Downtown murals tell by showing
From Magadelna Bury to Tonganoxie Phil
A quick look at Tonganoxie’s history can be seen through its downtown murals.
And, if you have some additional time, check out other artwork in the community.
Frank Henry mural
Bill Ridgeway was the last of the horsedrawn draymen. For years, Bill delivered express freight from the depot to the merchants in town. John C. Lenahan remembered Bill as a jolly man with a booming voice.
Bill Ridgeway’s image is an integral part of Tonganoxie. In 1980, Steve Murillo, a Wichita artist, was commissioned to paint the mural on the west facade of the Ratliff Drug Store. There, prominent in the mural, is Bill Ridgeway, looking back at us. Behind him is the Frank Henry Grocery Store, which was at Fourth and Delaware in the building that would become the Tonganoxie Public Library, then the Tonganoxie Police Station, and now, the property, sans structure, serves as the downtown pocket park.
Kelly Poling murals
After the former Tonganoxie police station was demolished, Tonganoxie Retail and Commercial Development members discussed creating a pocket park with murals.
The vision became a reality last year when the park and its murals were created. City funds made the project a reality, as did a Pete and Margaret Leighty grant.
The park features two picnic tables, one of which is handicapped accessible, a park bench and a concrete pad that can be used for small concerts and productions (and is the site for one of the stages at the sesquicentennial. The Mayor’s Christmas Tree also is situated on the pad for the holiday season. There’s also a lending library that Boy Scout Dakota Falley created earlier this year. Finishing off the park is a water fountain that has a standard fountain, a second fountain is available for water bottles and cups and a third is a pet-watering bowl.
Full-size murals depicting the history of Tonganoxie adorn the sides of two buildings bordering the park — City Council Chambers to the north and the office of the late Dr. Stevens to the east.
Chillicothe, Mo., artist Kelly Poling created the murals, which depict some of Tonganoxie’s history.
A kiosk in the park will provide information about the murals’ content.
One wall shows giant “books” with various titles depicting people and things that are part of Tonganoxie’s history.
And at the middle of the mural Dr. Stevens is looking over the shoulder of a girl who is trying to weigh herself on a scale in Stevens’ office.
The image is based on a photo former Lawrence Journal-World photographer Bill Snead captured of Stevens for a story that ran several years ago.
Stevens celebrated 60 years of practicing medicine in Tonganoxie last year. That evening, he died in his sleep.
Two books on the wall are dedicated to Stevens, one for his work as a physician and the other for his persona as Tonganoxie Phil. A Kansas City area radio station started calling Stevens on Groundhog Day each year for a local answer to Punxsutawney Phil. Stevens would always indicate whether he saw his shadow and provide some weather prognostication in the process. The Mirror continued to interview Tonganoxie Phil each February after the radio station stopped its annual tradition.
One book is dedicated to Chief Tonganoxie, while another recognizes Magdalena Bury, who platted Tonganoxie. The next gives a nod to the dairy industry and the Fairchild Knox barn, which now stands on the Tonganoxie Community Historic Site campus. Evans Real Estate, one of the oldest businesses still going in Tonganoxie, is next on the mural’s bookshelf. The company dates back to 1895.
The Stevens’ book, “Sixty Years of Nurturing,” has a date of 1927, which is the year Stevens was born. After the “Tonganoxie Phil” book is one for Mollie Myers, who operated the Myers Hotel for several years. The Hotel has been said to be the inspiration for William Inge’s “Bus Stop,” which later was adapted into a play and a movie starring Marilyn Monroe.
The next book is for Kirby McRill, the eccentric resident who once walked from here to Chicago in 7 1/2 days. The wall finishes up with a book for “The Tonganoxie Split,” the much-discussed weather phenomenon, and then books for Danni Boatwright and the Grinter Farms sunflowers.
Boatwright, a Tonganoxie High School graduate, was a finalist for the Miss USA pageant and then won the television reality series “Survivor: Guatemala” on CBS.
The books on the east wall come to life in a collage of corresponding items on the north wall.
A plane with a “Welcome to Tonganoxie” banner is a nod to Amelia Rose Earhart, a Tonganoxie High School graduate who successfully completed a symbolic trip around the world to honor her namesake.
While in the downtown area, folks can view another mural in the Tonganoxie library’s community room.
The mural depicts Chief Tonganoxie’s homestead.
From there, stop by Tonganoxie High School to see totem poles THS art students created that represent the schools and other aspects of the community. The poles are just northeast of the THS east campus.
Call the school to schedule a time to check out murals students have created throughout the THS halls and on the east side of the school.
Evidence of another 150th anniversary can be found at the Tonganoxie Community Historic Site.
When Kansas celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2011, KaCee Fischer, a 2010 Tonganoxie High School graduate, created a canvas banner measuring 10 feet by 16 feet for the campus. It still hangs on the north side of the Knox-Fairchild Dairy Barn on the historic site grounds.
The banner’s design includes a sunflower “rising” between two hills like a sunrise.
— Tonganoxie Community Historical Society staff contributed to this story.
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