Humanities Happenings – Kansas Day Edition

The “Langston’s Lawrence” documentary short film premiere on January 27 kicks off a Kansas Day weekend of hometown humanities.

Sunday, January 29th marks 156 years of Kansas statehood. What better way to celebrate than with a weekend of hometown humanities events highlighting the Kansas stories that move us and make us?

Lawrence: Langston’s Lawrence

The Watkins Museum of History’s Art of Conversation series features the debut of “Langston’s Lawrence.” The documentary short film about the life of young Langston Hughes is followed by a panel discussion with Hughes scholars Randal Jelks, Edgar Tidwell, and Carmaletta M. Williams. The film project is supported by a KHC Humanities grant. Friday, January 27 at 6:00 PM at the Watkins Museum of History. Details here.

North Newton: Head ‘Em Up & Move ‘Em Out

The early days of ranching and trail driving required stamina and determination. The drover of yesteryear had little choice but to face the elements placed before him if he was to get his wild cattle to market. A thousand miles on the trail brought him into contact with all that nature could throw at him: lightning, flooded rivers, tornadoes, and stampeding cattle. Jim Gray’s Speakers Bureau presentation explores this exciting story of cowboys, cattle, and the steak on your plate. Saturday, January 28 at 11:00 AM at Kauffman Museum. Details here.

Derby: Kansas Weather in Life, Literature, and Photography

When it comes to talking about the weather, we have a lot to say in Kansas, and for good reason: not only is our weather some of the most dramatic in the world, but our relationship to weather shapes how we see ourselves. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s Speakers Bureau presentation opens with weather chaser Stephen Locke’s vibrant images of Kansas paired with poetry by contemporary Kansas writers inspired by the drama that unfolds in the Kansas sky. Saturday, January 28 at 10:00 AM at Derby Public Library. Details here.

El Dorado: Community Writing Workshop with Kim Stanley

Just as William Allen White defended free speech “by voice, by posted card, by letter, or by press,” participants in this Community Writing Workshop are welcome to express themselves through essays, poems, letters to the editor, memoirs, fiction — any way they so choose. Part of the Pulitzer Project in Kansas: William Allen White and Freedom of Speech. Saturday, January 28 at 10:00 AM at Bradford Memorial Library. Details here.

Paola & Wichita: Poet Laureate of Kansas™

Join Eric McHenry, Poet Laureate of Kansas™, for readings and discussions about poetry in two Kansas communities this weekend.
Saturday, January 28 at 1:00 PM at Paola High School. Sponsored by Paola Chamber of CommerceDetails here.
Sunday, January 29 at 2:00 PM at Wichita Public Library. Details here.

Stockton: Lawbreakers for the Common Good

In the mid-1800s, some Kansans defied federal, state, and territorial laws in pursuit of a common goal: liberty for all. Anne P.W. Hawkins’ Speakers Bureau presentation explores true accounts of little-known operatives who worked illegally on the Underground Railroad in Kansas, a clandestine network that helped guide enslaved people to freedom. Sunday, January 29 at 2:00 PM at Rooks County Historical Society & Museum. Details here.

Find more hometown humanities events on KHC’s Calendar.

Can We Count on You?

News outlets recently began reporting on the possible plan to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other important agencies critical to our American democracy. Many of us thought the same thing: We won’t let this happen. Kansans depend on the humanities.

At this time, the threat of elimination exists in a report and not in an actual budget. We remain heartened by the bipartisan support we have seen for the humanities in Congress over the last 45 years. We’ll work hard to make sure it stays that way, but we are going to need your help.

Are you willing to speak up on behalf of the humanities and the Kansas Humanities Council? Click here and let us know. When the time is right, we will call on you first to share our story with your member of Congress.

Here are two things you can do right now:

  1. Sign up to be the first to know.
  2. Share this message with a friend.

Thank you for your support of the humanities!

Inside the Dam

The Milford Dam logbook, charting every change in flow levels since 1968

The Milford Dam logbook, charting every change in flow levels since 1968

Ken Wenger, Park Manager at Milford Lake in northeast Kansas, loves that every day his job can look different. One day he can hop in the pickup and patrol the park, another day he can be on a boat inspecting the lake and 32 acres of the dam facing the lake. Today, his job is to lower the dam’s outflow, from 8,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) to 200cfs.

The Milford Lake Dam operates a sophisticated flood control system with gates that allow water to discharge into the valley below through a conduit under the dam. Levels vary based on the depth of the lake, the amount of water flowing into it, and the wildlife and water supply needs downstream.

Today, though, Ken needs to stage down the outflow a little bit every hour in order to dry out the conduit. To go from 8,000cfs to 200cfs at once would not be good for the downstream river channel or the fisheries program.

Once the conduit is dry, for the first time in ten years, government inspectors will need to walk through it to assess the systems and status of the Milford Dam. Ken is excited to see this rare view of the dam where he has worked for so many years, and his enthusiasm bubbles through his normally measured demeanor.

He heads out of the office and across Highway 57 towards the dam itself. He opens one barbed wire gate, unhitches a cable and opens yet another barbed wire gate. Security is important, as any tampering with the dam could lead to catastrophic flooding for the cities downstream, including Junction City. It has only gotten tighter since 9/11, and he will not allow any photos to be taken inside the dam. He used to give tours to elementary school students, but soon that too ended.

He opens a heavy, groaning steel door into a tall, cavernous concrete shaft that looks like something from another world. He descends down a narrow staircase spiraling around the outside of the shaft until he reaches the control room, where twin sets of levers sit in the middle of a concrete floor. It’s technology from the 1960s, original to the dam – a paper tape with a series of numbers indicates the flow level, and Ken pulls a lever while he watches the tape crawl by. When it hits the desired level, he releases the lever – one small motion controls the massive gates that hold back unimaginable amounts of water.

After returning to the office building, Ken displays the log book where he records such adjustments. It is the only logbook Milford has ever had, filled with scrawling handwritten data on every single adjustment made to the dam since it opened. It’s decidedly analog and old-school in a charming way, just like pulling a lever and watching numbered paper tape scroll by. But old school or not, it works – and you could say the same thing about Milford Dam.

To learn more about Kansas’s water story, visit the Water/Ways  Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition and local exhibition SubMerged, on display at the Geary County Historical Society & Museums from January 6 to February 18, 2018.



12 Months of the Humanities

Happy New Year from the Kansas Humanities Council!

As we embark upon a new year, KHC has 12 months of hometown humanities experiences to keep you engaged and inspired in 2017.


Grant Avenue by Boat: 25 Years Since the 1993 Junction City Flood

Milford Reservoir rushes through a channel cut in Highway 57 along the top of Milford Dam during the 1993 flood (Photo courtesy Geary County Historical Society)

Milford Reservoir rushes through a channel cut in Highway 57 along the top of Milford Dam during the 1993 flood (Photo courtesy Geary County Historical Society)

In mid-July 1993, 32” of precipitation fell in Geary County in northeast Kansas, home to the Milford Dam and nearby Junction City. On July 19, with the lake at crisis level, Milford Dam Project Manager Brad Myers maximized the water going through the dam into the valley below, which kept the lake from cresting the dam but unfortunately caused flooding.

Despite efforts at the dam to manage outflow without washing away any of the dam’s infrastructure, waters along Junction City’s Grant Avenue continued to rise. The nearby Smoky Hill River also caused concern. Hundreds of Junction City residents flocked to parking lots to help fill sandbags despite the summer heat.

The situation at the dam continued to worsen. On July 24, in order to prevent the dam from collapsing, construction crews cut a channel into Highway 57 along the top of the dam.

Large portions of Grant Avenue, including businesses and mobile home parks, were evacuated that day – 3,500 people had to leave their homes. Hundreds camped in the high school gymnasium on cots provided by the Red Cross and the army. The next day, Governor Joan Finney declared the dam site and surrounding region an emergency area. By 8:30 that evening, three feet of water covered Grant Avenue. The depth of Milford Lake, normally 65 feet, rose to 101.18 feet. To try to save the dam, Myers and the Army Engineer Corps developed a contingency plan that involved using massive stone reinforcements for the channel over Highway 57. Junction City residents stood in their yards and saw Army Chinook helicopters hauling house-sized boulders towards Milford.

On July 26, the output-level of the dam finally fell, a good sign. Soon after, residents were hard at work cleaning up.

Heather Hagedorn, curator of the Geary County Historical Society, commented that, “one of the greatest impacts the flood had on Geary County was the sense of community that arose out of the disaster.  Neighbors worked together, children worked alongside adults, all to help stem the tide of the flood through sandbagging efforts. While these efforts were not always successful, they created a network of support within the community that is still remembered.”

Learn more about Junction City and Geary County’s water stories at the Water/Ways Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition at the Geary County Historical Society & Museums  and the local exhibition SubMerged from January 6 to February 18, 2018.

To learn more about local water history, check out the partner exhibition “Our Relationship with Water” at the Rice County Historical Society from January 29 to March 31, 2018.