Picnic, snakes of Kansas, Lovejoys

(Frank) Today Around Kansas shares stories about some of the interesting people, places and things in the state, starting with a look at the filming of the movie Picnic. Next hear about the snakes of Kansas and how they terrorized early settlers and learn about the Lovejoys, a family from New Hampshire who in 1855 settled in the area near Manhattan. We’ll finish 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) Well good morning again and today instead of being in the Dillon House, we’re outside the Dillon House in the shadow of the State Capitol, which you can kind of see behind us. (Deb) They’ve got a lot of great stuff going on at the Dillon House. They’re setting up for an event this morning and we don’t mind getting out of the way for a big party. So there you go. (Frank) So, what’s coming up? What’s on your agenda? (Deb) You know May is such a busy month. (Frank) It is. (Deb) We were just at the Sampler Festival of course and had a wonderful time with all those folks. And since I live in a cemetery, of course the big event in May is Memorial Day and Memorial weekend. And we have so many events at the cemetery. And one of the ones that you can still register for is the Ride 4 the Fallen. The Military Veteran’s Project sponsors this and so motorcycle riders from any where, all over, ride in honor of a fallen veteran. So, you can contact the Military Veteran’s Project online. They’ve got a Facebook page, a website and all that stuff. So, on Memorial Day, Saturday, I think that’s the 23rd, they will actually gather at 8 a.m. for registration, a pancake feed and all that good stuff on the grounds of the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Topeka. And then they will ride to the cemetery where we will have some ceremonies there. It’s going to be a really beautiful, beautiful event. (Frank) Well, you know 60 years ago this month the movie “Picnic” was filmed in Kansas, and so I’ve been doing some research on that and I have some really interesting and fun things to talk about during the filming of that movie. Of course, one of the tragedies of that was the town of Udall was totally flattened by a tornado just after the filming started. Seventy-seven people were killed. (Deb) Wow. I had no idea. (Frank) In fact, the filming of the movie was constantly plagued by storm warnings and rain and all of that. But anyway, there’s some very interesting trivia about the filming of that movie in 1955 in the month of May. And it was filmed in six different communities in the state of Kansas. (Deb) Well, I knew that Udall had had that big tornado, I didn’t realize that was close with the filming of “Picnic.” Wow. (Frank) Yea, yea, it was. So, anyway… (Deb) Springtime in Kansas. You know, it’s exciting isn’t it? (Frank) And then I’m going to do some stories on William Inge, who of course is a native Kansan and quite the renowned playwright and of course he wrote that. But there’s also a story about the ending of the movie which I’ll tell you about when we do the story. (Deb) You know speaking of Kansas writers, since I’m in the cemetery, you know who’s a really cool person that we’ve got as a permanent resident of Topeka cemetery is Hal Foster. Do you know who Hal Foster is? (Frank) I have no idea. (Deb) He was the cartoonist that did Tarzan and Prince Valiant. (Frank) Oh, OK. (Deb) So his in-laws are actually…that was the Topeka connection. So, that’s why he’s in our cemetery. Yea, and Price Valiant with all the focus on the medieval stuff, kind of enjoying a revival and Tarzan, heck, Tarzan has never gone out of style. (Frank) Yea. Alright, well, we’re gonna have some fun stories coming up for you about people, places and things around Kansas. In fact well we’ll find out what today’s all about, after the break.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas and with me is… (Frank) Frank Chaffin. (Deb) …my handsome co-host Frank Chaffin. So, Frank in the last segment you were talking about the filming of the movie “Picnic” and what were the communities that were involved in that? (Frank) Well, there were like six of them. They started in Salina, then they moved to Hutchinson. Then they were in Halstead. And I mean… in fact the title of the town that was the hypothetical Kansas town was Salinson, which was the combination of Salina and Hutchinson. (Deb) I didn’t know that. (Frank) Oh yea, yea, yea, yea. (Deb) Wow. (Frank) Now of course… (Deb) Now the train scenes, you know, where it shows them on the train and stuff, is that in Kansas? (Frank) Yea, it was. Yes it was. Like we said, they were plagued by a lot of storms and all that. And some the scenes were actually shot then back in California on a sound stage. Simply because… (Deb) Well that’s what I was thinking yea, because of the weather being such a factor. (Frank) Yea, not only that but mosquitoes. They were plagued by mosquitoes. And so anyway it was almost a total disaster. (Deb) God bless. (Frank) Never the less, you know the movie was very successful and had six Academy Award nominations and won two. (Deb) Wow, that’s amazing. (Frank) So, anyway… (Deb) Well, let’s talk a look at more. (Frank) OK. Sixty years ago in May 1955, a movie called “Picnic” was filmed in the state of Kansas. And there are a couple reasons why, is because the fictitious town of Salinson was located here and the author of the original play on Broadway is William Inge, who of course, is a native Kansan. The movie was actually filmed in several different towns in the state of Kansas, in Sterling, Salina, Hutchinson, Halstead, Nickerson. Now tragically during the filming of the movie in May of 1955 a tornado wiped out the town of Udall. I mean literally wiped it off the face of the earth, 77 people were killed in that tornado. It was a tragic state of affairs at the time, but in fact, that spring, that May, there were numerous tornado warnings and rainstorms which of course wreaked havoc on the filming of the movie. The movie starred William Holden, Kim Novak and Rosalind Russell. The film received six Academy Award nominations that year. They won two, one for best art direction and one for best film editing. Rosalind Russell was actually nominated for best actress, but because she didn’t really campaign for the award, didn’t actually win it. There is a lot of fun trivia around the filming of this movie in the state of Kansas and I’m gonna do some more. But for right now, ain’t it fun being here in Kansas.

(Frank) Well, here we are again. I’m Frank Chaffin. This is Deb Goodrich. And there’s something about snakes… (Deb) Oh man. (Frank) Oh man. (Deb) Much as I hated to do this, this segment is so fascinating because you know as a historian you read those old diaries and the letters from back home. What were people most concerned about? Especially New Englanders? Snakes. Cause they had not seen snakes of the size and magnitude and the… often occurring snakes that they found in Kansas territory. So, yea, as any native Kansan can tell you, there’s some snake stories here. (Frank) Yikes. (Deb) I know. I know! Stay tuned. When New Englanders came to the Kansas Territory in the 1850s, what did they write home about? What was the one thing they had not expected while making their homes in this wild country. The bushwhackers from Missouri took a back seat to the daily occurrence of snakes. For New Englanders, the size and proliferation of the serpents was shocking and very scary. People were scrambling to build homes, often crude cabins to start. The floors and walls were rarely secure from the elements, or from these beasts. Julia Lovejoy, whose family settled in Douglas County, spoke of copperheads hanging from the cupboards over her baby’s bed, and of her child’s being bitten in the garden. She also described the harrowing account of her neighbor. The woman turned over in the night to nurse her baby sleeping beside her, when she felt something sting her lip. She called for her husband to get a light, and when the lamp was lit, they were horrified to find a rattlesnake had crawled into the bed. The husband went to the trunk for medicine and found two more coiled behind it. The poor woman’s neck swelled so that it was feared she would suffocate. The woman survived, but how on earth could you ever have a peaceful night’s sleep again? Another man wrote to his mother that he had seen a snake on the Neosho River, with its head on one bank and its tail on the other. Really? Probably no other group of animals has had the variety and expanse of tall tales credited to them as have the snakes, writes Robert F. Clarke As the stories go, there are snakes that can put their tails in their mouths and roll downhill hoop-like; snakes that are capable of milking cows dry; snakes that fly into pieces when struck and later reassemble into whole snakes again; snakes that charm their prey, and others too numerous to mention here. Some of these tales deal specifically with the poisonous power of snakes or with snakes that are venomous. There is the Blow Viper, whose very breath is poisonous! The butt of this fable is the utterly harmless hognosed snake. Many persons think that the poisonous fang of a snake is the structure which is frequently flicked in and out of the snake’s mouth. This is really its tongue, and is present in all snakes. Four of the many untruths about poisonous snakes are (1) Rattlesnakes cannot cross a horsehair rope – they can! (2) Cottonmouth water moccasins cannot bite under water – they can! (3) Rattlesnakes always rattle before they strike – not always! (4) The rattles present on the tail of a rattlesnake indicate the snake’s age – no, a new segment is added each time that the skin is shed, which may occur several times during a year. We fear them but they fascinate us, as they fascinated our early pioneers.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas. Well, Frank in the last segment I mentioned Julia Lovejoy when we were talking about the snakes. And she was one of those early settlers from New Hampshire. And you know, I hate to admit this, I’m embarrassed, I’m ashamed of this, I used to make fun of Julia. I do talks over the country and I’d show Julia as this typical New Englander who moved to Kansas and she’s not real pretty and of course, photography back then people looked real somber. You know what I’m talking about. And I would joke and I would say, you know, this is life before Mary Kay cosmetics were available and all this. But then the more I learn about Julia and the more life experience I have, I feel terrible for making fun of her. So, this segment is my homage to Julia and kind of an apology for making fun of her all these years. (Frank) OK, let’s take a look. (Deb) Born in Lebanon, New Hampshire, Julia Louisa Hardy Lovejoy reportedly experienced a deep religious conversion at the age of nine. From that moment on she was a devout Methodist who wanted to influence the world around her. She wanted to become a missionary or to find another application for her religious ardor. At one point, she remarked, If I have not done good, I have done evil. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the ensuing conflict between free-state and proslavery interests in the territory provided Lovejoy an opportunity. With her husband, Charles Haseltine Lovejoy, an itinerant Methodist Episcopal preacher, Julia moved in 1855 from New Hampshire to Kansas Territory. The couple came as part of the New England Emigrant Aid Society, which recruited antislavery settlers to move to the new territory. Lovejoy saw the end of slavery as a way to better the world and she became the voice of Bleeding Kansas for many in the East. Her letters to eastern newspapers told of the difficulties of migration, including illness and the high costs of travel and provisions. We look back at these pioneers and think that they were better, stronger, able to endure more than we. That does them and their experiences a disservice. They had the same feelings and passions, ambition and embarrassments. Julia Lovejoy writes in 1857 from Palmyra, now the town of Baldwin City, Mr. Lovejoy threw his soiled nether garment across his carriage-seat to dry, as it was well saturated with perspiration. When he turned to look for it, lo, it had all disappeared, save the wristband and a wee bit of one sleeve, and where think you it was? Why, mulched into the maw of a live ox, who was forced to disgorge its contents, instanter, but ah me,the rents and tears were unmendable. If we can enjoy health, as formerly, we shall, after all, enjoy much of missionary life in Kansas. Charles Lovejoy was put in charge of the Fort Riley mission in June 1855, and the family built the first house on the Manhattan Town Company site. Julia’s letters give first-hand information on the pioneer settlement that is the present-day city of Manhattan. Then they moved to Lawrence during the height of territorial conflict. Her diary is in the collection of the Kansas State Historical Society.

(Ron) A cowboy has a lot of dirty, messy jobs and often times that involves the south end of a cow going north. But when we’re sorting cattle, there’s a very important job, and that is the job of the gateman. It’s kind of a thankless job because he has to make some split second decisions. In his honor this poem is entitled, “The Gateman.” There are certain thankless jobs that you encounter in this life, like a policeman giving parking tickets or perhaps the farmer’s wife, who’s sent to town for parts, oh it’s about yeah big, we don’t know the model number, but it looks like a thingamajig. Those jobs are truly thankless but among the cowboy clan, there is no job so thankless as that of the gateman. When we go to sorting cattle and the gateman’s simple job, is to open and shut the gate when we separate the mob. But that ain’t nearly as simple as it sounds, he must decide in a split second with chaos all around. He may have many steers a barrelin straight toward him, or a crazy cow that will dodge, or jump, or kick upon a whim. He gets splattered by manure and will have the gate tore from his hand, but he must do the job just right to meet the bosses demand. His head will be spinning from the contrary directions about, one cowboy says to stop the calf and the other says turn him out. So the gateman’s job is thankless, but he can always protect his fate, by saying to his critics, alright it’s your turn to man the gate. Happy Trails.

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

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