Happy Birthday, Kansas — 160 years old on Friday! I hope we all will find some way to celebrate.
We “sunflowers,” born and bred here, know that her history of fighting for freedom is unrivaled by that of any other state and that many of her sons and daughters have served her and our nation with honor.
I have been thinking a lot about those honorable Kansans lately, starting with a group that stood in contrast to the rioting extremists at the Capitol January 6. They were the Frontier Guards, a group of 116 Kansas men who defended Abraham Lincoln and the White House back in the spring of 1861. Fears that Confederate troops would attempt to assassinate our president led Senator James H. (Jim) Lane to mobilize the guard force. They remained at the White House until replaced by federal forces.
That Guard was temporary. I want to focus on a few Kansans who thought they were going to D.C. to stay. Their history was changed, though, and today Ingalls has packed and is ready to move, Glick is already gone, Eisenhower arrived on time and Earhart is missing once again.
Those four individuals are those honored by Kansas as being the official state representatives in Statuary Hall. That Hall was established in 1864, and each state was asked to nominate two of its citizens who were “no longer alive” and were “illustrious for historic renown or for distinguished civic or military service” to be included there.
John James Ingalls was first, entering the Hall in 1905, representing early Kansas statehood. A Massachusetts native, Ingalls came to Kansas Territory in 1860 and contributed to the formation of our state. A resident of Atchison, he was a state senator, newspaper editor and a speaker of note. He coined the state motto: “Ad Astra Per Aspera” (To the stars through difficulties) and helped design the state seal and flag before serving in the U.S. Senate for 18 years. He was the primary speaker at the dedication of the Soldiers’ Monument in Osawatomie in 1877.
George Washington Glick followed, and his statue was unveiled in 1914. Another resident of Atchison, born in Ohio, Glick was our ninth governor, noted for tax reform, establishing a Livestock Sanitary Commission and funding both a national soldiers’ home at Leavenworth and the Haskell Institute at Lawrence.
Then, in 2000, the legislature passed a law allowing states to change their original choices. Kansas was the first to change, believing that no one recognized these early statesmen. Options were debated, and Eisenhower and Earhart were the final choices. He would replace Glick; she, Ingalls. General Dwight David Eisenhower arrived in the Capitol rotunda in 2003. The Hall had become too crowded. Governor Glick moved to the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka.
You know Ike’s qualifications as well as I. He was Commander of all U.S. Forces in the European Theater of Operations during WWII and then of Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. Later Chief of Staff and Commander of NATO Forces, he served two terms as this country’s president, creating our modern national highway system. Born in Texas, he was reared in Abilene and is considered a native son.
But Amelia is still missing from the Capitol. The real Amelia Mary Earhart was another Atchisonian who, in 1928, became the first woman to cross the Atlantic by plane. She was “merely” a passenger but became a popular sensation. She piloted that flight herself in 1932 and spent the next five years setting records, advertising aviation and attracting women to that field.
She and her plane were lost in 1937 when she attempted to be the first woman to fly around the world. Seven thousand miles short of her goal, she lost radio contact near the Howland Islands. She was never found.
A few artifacts believed to have been from her and her twin engine Lockheed were found several years ago on Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro, but the ending of her story remains a mystery. So does the story of her statue.
While a state representative led the fundraising for the Eisenhower statue, no monies were allotted for Earhart. In 2016, the Amelia Earhart Foundation was formed and, together with the Equal Visibility Everywhere organization, assured the statue’s completion. It languishes now, in Loveland, Colorado, apparently waiting for the Architect of the Capitol to approve its pedestal of Kansas limestone. If and when that approval is obtained, Amelia will join the other nine women represented in Washington.
Let’s hope that happens soon and that a famous Kansas daughter will join a Kansas son.