Before You Go
For more information, contact the Kansas Department of Travel and Tourism, 1-800-2KANSAS (800-252-6727) or visit online at
To plan your trip, stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks and TourBook guides.
Order free information about through the Reader Resources.

More Information
Great Plains Chautauqua
Kansas Humanities Council
112 SW 6th Avenue, suite 210
Topeka, KS 66603-3895
(785) 357-0359
Kansas International Museum
123 SW 6th Street
Topeka, KS 66603
(785) 357-4000
Kansas Archeology Training Program
Kansas State Historical Society
6425 SW 6th Avenue
Topeka, KS 66615-1099
(785) 272-8681 ext. 255
Kansas City Renaissance Festival
207 Westport Road, suite 206
Kansas City, MO 64111
1-800-373-0357/(816) 561-8005
Directions to festival: Travel west on Interstate 70 to K-7 North exit (Bonner Springs). Turn right and follow signs to the festival gate.

Travel through time
Kansas festivals this summer offer opportunities for learning

Published: Jul/Aug 2002
By Sally Snell

Kansas State Historical Society and Kansas Anthropological Association conduct a Kansas Archeology Training Program field school each summer. Although this summer’s dig was completed in June, anyone interested in participating next year is advised to make plans now./ Michael Snell photo
Looking for something different to do? A getaway the whole family will remember and appreciate? Then look west toward Kansas, which abounds with educational and fun-filled opportunities. Here are four that may surprise you.

History brought to life

Imagine being able to travel back in time to ask a question of any famous person from history. What would you ask William Clark, Sacagawea, or York of the Lewis and Clark expedition? What could we learn about their motives and later reactions to the western expansion of the United States? Until science comes up with a better solution, the Great Plains Chautauqua is our best opportunity.

“The purpose of Chautauqua is to educate while entertaining,” said Deborah Pomeroy, resource center coordinator for the Kansas Humanities Council. “When a Chautauqua scholar takes stage, he or she isn’t acting a part, but bringing history to life. The performance isn’t scripted.”

In-depth research using primary and secondary sources enable the scholars to react specifically to audience questions using the same voice as the character they portray. People have an opportunity, “not only to be a part of an audience, but to participate by asking the character questions within his or her time framework,” Pomeroy said.

The Great Plains Chautauqua is a revival of the traveling tent Chautauquas.

“People gather each evening under a blue and white tent to visit with scholars portraying famous Americans from history,” said Pomeroy, who added that their audience is very diverse. “One of my past communities commented, after the Chautauqua had been there a couple of evenings, that it was the first time they had seen this many different people gathered in one place besides the football field.”

In addition to the main evening event, daytime workshops focus on activities for children and adults. One of the scheduled children’s workshops will be about storytelling in the written and picture form.

“Children will design their own T-shirt that tells a story,” said Pomeroy.

The original Chautauqua was founded in 1874 near Lake Chautauqua in New York. Traveling Chautauquas, or the Lyceum Circuit, began a few years after. In addition to the traveling Chautuaquas, more than 200 independent Chautauquas were held in permanent pavilions in 1890.

The Great Plains Chautauqua has been touring Midwest states since 1983. It begins in Oklahoma and works its way north through Kansas into Nebraska, South and then North Dakota, said Pomeroy, using the same theme and activities in each state. A theme is carried for three seasons.

This year’s theme is “From Sea to Shining Sea: American Expansion and Cultural Change, 1790–1850.” The Kansas Great Plains Chautauqua will be held in Stockton, July 5–9. The event is free.

Imperial Majesty

“The Czars: 400 Years of Imperial Grandeur” is the inaugural exhibit of the new Kansas International Museum, Inc. in Topeka, Kansas, to open Oct. 15 at Westridge Mall. You may remember the 1995 “Treasures of the Czars” exhibit in Topeka, but the scope of the new exhibit will eclipse its predecessor. The exhibit will encompass the Romanov dynasty, but it also has artifacts in it that precede it.

“A lot of these items have never been out of (the Kremlin Museum’s) storage before, so they will be on exhibit for the first time ever,” said Betty Simecka, president and CEO of Cultural Exhibitions and Events, Inc. These treasures were exhibited at The Pyramid in Memphis before coming to Topeka.

Three Faberge items of special note are the last egg ever made for the Czars, a silver box given to Nicholas II by one of his regiments and an anniversary egg commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Romanovs. It contains portraits of all the Czars and Czarinas.

“The Czars: 400 Years of Imperial Grandeur” is expected to draw visitors from the entire Midwest. “We go all the way to the Canadian border down to the tip of Texas,” said Simecka, “and from Colorado to Indiana.”

This is the first of many international exhibits planned for the Kansas International Museum. Between “blockbuster exhibits,” as Simecka describes them, the museum will plan smaller exhibits, so that it will always be open. Large groups will find the onsite banquet room convenient for catered luncheons or receptions, and the merchandise in their gift shop will relate to the current exhibit.

Area museums and cultural venues are planning complementary events throughout the exhibit season. Look for a special performance at the Topeka Performing Arts Center, and Russian works by the Topeka Symphony. Visitors will find the exhibits at Topeka’s new Heartland Orthodox Christian Museum of special interest.

“We are tying in other activities with attractions and the performing arts, and we’ll do that with every exhibit,” said Simecka. A standard adult ticket is $18, with reduced pricing for senior citizens, children, and groups. The exhibit opens Oct. 15 and runs through March 15, 2003.

Buried treasure

Forget the romance of Indiana Jones. Field archeology is back-breaking work, although participating in a dig is a hands-on history lesson that will be remembered for years.

Every summer, the Kansas State Historical Society and Kansas Anthropological Association conduct a Kansas Archeology Training Program field school at a prehistoric or early historic site in Kansas. When asked if a person had to have prior experience before participating, public archeologist, Virginia Wulfkuhle answered, not a bit. Even children as young as 10 can participate in the dig if an adult accompanies them. First-time participants attend both an orientation and short Principles of Archeology class that is offered onsite, and there’s a lot of hands-on teaching, said Wulfkuhle.

Digs may last two weeks, but participants can choose to attend a few days, or the entire period. A typical dig begins with a surveyed site grid and excavators start out removing the plow zone or sod, and then digging within the grid to 10 centimeter levels. The fill is screened, and soil samples are taken at regular intervals for soil flotation. Records are kept of what was found at each level, along with observations of soil texture and color. All artifacts remain the property of the Kansas State Historical Society.

Participants must bring their own tool kit.

“If they’re going to dig, two of the most important things are a good trowel that’s been sharpened, and a metric tape measure. A feet and inches tape is of no use,” said Wulfkuhle.

Digging is only one part of the project. Lab and soil flotation work is also available.

The dig for 2002 was completed in June, but now is a good time to plan ahead for 2003. Advance registration fees for the field school vary from $15 per person for members of KAA, to $75 for non-members.

All for fun, fun for all

Performers dressed in elaborate costumes parade through the village at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival held in Bonner Springs, Kan./ Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Kansas City photo
Go back 400 years through time at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival in Bonner Springs, 15 minutes west of downtown Kansas City.

For 26 years, festival fans have enjoyed the re-created 16th-century village and all the music, activities, crafts and food it offered. This year will be no exception.

Karen Troeh will perform her seventh season with the festival, this year as Mother Nature in the enchanted forest. Troeh said the festival’s subjects are loyal for several reasons.

“We have people who follow the various musical groups. Some come strictly for the shopping. There are handmade things by our artists that you can’t get anywhere else.

“And some come to see the costumes,” she said.

Each performer is responsible for his or her costume, some of which are elaborate. As Mother Nature, Troeh will wear an irridescent, flowing purple gown under a velvet robe that will be customed dyed. Dressing the part is serious business at the renaissance festival.

“Each costume has to be approved by the costume guild, as far as fabric, design and structure, so there’s continuity throughout the village,” Troeh said.

For a personal look at this established festival, take a living history tour and visit a working blacksmith’s shop and candlemaker’s booth. Participants will talk to the “Feudal Gourmet,” who shares recipes from a lost era. Reservations are required for this behind-the-scenes tour.

The Kansas City Renaissance Festival will be held on weekends Aug. 31–Oct. 14, plus Labor Day and Columbus Day. Adult tickets are $14.95, with discounts for children, students, senior citizens and groups of 10 or more.

Sally Snell is a contributor from Topeka, Kan.

Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part unless expressly authorized in writing by AAA Traveler Magazines.