. And maybe across the northern edge and so Marysville has kind of a neat thing. (Deb) They do. You know, I had heard when I moved to Kansas…where I grew up in southwestern Virginia and northwest North Carolina the squirrels are grey, so we’ve got grey squirrels. My brother went squirrel hunting, so we ate squirrel. Mighty fine. Tastes like chicken. You know that? (Frank) Everything tastes like chicken. (Deb) Everything tastes like chicken. So, when I came to Kansas and you’ve got these brown squirrels, it was kind of…it seemed strange. Then people told me to go up to Marysville. And I’m like wow, what is this? Solid black squirrels. (Frank) Hmmm, really? (Deb) Have you seen those? (Frank) No I have not. (Deb) I have to tell you, it is a shock. It’s like you’re looking at some kind of computer animation when you see the black squirrels running around. It’s like that can’t be! But yea, they’re all over the place and the town of Marysville is very proud of that, and we’re gonna take a look. Squirrels. They may be entertaining and they may be a nuisance nesting in the eaves of your house. But in Marysville, the squirrel is revered, and even has its own festival. But these are not the ordinary brown or gray squirrels running through most of our yards. These squirrels are black, black as night, black as coal, black as the heart of the Wicked Witch herself. In 1972, the Governing Body of Marysville passed legislation protecting the black squirrel and making it the Official Town Mascot. It has the freedom to trespass on all City property, immunity from traffic regulations and the first pick of all black walnuts growing within the city. Entering Marysville from any direction, there are signs proclaiming, Marysville, Kansas – Black Squirrel City. Be on the lookout when driving around town for the black squirrel has the right-of-way on all streets, alleys and railroad crossings. The fine is $25 for harming one. The exclusive profusion of black squirrels in Marysville is a curious phenomenon. The most likely explanation involves a traveling carnival which passed through town in the 1920’s and stayed for a few days in the City’s Park. Among the carnival exhibits was a cage full of black squirrels. One night a child opened the cage and the squirrels escaped. Since then, the squirrels have increased their ranks. About 1/5th of Marysville’s squirrel population is now black. Whatever the reason for their presence in Marysville, residents and passersby seem to love them. Many residents have squirrel boxes attached to their trees, fence posts and porches. The community thinks they are beautiful and some think they bring good luck. One of the best places to look for black squirrels is in the City Park. These little bundles of energy are most active just after dawn and in the late afternoon. Their highways are the power lines that run through the town. They can cover a lot of territory safely by running over these lines, stopping at favorite trees here and there. They love to sleep and sun themselves on high branches during the day, but often come to earth to forage in the shade. This is the perfect day: pack a picnic lunch and drive very slowly once you reach the city limits. Lay your blanket in the Marysville City Park and then sit back munching your sandwich and watching the black squirrels at play.

(Frank) You know we’ve talked about a lot of theatres and theatre people, and movie people and music people coming from the state of Kansas. And there’s one that, well you can see on MeTV now on the I Love Lucy that they’re showing again and that’s Vivian Vance. Vivian Vance is from, not Topeka, but from Kansas. And of course, I’ve done a story on William Inge. Well, she studied with William Inge. He really encouraged her to pursue her acting career. So, how about that? (Deb) You know it’s like Kevin Bacon and the degrees of separation, you know, because just what one or two, he was what, six degrees or seven degrees of separation? I’ve come to the conclusion there’s just one or two degrees of separation between everybody, especially in Kansas where everybody’s just, you don’t have to go far to find some kind of connection. (Frank) Right. (Deb) But how fortunate that he encouraged her. (Frank) Yea. Well, of course Vivian did much more than just I Love Lucy, so why don’t we kinda take a look. To millions of television fans she was, and always will be, Ethel Mertz, friend, co-conspirator, landlord and neighbor to Lucy Ricardo. She lamented to a fellow actor that she should have used her own first name in the show because, No one even knows who Vivian Vance is. Not so in her home state of Kansas. She was born Vivian Roberta Jones in Cherryvale in 1909. The family later moved to Independence and she would study acting with playwright William Inge. Later on, while living and acting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she took the name Vance. When she was suggested for the role of Ethel Mertz, Lucille Ball was lukewarm at best. Vivian was primarily a theater actress and Lucy had never heard of her. She had also envisioned someone older, not as pretty, and less stylish. There were rumors that Lucy in fact made Vivian sign a contract to be 10 pounds heavier than the star but that contract was a joke. The two soon developed a close friendship. Not so with her on-screen husband, Fred, played by William Frawley. He was 22 years her senior and while the pair was always professional, they were not friends. When Lucy starred in another sitcom, The Lucy Show, she again wanted Vivian but this time her co-star demanded some changes. She would use the name Vivian and she would get to dress more stylishly. She played a divorcee, one of the first such roles on television. Vivian was nominated for four Emmy awards during the run of I Love Lucy, and was the first person to win for best supporting actress in 1954. Vivian died from complications from cancer in 1979. She had no children but was godmother to John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful. After her death, Desi Arnaz remarked, It’s bad enough to lose one of the great artists we had the honor and the pleasure to work with, but it’s even harder to reconcile the loss of one of your best friends. During a 1986 interview, Lucille Ball talked about watching I Love Lucy reruns and her reaction to Vance’s performance was I find that now I usually spend my time looking at Viv. Viv was sensational. And back then, there were things I had to do—I was in the projection room for some reason, and I just couldn’t concentrate on it. But now I can. And I enjoy every move that Viv made. She was something.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas. And as you all know, Kansas history is my favorite subject. And as you’re traveling around the state this summer there’s so many places, historic sites that you can visit. And speaking of southeastern Kansas, if you go down toward Trading Post, there’s the Marais des Cygnes Massacre site. Now, it’s funny that somebody commented back east at Gettysburg and some of the battlefields, isn’t it funny that they had all these battles in these gorgeous spots? And it’s the same in Kansas. The Marais des Cygnes Massacre site, while a really tragic story, now is a beautiful driving tour of those events. The Trading Post Museum is nearby and then you’re not too far from Pleasanton and Fort Scott and so you can just take in…and Mound City, give a plug to the state of Missouri, Mound City has a brand new state historic site over in Missouri to the First Kansas Colored, the first Black regiment in the Civil War. So, when you’re down in that area of the state, right on the Missouri line you’re gonna be within shouting distance of all those great sites. But we want to talk a little bit about the Marais Des Cygnes Massacre today. (Frank) Well, one little note, when I first started in radio, we did news and all that too. And there was a list of pronunciations of places in Kansas, and one of them was the Marais des Cygnes. It said this was not, mara-des-cygnic! (Deb) And of course it means Marsh of the Swans so it’s French. And yes, I’ve heard a lot of folks mispronounce it. So, you’ll learn how today. Early days in Kansas were so scarred by violence that the Territory earned the name, Bleeding Kansas. Raids and massacres between Kansas and Missouri grabbed headlines around the country. Both sides were guilty of countless atrocities but in the annals of our state’s history, this event in southeastern Kansas was particularly heinous. Missouri border ruffians like Charles Hamilton led raids into Kansas to steal goods and harass free-staters. Linn County was the site of some of the raids, including a particularly deadly one May 19, 1858. Hamilton and some 30 other men rode through the village of Trading Post, captured 11 free-state men, and marched them into a ravine where they opened fire upon them. Five of the men were killed, five were seriously injured, and one escaped unharmed. The community was drawn together in the face of these events even as they were unfolding. Sarah Read, wife of the captured Reverend Samuel Read, set off on foot, spyglass in hand, to chase down Hamilton and his men. She came upon the victims, some still alive, and tried to render aid. Word of the massacre spread quickly and by afternoon free-staters from around the area had gathered to treat the wounded, collect the dead, and help James Montgomery’s Jayhawkers ride into Missouri in fruitless pursuit of Hamilton’s gang. Locally, wrathful indignation accompanied feelings of shock. John Brown, arriving at the scene toward the end of June, built a fort some 220 yards south of the ravine. It was reported to have been two stories high, walled up with logs and with a flat roof. Water from a spring ran through the house and into a pit at the southwest corner. The land on which the fort was built belonged to Eli Snider, a blacksmith. Later he sold it to Brown’s friend Charles C. Hadsall, who agreed to let Brown occupy it for military purposes. Brown and his men withdrew at the end of the summer, leaving the fort to Hadsall. In later years Hadsall built a stone house adjoining the site of Brown’s fort, enclosing the spring within the walls of the first floor. In 1941 the Kansas legislature authorized acceptance of the massacre site, including Hadsall’s house, as a gift to the state from the Pleasanton Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars. In 1961 it provided funds for the restoration of the building, and in 1963 the entire property was turned over to the Kansas Historical Society for administration. A museum was established in the upper floor of the building in 1964. Today the park is operated as Marais des Cygnes Massacre State Historic Site, a self-guided drive-through interpreted setting open dawn to dusk daily. It is located four miles northeast of Trading Post via K 52 East. The Marais des Cygnes Massacre site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974 and is a partner in Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.

(Ron) When I was in 4-H and FFA, one of my very favorite experiences was the livestock judging. And we did a lot and we had success. We managed to win the state contest in 4-H and went to internationals. So now, I go to county fairs and the big livestock shows and I’m very interested to watch the guy in the center of the ring. This poem is entitled, The Livestock Judge. He’s in the center of the ring. All eyes upon him to see if he’ll choose based on facts or a whim. He’s the Livestock Judge, who’s come to judge our show. As a livestock production builds to a crescendo. There’s a flurry as the animals come into the ring. And the judge waits patiently to take in everything. Each animal and showman gets his careful attention. As the judge evaluates every key dimension. He gets a side and a rear view, watching them as they pass. Preparing a ranking for the ones in each class. He may handle the animal or ask the kid questions. While giving his helpful ring man directions. He’ll look back and forth. He’ll study and wait, as he considers the various animals’ traits. Then he makes his decision and asks for the mike. As the breathless crowd waits for the results to strike. He praises the showman, asks the crowd for applause, describes each animals strengths and their flaws. Then the moment has come, all eyes focus here. As the judge gives a slap on the grand champion steer. But what’s the real purpose of a big livestock show? It’s improving our livestock and helping them grow. It’s helping young stockmen set goals for which to yearn, and teaches them the life lessons they learn. For livestock showing these praises we sing. With thanks to the judge in the center of the ring. Happy Trails.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

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