Historic mausoleum provides unusual day trip for students

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Just off I-70 lies a quiet town with a unique and interesting attraction — the Garden of Eden.

It brings tourists from all over the world to the town of Lucas, Kan. It’s something so out of the ordinary, so weird, that even the locals think it’s odd.

So what is the Garden of Eden? It’s a hand-built house with a garden surrounded by two story-high sculptures and a mausoleum. The garden was built by Samuel Perry Dinsmoor, a Civil War veteran and Freemason who moved his family to Lucas in 1888.

The house is built out of post rock limestone in the style of a log cabin, which is unique to the residence — most limestone houses of the time were made with square blocks instead of long, narrow lengths. Dinsmoor also hand-carved all the interior woodwork of the home. No two doors or windows are the same size. He started building in 1907 at age 64 and worked until 1928.

Everything on the grounds was built using concrete, including two pyramid-shaped flower gardens, a garden shed, an outhouse, a bird and fox pen and a picnic area for visitors.

There are over 50 sculptures in the garden, most of which depict biblical stories and political opinions.

The first sculptures depict stories from the Book of Genesis, starting with statues of Adam and Eve. Next is the story of Cain and Abel and a sculpture of the devil with glowing eyes, after which the sculptures transition into populist political themes. Some of the political sculptures include a common man named Labor being crucified by a doctor, preacher, banker and lawyer.

Tracy Mahoney, senior in business management, said her favorite part was the outdoor cement artwork.

“Cement is so unforgiving, and yet this man did it, over and over again. It lacks refinement, but it is fascinating, and you get his message, his obsession,” Mahoney said.

People from all over the country and the world come to the Garden of Eden. Some stop by after an afternoon at nearby Wilson Lake, and others come for the unique grassroots art.

“It’s particularly inspirational because it shows what a person with imagination can do, and a nonconformist can do,” said Jon Blumb, president of the Garden of Eden, Inc.

Some groups tour the grounds because of the educational and historical importance.

“Kansas has a long and significant tradition of grassroots art. This tradition is one of the defining features of the culture of the visual arts in the state,” said Bill North, senior curator for the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art. “It’s an opportunity to experience one of the great monuments of grassroots art and to learn a great deal about the history and culture of Kansas.”

Others come to the Garden of Eden just because of curiosity.

“We had heard it talked about for years and we wanted to see for ourselves,” Mahoney said.

The attraction is one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas Art.

“The Garden of Eden is unquestionably the most important grassroots art site in the state and is one of the most important such sites in the country,” North said.

One intriguing feature of the Garden of Eden is the mausoleum. When Dinsmoor’s first wife died, he wanted her to be entombed in the mausoleum. Her family wouldn’t allow it and instead buried her in the local cemetery. But late one night, Dinsmoor dug up his wife, placed her in the mausoleum and poured concrete over her so she couldn’t be removed.

But that is not the most extraordinary thing Dinsmoor did. When he was 81 years old, he married a local girl named Emily Brozek who was only 21. He then had two children with her before he died at age 89 in 1932.

“He said and did what he wanted on his own terms,” Blumb said.

Dinsmoor’s last wish was to be mummified and placed behind a window in the mausoleum within a concrete casket he made for himself, on display for the world to see.

The Garden of Eden is more than just a crypt for a Civil War veteran. It’s a monument to free thinking, grassroots art and political idealism.

“In addition to learning about the tradition of grassroots art in Kansas, visitors to the Garden of Eden can learn much about the history of political thought in the state, especially as it relates to the Populist movement,” North said. “Given the nature of the current economic crisis facing this country, I think many of today’s visitors to the Garden of Eden will find Dinsmoor’s message particularly resonant.”

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