Nothing keeps a man vital more than a consuming obsession except, perhaps, a wife a third his age. S.P. Dinsmoor had both. The Civil War veteran and pioneer to the Kansas plains began building his elaborate home in Lucas, KS at age 62. A consummate showman, he gave tours to visitors who stopped on the train from Kansas City to Denver. The first floor rooms have elaborate woodwork and boasted the first electric lights in the area. His family didn’t occupy the tourist level; they lived in the basement and slept upstairs.
After the house was complete he transformed the yard. First, sculpting an arbor with Adam and Eve entitled ‘Garden of Eden.’ Then depicting other Biblical stories. Eventually he cast populist figures, including a battered farmer being crucified by a banker, an attorney, and a politician. But the guy had a sense of humor – he depicted himself taking money from laborers, since he continued to charge people to see his creation.
At age 81 Dinsmoor married a young immigrant in her twenties. They had two children. He died at age 92, though his widow continued to live at Garden of Eden, and earn her livelihood from tours, until the 1950’s. Their two children are considered the youngest children of any Civil War veteran in our country; Dinsmoor’s son served in Vietnam.
The Garden of Eden became a curiosity until the Kohler Foundation, which is focused on preserving America folk art, invested in restoring the place in the early 2000’s and spurred Lucas’ claim as our Grassroots Arts Capital.
Lynn Schneider moved to Lucas in 2006. “I am from Lebanon, KS, which is the geographical center of the 48 states. I saw what happened when that attraction lost its appeal. We lost our motel and our cafe.” She gave me a tour through Dinsmoor’s house and the Garden of Eden, culminating in the mausoleum where Dinsmoor’s mummified body is on display: a showman to the end.
How will we live tomorrow?
“I don’t really know. I live day to day. These small towns are struggling.”