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Greetings Internet Stranger! Do you feel like your life has gotten a little dull and dreary? Looking to inject a bit more fun into your life? Then why not head to Wichita, Kansas and check out some of their amazing Wichita museums? These museums aren’t stuffy like some of our museums back East. You’ll learn fun facts but in a way that puts a smile on your face. Come with me and I’ll show you exactly how!
24 Hours: Wichita Museums
Where to Stay?
The most fun part of Wichita for a tourist is the Old Town. So I suggest picking a hotel with a good central location right in the middle of Old Town. And for my money, you can’t do better than Courtyard Wichita at Old Town. The rooms are huge and comfy, and the location was flawless. Also the staff couldn’t have been more helpful, even when I needed to get to the Wichita Airport at 4:30 in the morning!! Thanks Courtyard Wichita!
24 Hours: Wichita Museums
Morning: Allen House
People who aren’t from Kansas sometimes think of the state as being devoid of culture. Perhaps the only image they have of Kansas is the grey plains from The Wizard of Oz. But Wichita museums are full of interesting cultural tidbits and docents who are passionate about their job. And there’s no more interesting attraction in Wichita than the Allen House, designed by legendary American artist Frank Lloyd Wright. (See their website for details about tours.)
The Allen House offers different types of tours, but I recommend the Grand Tour because that’s the only one that allows you to take photos of the interior. Your Instagram account will thank you later, believe me! And the Grand Tour will offer you lots more than…
Three Fun Facts: Allen House
1) Who owned this house?
Good question, Internet Stranger! This house obviously belonged to the kind of family that could spare a few kopeks to buy themselves a fancy abode. And since it’s the Allen House, it’s not hard to figure out that the family’s last name was Allen. The father was a successful businessman who later became governor of Kansas. That meant he needed to move to Topeka while he was in office. (Wichita is the biggest city in Kansas, but Topeka is the capital.)
While he was in Topeka, Mrs. Allen was in charge of maintaining and decorating the home. You can see her portrait above the couple’s bed. She was a patron of the arts and extremely fond of knitting. Sometimes I wish I were married to a rich man who lived in Topeka so I could just sit in my apartment here in NYC all day and knit. But we can’t have everything in this life.
The daughter of the house is the most interesting character to me. She was very beautiful and chic, and she didn’t get married until she was 32, which was quite late for those days. But when she did marry, it was the Ambassador to Romania, so she lived a very glamorous life of balls and traveling after she wed. Why has no one made a movie about this woman? I would call it From Wichita to Bucharest. Get on it, Netflix!
2) What Does the House Look Like?
Like many Frank Lloyd Wright houses, you can see Japanese influence in the design. In fact, the house is full of pieces from Japan. Each Frank Lloyd Wright house has a unique color scheme, though he did prefer colors from nature. The predominant colors in the Allen House are ochre, green, and gold. Our docent told us that each FLW house sells unique merchandise that uses the colors and patterns from that building. Catch them all, like Pokemon!
The most beautiful room in the house is the living room. My photo truly doesn’t do it justice. There’s a very small entryway into the living room, then suddenly you step in and you’re surrounded by light and loveliness. The living room seems even bigger because of the way the windows look out into the garden. I wish there were some way I could get Frank Lloyd Wright to design a living room like this for me, but sadly he is dead and I don’t think I can afford Ghost Frank Lloyd Wright’s prices.
3) Any Good Frank Lloyd Wright Stories?
There are SO MANY good Frank Lloyd Wright stories, Internet Stranger! The dude was a freaky genius, after all. He was also friends with the Allen family, and he used to stay there when he was traveling from Wisconsin to Arizona. But since he designed the house and the fixtures, he felt like the house belonged to him, so he would rearrange all their knickknacks and doodads when they weren’t looking. That seems like a small price to pay to be able to tell people that Frank Lloyd Wright was staying in your house.
FLW was a successful architect, but he could have been even more successful if he’d just patented his greatest invention: the wall-hung toilet. Look how classy this toilet is! And it’s so easy to clean underneath it. But sadly Wright never patented it, so other people made all the money from his great brain. Always get a patent, kids!
24 Hours: Wichita Museums
Afternoon: Old Cowtown Museum
I haven’t necessarily been to all the Wichita Museums, but I can still say with certainty that the Old Cowtown Museum is my favorite of the Wichita Museums. When many people think of museums, they imagine staring at a bunch of paintings through a monocle, talking about brush strokes. But the Old Cowtown Museum is a living history museum. (Check their website for more information here.) You can explore buildings from the heyday of Wild West Kansas and even see a wild historical reenactment or two!
I encourage you to explore the wonders of the Old Cowtown Museum on your own, but I’ll get you started with…
Approximately Top 5: Old Cowtown Museum
1) Ziggy’s Pizza
Before we hit up more Wichita museums, we’re going to need some lunch. I suggest stopping at local chain Ziggy’s Pizza. (There are three locations. For this itinerary we want the East Douglas Avenue location.)
I’m from New York City, so it might seem a little funny that I’m recommending Kansas pizza. But Ziggy’s serves the kind of tasty, floppy pizzas you can find pleasing college students all around the country. So it’s not trying to be a New York style pizza.
I got the Ziggy special because I always believe in ordering the house special. It comes with olives, peppers ,mushrooms. sausage, and pepperoni. It was all delicious, but my favorite part was the tomato sauce. I have to assume they make it from scratch because it was so flavorful.
2) Old Buildings of Wichita
OK, now that our tummies are full, we’re ready for more Wichita museums. Head on over to the Old Cowtown Museum by car or Uber and get ready to learn! There are many different kinds of buildings at the Old Cowtown Museum, but I suggest starting with the very oldest.
The area around Wichita was originally inhabited by the Osage and Wichita nations. Eventually European-Americans tried to create a settlement here for trading cattle. That’s why it was called Old Cowtown. (The Old Cowtown name didn’t last, probably because it’s hard to convince people to move to a place called Cowtown. So eventually it became Wichita.
Of course, if you have a community formed entirely around dudes trying to make money, they’re probably going to get a little rowdy. The few families and women who lived in Wichita weren’t entirely happy with the drinking and other shenanigans that were going on in Old Cowtown. That’s why they created the First Presbyterian Church, which you can go inside! It’s a lovely building, but the saloon in town seems a lot more popular with guests. People haven’t changed that much since the 19th century.
3) Old School Hotels
Eventually trade in Wichita started booming, thanks to its location on the Arkansas River. And with trade came money and with money came visitors and with visitors came hotels. Wichita was still a frontier town, so the hotels weren’t fancy. But even a simple hotel back then tried to give guests a bang for their buck. For two dollars a day you’d get a room and meals.
And these meals weren’t just some two buck chuck meat. You could order everything from mock turtle soup to calf’s liver with onions to something called “Yankee doughnuts”. They even have the vintage menus on display at the Old Cowtown Museum so you can see I’m not making it up!
4) Farm Life
The Old Cowtown Museum doesn’t just contain city buildings. Remember, the museum showcases places from all over 19th century and early 20th century Kansas, not just Wichita. So you’ll get the chance to see what Kansas farm life was like. And I promise Miss Gulch won’t show up to steal your little dog!
I was especially impressed by this authentic grain elevator from 1910. They say it’s the only fully restored, operational grain elevator in North America. So if you’ve always dreamed of seeing a grain elevator in action, now’s your one and only chance. Kansas farmers could either sell the grain to the grain elevator operators, or they could have it temporarily stored here. I don’t really understand why they couldn’t just store it on their farm, but maybe that’s why I’m not an olde-tymey Kansas farmer.
5) Gun Fights on Main Street
Do not miss a chance to see a gun fight when you are at the Old Cowtown Museum! They are shockingly entertaining. And don’t worry about getting injured! They’re not real fights; they’re public performances of a dime novel. Dime novels were cheap books that cowboys would take with them on the road to pass the time. They couldn’t afford to buy real books, and in fact the cowboys would usually even have to share the dime book. One of the men would read the book while they sat around the campfire.
Dime novels had sensational plots that would keep the cowboys entertained on the road. They were the 19th century Western equivalent of Marvel comic movies, I guess. Now the Old Cowtown Museum publishes their own dime novels. I assume they’re like the performance I witnessed, which was about an angry gunman avenging the murder of his wife. Spoiler alert! Basically everyone died in a gory fashion at the end. I imagine the real cowboys would have approved of the violence. Two thumbs up! Fine holiday fun!
6) Wichita Shops
There are oodles of re-created shops on Main Street. You can find everything from furniture shops to funeral parlors. But my favorite was the recreation of the office of the newspaper The Wichita Eagle. The editor was a gentleman named Marshall Murdock (no relation to Rupert Murdoch). He was a relentless promoter of Wichita who was always trying to convince people it was the next Chicago.
Here are some of the nicknames that Murdock came up with for Wichita: “The Darling of Destiny”, “The Queen City of the Southwest”, and my personal favorite, “The Athletic Ajax of the Aboundful Arkansas”. I admire your passion, dude, but you are trying too hard. You need something easy to say, like The Big Apple or The Big Easy. How about The Big Cow?
24 Hours: Wichita Museums
Evening: Dinner and a Show
Don’t worry that all the excitement is over after that gunfight, Internet Stranger! There’s plenty to do in Wichita tonight. We’re going to start with dinner at the Old Mill Tasty Shop. This is the kind of classic American diner it’s so hard to find nowadays.
They’re famous for their sandwiches and milkshakes. Indeed their shakes are so authentically 50s tasting, they might as well have walked off the set of Happy Days. I suggest getting the green chile BLT. It’s exciting to find green chile outside of New Mexico, and bacon makes everything better. That’s just science.
If you want something harder than a milkshake, after dinner step next door to the Third Place Brewery. This is an excellent small brewery–everyone here seemed like both a local and a regular. It’s a small brewery, so I can’t be 100 percent sure what will be on tap when you visit. But I enjoyed my very flavorful beer called the Red-headed Stranger. You know this beer was named with a male audience in mind. I have never heard a woman say she wanted to meet a red-headed stranger.
24 Hour Treat: Mosley Street Melodrama
I’ve been all over the world, and I’ve lots of crazy ish go down. But I’ve never seen anything quite as crazy at the Mosley Street Melodrama. That’s a compliment! The Mosley Street Melodrama is an audience participation show where you cheer the hero and heroine and boo and hiss at the villain. Each show seems to be a parody of some sort. I saw one called “The Doctor is In” that seemed like an insane parody of medical soap operas like General Hospital. But maybe you’ll get to see Saving Pirate Ryan or something equally exciting.
But this is a local cast and a local audience and there are lots of very Kansas specific jokes that made me laugh even though this was my first trip to Kansas. My personal favorite was a reference to Palmer, Kansas “where the men are lonely and the sheep are scared”. (Apologies to any readers from Palmer.)
You get a free bag of popcorn with your ticket, but drinks are extra. However the show is even more fun when you’re tipsy, so why not try one? I loved my very girly pink Heroine drink. I always knew I was a heroine, but it’s nice for the Mosley Street Melodrama to acknowledge it.
That’s 24 Hours: Wichita Museums!
What would you do at the Wichita museums? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Wichita right now? And how much would it cost for Frank Lloyd Wright’s ghost to design my house? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in Wichita visiting Wichita museums, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Wichita. If you have another 24 hours in Wichita, add this itinerary.