The Garden Of Eden (Lucas, Kansas)
A Comtesse travelogue to see the glass-covered tomb of a true American Eccentric!
The Garden Of Eden
May 20, 2005
|Samuel Dinsmoor was an eccentric Civil War veteran who built his vision of the Bible out of concrete in the tiny town of Lucas, Kansas. His labor of love was created from 1910 to 1930. Which is all good and well, but this is the morbid sightseer, after all, and the real reason why anyone of morbid disposition should wish to visit the Garden Of Eden is to see old Samuel himself: in his self-built mausoleum, behind glass. Dinsmoor is alleged to have said, “I promise everyone that comes in to see me (they can look through the glass lid of the coffin and see my face) that if I see them dropping a dollar in the hands of a flunky, and I see the dollar, I will give them a smile.” As B. Amundson states, “The coffin is not airtight, so the smile will not endure forever. See it while there’s still a grin on Dinsmoor’s crumbling face.”Therefore it should come as no surprise that when I was assigned the unenviable task of having to work in Topeka, Kansas (ie. The Dullest Spot On Earth) for several weeks in 2005, the first gleeful thought that came to mind was that I’d actually have a chance to view Samuel’s moldy old face. Of course, I’d have to wait until the weekend and I’d have to drive over two hours to get there, but hopefully I’d be able to bring back some lovely photographs of the crypt to make it worth my while.Unfortunately, as with most great things, this one did not quite come to fruition. Although I did make it to the Garden of Eden and I did get to see Samuel in all his moldering glory, I was not allowed to take photographs inside the crypt. You know, “out of respect for Mr. Dinsmoor”. Whatever! He’s the one who put himself on display for all eternity!! Annoyance, you are a cruel bedfellow indeed! So, it is with an apologetic heart that I present to you this photo gallery of The Garden Of Eden, missing its most fascinating feature. Hopefully, there is enough mental instability to be found to make up for it!It was a brutally hot Saturday when I arrived in Lucas, Kansas (aka The Middle Of Nowhere, population 436). I parked down the street from the Garden Of Eden and as I walked up towards the house, I could see the insanity all around me. It’s really hard to miss – especially since there is nothing else to see in Lucas. The first thing I passed was the crypt containing Samuel himself. Kinda looks like an unfinished pyramid, doesn’t it? The inscription on this side of the crypt is for Dinsmoor’s wife. She must have been touched.I then caught my first glimpse of the crazy cement statuary that Dinsmoor created. At first glance, it’s hard to understand exactly what he was trying to represent with his wacko figures, such as this wolf or coyote or something barking up a tree or this Native American taking aim, and something like this just screams schizophrenia. But I was sure that the tour guide would explain it all to me, and make figures like this one take on significance. However, even after taking the guided tour, I can’t say I understand it much better. Of course, that could have something to do with my very shaky memory…We met for the tour inside the cabin that Dinsmoor constructed. The walls were covered with some portraits of old Sammy and his first wife. And I think this is a family portrait with his second wife, who was 20 years old when he was 81. Lucky old coot, eh? But he had a way with the ladies, as you can tell by this picture with its caption, “Dinsmoor showed his flair for showmanship by marrying his first wife on this horse, August 24, 1870.” Now, that’s a honeymoon stallion!The furnishings inside the house were rather threadbare and creepy, such as the chair made from pieces of dead animals and the like, but there were some interesting old pieces of artwork to be seen as well. I thought the best piece of furniture in the house (if you call it that) was this fireplace near the gift shop. We also got to see the room in which Mr. Dinsmoor died in 1932. Look, there’s the bed that he croaked on! I could almost feel his creepy old face scowling at me as I took the pictures.
And look – there’s the toilet where he once sat! (Okay, maybe not, but maybe that bathtub was there when he was alive.) Here’s the room that I would have wanted when I was a kid – the attic! Something about those slanty walls just makes me all nostalgic for Grandma’s old house in Duluth. Ah, I can almost hear Grandpa yelling at me for sliding the bed across the floor now. Those were the days.
Be careful, don’t get vertigo! We’re going downstairs. Nice wood work, isn’t it? The stair railings, along with this door, were handmade by Mr. Dinsmoor himself. Talented guy, eh? And you haven’t seen the half of it yet.
I quite liked the kitchen with its old stove. They don’t make them like that anymore. Every now and again my old digital camera would act up and take bizarre photos, but I always liked to pretend that it’s because there was a ghost on the premises. So, given that concept, let’s welcome the ghost of Samuel Dinsmoor to the room! Oooh, creepy! Possibly even more creepy was the barbed wire collection. But, then again, this is Kansas, so what did I expect? I don’t remember what the story was with this gun cabinet, but it sure fit in nicely with the barbed wire, don’t you think?
Before leaving the house, we passed through this wonderfully creepy old basement storage area with a curved roof that had some wicked looking hooks sticking out of it. Of course, I don’t need to tell you where my mind went while wandering through this room. Of course, the official explanation was: “The ‘arched cave’ was used for storing home canned food and cured meats. It also served as a storm cellar against tornadoes.” Mmm-hmmm… and what else? Funny how they never tell you the full story in these tours.
With this, we left the arched cave and went back up the stairs to the first floor. We passed a 343-piece chess table made by S. P. Dinsmoor and I thought, “Okay, so now we know what he did on rainy days.” But it was time to let the sun shine on his outdoor creations!
Samuel Dinsmoor was a folk artist extraordinaire. If he’d lived in Georgia in the ’80’s, he would have been friends with Michael Stipe, for he was definitely the Reverend Howard Finster of his time. His specialty was sculpture and his medium was concrete – not exactly the finest of materials. But he did a very good job with what he had to work with. He was ever-so-innovative too! He used bottles to create these decorative arches on the porch. You’d never guess it, would you? 😉 He even signed the cabin, so no one would forget whose handiwork it was!
The first sculpture I saw up close was this very nice deer. You can see that it was originally painted brown, but a lot of the paint is worn off. This is true of all of the sculptures. The sculptures are supposed to be representations of Dinsmoor’s religious and populist political beliefs, but I don’t remember the explanations for most of them, so I might as well just let the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy Dinsmoor’s dementia!
I could probably end my story here, but I thought I’d share a few more strange things that I stumbled across on my drive across Kansas back to Topeka. Coming from a pretty non-religious part of the country, I get a kick out of the Olde Tyme Religion that is on display on the backroads in places like this. Therefore, I had to stop and take a couple of shots of these great signs on display in front of this tiny old wooden church in Lucas. It’s almost like they were written just for me!
Lest we forget that we are in Kansas, I passed by a sign proclaiming Lucas to be the hometown of the 2002 International PedalPull Champ, Amanda Steinle. I took a picture to remind myself to Google “Pedal Pull” when I got home to see what in the hell it is. Turns out it’s pretty much what it sounds like – pulling carts with a pedal tractor. Yes, they actually have competitions for this! What a wacky world…
Update 7/25/13: I received the following e-mail from Amanda herself!
Thanks for writing, Amanda!
Although culturally Kansas may be a wasteland, it does offer some very scenic views and I stumbled across some picturesque homestead ruins that I had to explore on my way home. Here, then, are a few more shots of my Kansas cross-country tour:
And then I was back in Topeka again, happy that I’d taken the time to get to know crazy old Samuel a little bit better.
Special thanks to Christopher Gabbert for suggesting this site!
|Eleanor offers the following summary of her trip to the Garden Of Eden:
“I am thrilled to be able to report to you that I made a pilgrimage to the Garden of Eden and gazed upon Sam Dinsmoor’s face, or what is left of it. It was in 1988. A morbid fear of flying (I dearly love aircrash.com) kept me on the ground for many years, and I lost count of the number of times I crossed the country by car. I’d heard about the Garden of Eden, and Dinsmoor’s glass-topped coffin with the jug of water in it all ready for the Resurrection Day, but you have to make a fairly serious 25-mile detour off of I-70 to get there, and on several trips I had actually passed the exit that takes you there. When you’re crossing Kansas, you pretty much want to stick to business and get it behind you. This time, though, a friend and I were in his great big V-8 Oldsmobile, roaring along, heading west, when I realized we were getting close to that exit (just about exactly in the center of the state). We debated. Should we? Shouldn’t we? Yes? No? Were we too late? It was a September evening. The sun had already gone down, but there was still a fair amount of light. They’ll be closed, we told each other, it’ll be a big waste of time. We’re tired. There’s still so much of Kansas to go. But when that exit came up, my friend, who was driving, made the decision and swung off the interstate. He floored the Olds and we were in Lucas in about twenty minutes. We prowled around the completely nondescript streets in the fading light. It didn’t take us long to find it. Imagine a perfectly ordinary midwestern town of normal houses and yards, total nowheresville on the prairie flatlands, but right smack in the middle, occupying an entire lot, fortress-like, with a great arching gateway and biblical tableaux and odd statuary, all cast in cement and placed on high platforms up in tall dead trees (Adam and Eve, Lucifer, Cain and Abel, various Indian chiefs), was the Garden of Eden, looking completely deserted.
“Not completely. The caretaker was just locking up. There wasn’t another soul in sight. It was twilight by now. ‘Please,’ we said. ‘we drove all the way from New York to see this place.’ An exaggeration, but technically true. ‘Well, I’d sure hate to disappoint you folks,’ he said, and unlocked the door. ‘It’s been a slow day,’ he added. I somehow got the feeling that it had been more than slow–that we were the only visitors at all that day. He gave us the guided tour. It was incredibly cool. Just the three of us–the ‘stone log cabin’ house (also made of cement; the guy was a serious cement freak), the grounds, the tableaux, some of which were political as well as religious — ‘Labor Crucified,’ for instance, with Lawyer, Doctor, Preacher and Banker as the prominent villains. There were at least four American flags made of cement, in permanent mid-ripple. We were working our way to the best part of the tour, what we’d come all this way for, the grand finale, the Mausoleum. We’d glimpsed the outside of it earlier–an elaborate Masonic-style pyramid with many statues and another cement flag on top. It was completely dark by the time we got there. We followed the caretaker up the steps and inside, where he switched on his flashlight and shined it through the heavy plate glass of Dinsmoor’s tomb and the glass window in the lid of his coffin, all of which he’d planned and built himself. And there he was: shrivelled, dessicated, empty black eye sockets, mouth an open concave black hole, scraggly white beard clinging to his dried leather chin. ‘This don’t bother me at all,’ said the caretaker. ‘Nope,’ I said. ‘Me neither.’ And we stood and looked for a little while longer at the very, very dead face of Sam Dinsmoor in the beam of the flashlight.
“Worth the trip? Absolutely.
“We all know what’s the matter with Kansas. This was an example of what’s dandy in Kansas.”
Do you have pictures or stories to share regarding The Garden Of Eden?
Please – by all means – WRITE ME!