Max Yoho, Plaza Cinemagic

(Frank) Today Around Kansas starts with a story about Max Yoho and his colorful books that capture rural life in Kansas. Next we learn about the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the US called Plaza Cinemagic, located in Ottawa; and the wet spring has us recalling other times the state has had to deal with floods. We’ll end up 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, it’s time for Around Kansas. I’m Frank Chaffin. And… (Deb) I’m Deb Goodrich, good morning. (Frank) Well we’re shooting right now outside the historic Dillon House in the shadow of the State Capitol here in Topeka, Kansas. It’s a beautiful day so we thought hey, why not. But I am ready for my closeup detail. We’re closer than we usually are. So, what are you up to? (Deb) Oh, there’s just so much going on. Of course, this weekend Dixie Lee is MC’ing Wheatstock. So, you all come out to Old Prairie Town. You know Old Prairie Town are such good friends of ours. We’ve done segments there and always something is happening. So, come out and see me and Dixie Lee Jackson at Old Prairie Town. (Frank) Well, you have to do Dixie Lee Jackson on one of these sometime. (Deb) You know I will talk Dixie Lee into showing up one morning. Wouldn’t that be fun? (Frank) That would be fun. (Deb) Yea. Give you a brand new partner Frank. (Frank) Well also spot in front of the face. This is a baseball fan. It says, I’m a baseball fan. This is what they hand out when you go to a vintage baseball games. And there is a Topeka team called the Topeka Westerns and that’s a story we’ll be doing. But anyway it’s kind of a cool thing. I’ve been to a couple of their games and it’s a lot of fun. (Deb) Oh that sounds awesome. You know summertime, baseball. We’re wearing our flip flops. We’re ready for summertime. (Frank) Yea. And speaking of baseball I know when I was growing up, there was sandlot baseball in the morning. What you do is you go on, you put your baseball glove on the handle bars, stuff a baseball in it and put a baseball bat across the handle bars and then go off to the school yard and guys would show up and then you’d discuss what the rules would be for the baseball game that day. And that was it. That’s what we did. Then in the afternoon go to the swimming pool. Wasn’t that a great time? (Deb) Yes, it was. Well, since it’s summertime you know there’s so many events going on around Kansas and we encourage you to share your events with us. Find us on Facebook and send us a picture of what you’re doing. Let us know about your event ahead of time and we can publicize that on Facebook. And we’d be happy to get together with you on some advertising too. You know we reach everybody in the state. (Frank) You bet cha. (Deb) We are sincerely Around Kansas, so we’d love to hear from you. Welcome summer. (Frank) Hey. (Deb) We’ll be right back. Stay with us.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas, I’m Deb Goodrich and with me is my very handsome co-star, Frank Chaffin. And I have so many great friends and Frank, you know that’s the fun in doing this show because I get to share my talented friends with all the folks there at home. And one of my talented friends is Max Yoho. Do you know Max and Carol, by any chance? (Frank) No, I do not. But I know who they are. (Deb) Of course, because soon you’re gonna know who they are. Max is such a talented writer. Hysterically funny, hysterically funny. His wife Carol has been a good friend for a long time. She’s involved in the silent film festival and a lot of other projects. A very talented photographer, sells her work. But Max writes about his boyhood, basically just growing up in a small Kansas town. So, lots of stuff that all of you can relate to that you know, so many of us can relate to. His stories though, his language, the characters that populate his stories, they are masterpieces in comedy. And if you’re ever having a down day, pick up a Max Yoho book and I guarantee you, you’ll feel a lot better. Few authors capture the rural flavor of Kansas with more colorfully or humorously than Max Yoho. Award-winning author Don Coldsmith said of Max’s book, The Revival, It is an experience somewhere between Huckleberry Finn and Booth Tarkington’s Penrod and Jasper, with my own personal experience as a Methodist preacher’s kid thrown in. Actually, any man who was ever an eleven-year-old boy, and that is most of us, can relate to or identify with Edwin J. Stamford, coming of age in a small Kansas town. Born in 1934 in Colony, Kansas, Max grew up in small towns. Moving with his family to Atchison at age 10, he soon learned that delights and adventures along the Missouri River awaited just outside the well-oiled hinges of his bedroom window screen. Max graduated from Topeka High School and attended Washburn University in Topeka, where he was a feature writer for The Washburn Review. After a thirty-eight year career as a machinist and becoming a widower, Max retired to begin a new career as a writer. The Revival was his first novel and it was soon followed by Tales from Comanche County. Reviewer Laurel Johnson said, Tales from Comanche County is humorous fiction, a hilariously skewed version of history, religion, science, and Kansas life in general. The Old West, of which Kansas was a part, grew up on tall tales such as Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe. I would not be one bit surprised if Babe and Bunyan lived in Comanche County. In Tales from Comanche County, an old man with a hilariously skewed education in history and religion looks back to summers spent listening to stories told on the front porch of his Uncle Jack’s Comanche County, Kansas ranch. Cattle rustler Leepy Danfer lies a moldering in his grave. The Emperor of China has come to grief. A soft-shell Oklahoman met his maker while riding a unicycle. Why? Yoho will tell you They just plain didn’t get their dad-gum bob-waar over the crick before midnight. Other novels followed, each as rollicking a good time as the last: Felicia, These Fish Are Delicious; The Moon Butter Route; With the Wisdom of Owls; and Me and Aunt Izzy. Me and Aunt Izzy is set in southeastern Kansas, the Little Balkans, where a young man is sentenced to moral rehabilitation in the company of his great aunt, Queen Isabella of Spain Johnson. On the ride over to her house, the father informs the boy that the aunt attends a church where they handle snakes. The boy is mortified but his father adds, maybe they will just start you out with worms. Take a lazy Sunday afternoon and treat yourself to one of Max Yoho’s hilarious accounts of rural life in Kansas. A warning though, buy two copies because if you loan one you will never get it back, and once you read it, you will want to share!

(Frank) And we’re back again. I’m Frank Chaffin and this is Deb Goodrich. You know, we talk about all the things that are around Kansas. That’s why we call this show Around Kansas. (Deb) Are we smart or what? (Frank) And there are so many great places to go. As the summer heats up, there’s a great place you can go and it’s called Cinemagic Experience. And it is the longest running, continuously running movie house, in not only the state of Kansas, but in the United States. And it is in Ottawa, Kansas. And so anyway, we’re gonna pay a visit there. There’s a steak house that’s attached to it as well. And that steak house has been there about as long as the movie theatre has been. The entire theatre has been pretty much restored. They’re still adding some amenities to it, like a box office where there will be like a robotic ticket taker there that will ask them what they want and all of that. And then they are also creating a museum inside. But anyway, we’ll let the story tell itself. We have been talking to you about some of the opera houses around the state of Kansas and some of them have been restored and some are in the process of being restored. But today I am going to talk to you about a movie theatre and the reason is because it is the oldest continuously operated movie theatre in the United States, perhaps the world. It is in Ottawa Kansas. It’s called the Plaza Cinemagic Experience. The theatre has undergoing extensive renovation and was restored to its original historic character, except with up-to-date sound, projection and seating. The theatre museum is open during the day and first run movies play in the evening. The theatre was opened in 1905 showing The Great Train Robbery and The Great Bank Robbery, of course two of the first movies ever made too. The theatre opened two years before a theatre in Denmark, it opened in 1907. Therefore, it could be the oldest operating movie theatre in the world maybe, but it is the oldest continually operated movie theatre in America! The theatre also features the Plaza Grill that was part of the theatre from since 1907. And the grill of course has been updated I hear it has really good food, so you can do dinner and a show all in one place. Also it is planned for the Plaza Cinemagic Experience to have an ornate ticket booth with a talking mannequin to issue tickets, plus a display of costumes worn in the movies by the stars that wore them, so there is a museum there, the theatre is operating and of course you can have dinner at the Plaza Grill. A unique experience, The Plaza Cinemagic Experience in Ottawa. More fun Around Kansas!

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas. I am Deb and Frank is with me this morning. We’re gonna talk about water. Have you ever seen so much water in Kansas? (Frank) Oh my. Well, 1993 of course was unfortunate. (Deb) It was huge, it was huge. (Frank) 1951, I was around to see 1951. I was a kid at the time. And in fact, you know the WREN radio studio is in the NOTO Arts District which is downtown North Topeka, which pretty much was underwater. There’s still some water marks in some of the stores at the level that the water got to. And I’m telling you it was over my head. (Deb) Unreal. (Frank) And you know, it was unbelievable. (Deb) You know when I used to have a radio show, I interviewed Harold Worswick a couple of times. Harold, of course, you know Wolfe’s, the late Harold Worswick, a great guy, took a lot of photos of that flood. He did the aerial images and so much stuff that are just really incredible images. But if you didn’t have those images, there’s no way you could believe it. It was truly like Noah. Get the boat ready because it was like the whole world was covered in water. And that was pretty much what did NOTO in, wasn’t it? That was kind of the death nail for the businesses up there? (Frank) Well, no not really, because the district really came back. At that time the Kansas Avenue bridge actually went… (Deb) On Kansas. (Frank) … from south Topeka and across Kansas Avenue and right on to north Kansas Avenue. But the people over there were pretty resilient and the whole area rebuilt. And so it’s an interesting story and we’ll so some more stories on that North Topeka district. (Deb) Oh great. In the meantime, let’s take a look at some historic Kansas floods. (Frank) Sure. (Deb) This very wet spring has people recalling other very rainy times when the creeks and rivers swelled and overflowed. I had only been living a year in Kansas in 1993. I will never forget my first view of the Solomon River where I-70 crosses over. It seemed a vast lake, stretching along the highway. On normal days, folks likely cross it and never even notice the river is there. It was far from the first notable Flood in Kansas. In 1903, papers carried news of a terrible flood at Council Grove. The loss by flood in Morris County is estimated at $1,000,000. Four persons were drowned here last night. The big Main Street bridge over the Neosho river went down. All the business houses were flooded. Miles of Missouri Pacific and Katy tracks were washed out. More than 100 houses are under water and twenty have floated away. The same flood struck Abilene. Abilene has no water, lights, post office service or newspapers. The water in the principle streets of Abilene was four feet deep. A three-story brick building containing stores and several offices, collapsed in a heap. The Union Pacific, Santa Fe and Rock Island tracks entering the city have been washed away and 200 houses are submerged, the families having fled to higher ground. On the Smoky Hill bottoms 10,000 acres are under water and persons are being rescued in boats. Sherwood Murphy, a farmer, was drowned in the Smoky Hill River tonight. But the floods of July 1951 would eclipse all the others. Government sources estimated that across the Midwest, five hundred thousand people were left homeless and 24 people died in the disaster. The above-average rainfall began in June and continued through July 13, dumping well over 25 inches on some areas in eastern Kansas. The Kansas, Neosho and Verdigris rivers began taking on more water than their normal carrying capacity a couple of days into the storm. As the rain persisted, flooding began all over the region. The major towns of Manhattan, Topeka and Lawrence were most affected. The July 13 crest exceeded all previous highs by four to nine feet. Two million acres of farmland were lost to the flood. In addition, the flooding caused fires and explosions in refinery oil tanks on the banks of the Kansas River. Some train passengers traveling through the area were stuck on their trains for nearly four days. In all, $760 million in damages were caused by the flood. Following the great 1951 flood, a series of reservoirs and levees were constructed all over the area. In 1993, these were credited with minimizing the damage from another record flood.

(Ron) When I travel far outside of Kansas and I tell people I’m from the state of Kansas, I get one of three reactions. Number one, they say oh, Kansas City. Number two, they say, oh I drove through there one time. Or number three, they’ll make a Wizard of Oz joke. And I think Kansans sometimes get tired of hearing about the Wizard of Oz, but maybe it’s the thing we’re known for best. This poem is entitled, The Yellow Brick Road. In the history of Hollywood which gives me pause, is that infamous movie known as the Wizard of Oz. It’s about Dorothy from Kansas and how the tornado made her go off to the Land of Oz, somewhere over the rainbow. She met some little Munchkins and traversed the yellow bricks, the Wizard and Wicked Witch who did a lot of tricks. Dorothy had this adventure with her little dog Toto and joined the Cowardly Lion, Tinman, and of course, the Scarecrow. It’s a classic movie that’s become known worldwide about this Kansas girl who took this wondrous ride. But I think many Kansans think this story’s not so great, because Dorothy is all some people know about our state. So, we’ve learned that smiling patiently is the best thing we can do, when some east coaster cracks a joke about Dorothy and Toto too. But we also remind them that wherever Dorothy would roam, her entire goal was to get to Kansas, because there’s no place like home. Happy Trails.

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

1 Comment

  1. Thank you, Deb and Frank, for sharing Max Yoho’s story with your viewers. We loved it–and have been sharing it all over the place! Enjoyed the theater and flooding stories also. You guys do a great job!

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