When congested airports, excess baggage and long lines at security all get to be too much, perhaps it’s time to consider a “staycation,” an excursion close to home that may alleviate some of the headaches of travel. Lucas, Kansas, (population around 400) is one such possible destination, located approximately 250 miles from Kansas City. It is the setting for an extraordinary tourist attraction drawing 10,000 visitors from all over the world every year. The Garden of Eden and Cabin Home was the creation of Samuel Perry Dinsmoor (1843-1932), who began building it in 1907; his design has fascinated its audience ever since.
Dinsmoor, a Civil War veteran, former educator, Populist politician and retired farmer, moved to Lucas to construct a home for himself and his family. He had the idea to create an outdoor artistic installation surrounding the house that would allow him to supplement his income by offering tours to the public. The name Garden of Eden suggests religious overtones, and while there are sculptures of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel illustrating familiar Bible stories, there are also numerous references to the political corruption of his day. Erika Nelson, a Lucas-based artist, former board member and current Cultural Resources Director, describes Dinsmoor’s masterpiece as “primarily a comment on social structure and politics at the early part of the 20th century rather than an overtly evangelical environment.” Dinsmoor had various messages he was intent on delivering, like the villainy of monopolies or the evils of social Darwinism. His philosophy is delivered with a sense of humor as we observe an octopus, symbolizing monopolistic trusts, strangling everything in sight with its far-reaching tentacles. In another tableau, a soldier aims his rifle at a Native American who in turn is pointing his bow and arrow at a dog who is chasing a fox in pursuit of a bird that is pouncing on a worm about to devour a leaf. Dinsmoor also felt strongly that one needs to make his voice heard — he wanted everyone to express their opinions and realize that every vote counted.
Using tons of locally sourced Post-rock limestone as well as concrete, the self-taught artist fashioned over 150 sculptures over 20 years. Some of his representations include the Goddess of Liberty, Voters, Suffragists, Devils and Angels, as well as a man symbolizing Labor being crucified by a lawyer, a banker, a minister and a doctor. The Garden of Eden was the first location in Lucas to have electricity; Dinsmoor placed light bulbs in the mouths of storks and other animals to illuminate his artwork at night. He also acted as a tour guide as the environment was being created. He felt strongly that the Garden of Eden “would remain open in perpetuity.” This may have inspired him to design his own mausoleum, located just east of his home. One may be startled to see the artist himself, encased in a glass-lidded coffin of his own design.
The great appeal of the Garden for those who appreciate folk art environments is likely due to its engaging complexity and early date. While the eccentric character of Dinsmoor is still vibrant after all these years, his art and his messages remain relevant today.
Garden of Eden
305 E. 2nd Street
Lucas, Kansas 67648
Guided tours of the Garden of Eden are offered daily, March through October. Hours of operation are 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., March – April.
Hours of operation May – October are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Some recommendations for travelers to the Garden of Eden:
Lodging: Located in nearby Wilson, the historic Midland Railroad Hotel is said by some to be haunted. 414 26th Street, (785) 658-2284. There is also an Airbnb just across the street from the Garden: Garden View Lodge, 304 E. 2nd St., (785) 658-6607.
For those looking for outdoor adventures, Wilson Lake is located between Lucas and Wilson. It features the nationally known Switchgrass Mountain Bike Trail.