The Phoenix Nest

Crawford State Park, near Crawford County, Kansas

Crawford State Park, near Crawford County, Kansas

A Stop on the Phoenix's Grand Fossil Tour

By Jim Fulton

 

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Abstract

I spent three days in Fort Scott and Pittsburg, Kansas. I had intended a week, but that plan was one of the casualties of the repairs I had to have done. This region is the closest thing I have to a home town, and the nostalgia was thick.

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Id Flights_GFT_2017_1208
Title Crawford State Park, near Crawford County, Kansas
Subtitle A Stop on the Phoenix's Grand Fossil Tour
Keywords Crawford County, Kansas, Crawford State Park
Author Jim Fulton
Author's URL http://fenixnest/Phoenix/
Copyright 2017
Status Published: 2018/3/27
Last Revised 2018-02-28

Crawford County, Kansas

Arrived 2017/12/8
Day of Tour 139
Nights Stayed 3
Departed 2017/12/11
Map miles from last stop 290
Mileage on arrival 27,734
Actual miles from last stop 196
Accumulated miles for trip 27,734

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I spent three days in Fort Scott and Pittsburg, Kansas. I had intended a week, but that plan was one of the casualties of the repairs I had to have done.

Despite the fact that I lived many more years in Washington, southeast Kansas is home, or as close to a home as I have, and the nostalgia was thick. My parents' were born and raised in Crawford County, and the town of Pittsburg was central to their hearts. I think their greatest joy (aside from their kids) was when the KG&E, the regional power company, assigned Dad to be line supervisor in Pittsburg, after 30 years elsewhere.

I was born in Wichita, and lived in several places in the KG&E network, but the town I think most of as home is Fort Scott, where I went to junior and senior high school.

Before I say more, I need to make a sincere apology: In my last blog I made a remark that might be construed as disrespectful about the dark angel Murphy, Chancellor and Chief Enforcement Officer of the fair goddess Karma and strict god Chance, the gods of justice. It was glib, even blasphemous, and I was totally wrong to do so. Murphy was quite correct in dealing with my insolence by adjusting the timing of the odds set by Chance, and letting yesterday evening, when northern Missouri temperatures fell to 15 degrees F, be the occasion of my furnace’s going out. Murphy knew that I would survive, with many layers of woolen underwear and all the blankets I own, although sleep was skimpy. He also knew that Shoemaker’s RV Park had the wherewithal to fix my furnace (more $$ into the RV ocean), and get me on my way with no further perturbations of my itinerary. So he was able to mete out a proportionate penalty, which I wholly deserved! Bless you, Murphy. Please! Be nice!

Page Contents

Fort Scott, Kansas

With only two days to spend in this land of memories, I drove over to Fort Scott the first morning, planning just a couple hours. I had visited back in 2014, and had loads of photos from then (those are the ones you will see below). We lived in several towns before moving there in ‘52. And I left after graduating in ‘60, so I was only there for eight years. But I feel like that is where I “grew up”. (I know, I didn’t grow up for many years to come, but we’re talking feelings of home here, not maturity.) And it’s good to touch the green, green grass of home. (The ancient among you who know the song from which that observation comes, will also know its poignancy.)

I have no ties, other than feelings of home, to Fort Scott. No relatives, no friends. I attended my 50th high school class reunion back in 2011. Touched base with old classmates. Walked around town taking photos. It was summer then. It was much too cold to do that on this trip! I have a fairly complete archive of photos of the town, houses we made home, houses of friends, places where things happened. I didn’t even take my camera today, figuring my phone would suffice in the off chance of something photo-worthy.

One change I noticed was a shock, and definitely not something I wanted to photograph: It was the house I lived in when we first moved to Fort Scott. It had been for sale when I visited in 2011. And I entertained such fantasies. I could return home. Reestablish connections and friendships. It had been four years since my wife died, and such things loomed large among the things I was missing. But it was pipe-dream and I knew it even then. These, not even my classmates, were not my people. Without a Hogwarts to take them, young wizards have to grow up among muggles, and so I did. They can even develop friend-like relationships. But they can never be friends. Ever! Just acquaintances. I would never belong here. Humph! I can never belong anywhere. But for a few moments, as I looked at that For Sale sign, the fantasies were potent and beautiful.

But as I looked at the house today, all fantasies died. The new owner had put up a bunch of sheds and outbuildings to house his boat and trailer and stuff. Ugly in reality, uglier in the portent of dilapidation to come. It was enough to bring tears. You can’t go home again, Jim.

Suddenly any inclination I had for an extended visit disappeared. Take the obligatory tour and get out. So I headed north on Crawford St., sensitive to the growing dreariness, to the wearing out of the town. The brick-paved street was emblematic: it was bumpy and uneven when I was learning to drive those three-score years ago. It hasn’t been repaved since. Taxaphobic Republicans would never replace their traditional brick streets with asphalt, even if it was smooth. The best thing that can be said for it is that they don’t need speed bumps. As I passed along, though, familiar houses jumped out and said “Hello, welcome back”. Fort Scott’s streets are lined with many mansions, or at least very large houses, and many still bear a sense of familiarity. In my day the wealth of the town came from an insurance company, good, white-collar, well-paying jobs. But I really don’t know where the money for the mansions came from when they were built in the early 20th Century.

I decided to have lunch at the Nu Grille. Sixty years ago my uncle owned it, and I spent a summer behind the counter. It’s just a hamburger joint, but it has pride. No frozen burgers here. It grinds its own beef, right from a hanging side when I worked there, with just the right amount of fat. And they still bring out tubs of balled hamburger when called for by the grill man. I ordered a jumbo cheeseburger with onions cooked right on the burger and Susie-Qs, thin, curly French-fried potatoes. Let the memories flood in. I’ve read that scent and taste are links to the most powerful memories, and so it was. Images I had: shaping the burgers into perfect quarter-pound balls, putting bags of potatoes in the peeler, then spinning them one by one on the slicer to turn them into raw Susie-Qs. Serving customers in an endless line. Pies: lemon meringue, banana cream, even rhubarb and gooseberry. Yes, gooseberry! Sour as can be, but delicious when well pied. Swabbing out. I worked the evening shift, so clean-up was one of my responsibilities. We closed late on Saturday night. By the time we were finished, it was almost time for the doughnut shop down the street to begin frying. Often we would wait around until it opened, and we’d treat ourselves to hot fresh doughnuts! Mmmmm! Then I’d walk home. Just a couple miles. I liked walking by myself in the dark. A lot of kids can’t enjoy that experience today.

While waiting for my burger, I read through a copy of the Fort Scott Tribune that another customer had left. “Read” is too strong a word. The Tribune was never a newspaper to be read. Perused maybe. I glanced through the headlines, mostly sundry local events. Color photos now dominated the front page. They were rare back when I delivered the Tribune on a series of routes back in junior high (it wasn’t middle school then), and we had to take care not to smudge color photos. The routes were long, the first one I had was five miles, the second about four. Sometimes I rode my bike; sometimes I walked (I can’t remember why). The Tribune was a small paper, usually 8 or 10 pages, sometimes 12, sometimes 4, rarely 16. There were specific ways of folding the paper depending how large it was. We folded the paper so that it could be easily and accurately thrown. The idea was that we’d ride our routes with a bag of papers on the front handlebars. We of course had to memorize the subscribers, who they were, and where to put the paper, and how to collect their subscriptions (yes, we collected ourselves; we were private businessmen). And there were penalties: miss a subscriber and you got charged a fine, and might have to have Dad drive you back for the delivery; deliver to a non-subscriber and you ended up with too few papers, and had to miss a subscriber, usually your own family.

One day a big car stopped beside me and asked me to sell them a paper. They said that the man in the back seat was the son of Franklin Roosevelt. Wow! But I wouldn't sell them a paper! I didn't want to miss any of my subscribers.

Anyway we pedaled to a subscriber’s yard, pulled a paper from the bag, and threw it like a frisbee onto the porch. That's what was supposed to happen. That’s what happened most of the time. But papers, like frisbees are chaotic objects. They don’t always go where they’re intended. Sometimes they went in the bushes; sometimes they went on the roof; sometimes they landed in a puddle. What we were supposed to do was get off our bikes, retrieve the paper and put it where it belonged. In the case of roof- or puddle-landings, we had to decide whether we could afford to leave a second paper at that address. As you can imagine, we were junior high kids with an undeveloped sense of responsibility, so our decisions in these cases were not always optimum. We had to endure penalties and chewings out. We learned to avoid these, to some extent by improving our error rate, but also by finding ways, sometimes nefarious, of having a few extra papers in our bag. I spent a couple years at the newspaper delivery trade before going behind the counter at the Nu Grille.

Wow! Looks like my trip to Fort Scott was good for the nostalgia after all.

Pittsburg, Kansas

The second day of my stay there I fulfilled one of my promises to myself for this trip: when I get to Pittsburg, I will eat fried chicken both at Chicken Annie’s and at Chicken Mary’s. They’re famous for their fried chicken wars! Written up in papers across the country from the Pittsburg Morning Sun to the New Yorker Magazine. Part of that was self-promotion, a dual between two well-established, constantly competing restaurants that face off across an otherwise lonely country road from one another. The competition is friendly and has a long history. And as chicken wars go, apparently neither of them rose to the top when other restaurants were included (The Battle of the Chicken Wars). Doesn’t matter. It was a matter of tradition. I got to eat both at Annie’s and at Mary’s.

Fried chicken, whether from a restaurant or home made, is truly comfort food. It hits all the feel-good buttons. My mother fried some mighty fine chicken, even when she changed to "oven-frying" when the late arrival of my sister and youngest brother made pan-frying too much work for her busy schedule. I can fry some decent chicken myself, but I’m rarely up for spending an hour in the kitchen for just myself. So when I visit restaurants on my tour, I look for family restaurants where I can check out their fried chicken offerings. Unless I’m in a real hurry, and have a real craving, I don’t even consider The Colonel or Popeye or Church’s anymore: their chicken is at best fair, and their sides are abominable. Even at non-chain family restaurants, the chicken is usually satisfactory at best. No, the center of the world when it comes to fried chicken is southeast Kansas, with Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s being exact center.

It’s also true that neither Annie’s nor Mary’s is well-established in my experiential memories. What I remember is not the eating but stories of the eating, stories my mother would tell of the restaurants and how they got started. I listened to a lot of stories my mother told, about growing up in a poor farming family near Pittsburg during the Depression. I wish I’d had the sense to write them down.

For Pittsburg was never my home, though I went to college there; it was my parent’s home, special for that reason, but not for a host of episodic memories. But there are a few, and I spent a couple hours in town refreshing them, after a delicious lunch at Mary’s. (Annie’s I visited on Friday.)

The heart of what memories I have is Grandmother’s house. It sits across the street from Lincoln Park. On this trip I stopped across from the house, and stepped onto the grass, and the flood began. Seventy years peeled away. The park at that point has low ridge curving through it. Not too high, maybe 20 feet, and not too steep for my brother and I to climb easily. The downslope forms a kind of dell or glen; we called it The Hollow. From the street it curves around to the left. On its flanks grew ancient oak trees, white oaks, I think, widely spaced so that each grew tall and straight, unencumbered by its neighbors. The oaks scattered acorns, half as big as my hand. Yes, I was a little person then, and everything looked big. But I had seen other oaks and other acorns, and these were two or three times as big.

Whenever we visited in the summertime, my brother Jack and I would get up early, rush through breakfast, and head to the park. No need then for a supervising adult. Four- and five-year-olds could get along fine by themselves then. And we did! Whether it was cowboys-and-injuns or cops-and-robbers or baseball (or an approximation thereof) with my cousin from down the street and her neighborhood friends joining in, it was fun, it was free, it was liberating, it was exhilarating. And there were no adults to stifle our freedom.

I have other memories of Grandmother’s house (she was Grandmother, not Grandma), but this is the one that flooded my nostalgia gates today, and we’ll leave it at that.

I did take the opportunity to stroll briefly around the campus of Pittsburg State University. It was Kansas State College of Pittsburg back when I went there. I have very mixed memories of my time there, and this is not the time to deal with them. But there was one specific memory I wanted to refresh with a photo. I had walked the campus taking pictures back in 2014. Sadly, at that time the campus was undergoing major reconstruction, and there were fences everywhere, blocking the scene that I wanted so much to remember. Today the fences were gone and I was able to take a couple snaps with my phone of where I was back in 1963 when a friend yelled out that John F. Kennedy had been shot, that first slippage in the utter change of our world.

Photos from Home

Here are some photographs that reinforce the nostalgia mentioned above. The photos in this gallery are not from this trip. Most are from 2014, when I was able to spend more time.

Photo Gallery for Home

Crawford County, Kansas
Crawford County, Kansas
The house in Fort Scott that I still think of as home.
Crawford County, Kansas
Gunn Park was only a mile or so from home, and I spent many an hour wandering there in solitude.
Crawford County, Kansas
The Nu Grille has been much expanded since I worked there.
Crawford County, Kansas
Grandmother's house. Like the Tardis, it was much bigger inside than it looks from outside.
Crawford County, Kansas
Grandmother's house.
Crawford County, Kansas
Grandmother's house from The Hollow.
Crawford County, Kansas
Grandmother's house from The Hollow, showing one of the mighty oaks that looked so monumental to a 5-year-old.
Crawford County, Kansas
An acorn from one of those oaks, big compared to my adult hands, huge for a 5-year-old.
Crawford County, Kansas
A view of The Hollow.
Crawford County, Kansas
A view of The Hollow.
Crawford County, Kansas
A view of The Hollow.
Crawford County, Kansas
A view of The Hollow.
Crawford County, Kansas
A view of The Hollow.
Crawford County, Kansas
A view of The Hollow.
Crawford County, Kansas
A creek near The Hollow.
Crawford County, Kansas
Kansas State College of Pittsburg (Now Pittsburg State University). This is where I was walking, that half-century ago, when I learned that John Kennedy had been shot.
Crawford County, Kansas
Kansas State College of Pittsburg (Now Pittsburg State University). This is where I was walking, that half-century ago, when I learned that John Kennedy had been shot.
Crawford County, Kansas
Gus the Gorilla, at Kansas State College of Pittsburg (Now Pittsburg State University).

Crawford State Park

We called this Lake Farlington when Dad brought us here as kids. That's still the name of the lake, but for camping you have to look for Crawford State Park. My brother and I would start out fishing, but soon jumped in to swim, when the fish didn't jump onto our hooks.

It's a beautiful place, and the campground is quite comfortable and convenient, except that cellular access, and hence my wifi and internet were very weak, and the only sewer connection is for the campground host. (I'll have to think about applying for that position for the summer, when I'm finished with this tour.)

The sites are back-in, and perpendicular to the lanes, so getting into them by myself requires a skill I'm yet lacking, but I got there, mainly because all the other sites were empty (no one goes camping in Kansas in December, and for good reason), and I could use them to advantage.

Once there, though, this is the kind of park I'd like to stay in, assuming it had sewer. Well-treed, but not overgrown. Long walks around the lake. My kind of place.

Photo Gallery for Crawford State Park, Farlington, Kansas

Crawford State Park
Crawford State Park
Crawford State Park
Crawford State Park
Crawford State Park
Crawford State Park
Crawford State Park
Crawford State Park
Address Farlington, Kansas
Home Page http://ksoutdoors.com/State-Parks/Locations/Crawford
Phone (620) 362-3671
Associations
  • none
Rate (net US$) $27
Pros
  • Beautiful, wooded location
  • Large lake
Cons
  • Back-in sites, perpendicular to lane
  • No sewer connection (except for camp host)
  • Poor cellular service
Reviews (as of 2018/1/27)
Reviewer Rating Out of
RV Park Reviews 8.3 (Good) 10
Good Sam n/a 10
Tripadvisor 4 5
Phoenix 7 10
  Site Type back-in  
  Site Size 7 10
  Ease of Access 6 10
  WiFiNotes 3 10

Next Stop

From Fort Scott and Pittsburg, I headed southeast into Missouri to visit my sister in Springfield.

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