We are pretty sure that most of you have heard of the Garden of Eden, but did you know there is one in Lucas, Kansas? When we first found out about this uniquely Kansas attraction, we knew a visit was in store. Samuel Dinsmoor, the creator of this site, built his masterpiece at an age when most people are resigned to rest. While there were varying opinions of the man from local townspeople, his accomplishment definitely helped to put Lucas on the tourism map.
We would like to thank the Lucas Chamber of Commerce and Garden of Eden for their hospitality. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
S.P. Dinsmoor’s Unsettling Background
Born in the mid-1800’s, Dinsmoor’s eclectic background fueled the inspiration for the Garden of Eden. While serving as a nurse in the Civil War, he was exposed to the horrors of warfare, as he witnessed the sight of the slaughter. This forced him to seek understanding of the driving forces behind humankind. He joined the Masons, which was listed among the free-thought organizations that investigated a variety of scientific theories. After retiring from teaching in Kansas, he began a second career as a sculptor. By now he was in his 60’s, but age would not slow down his drive and desire to create. Using hand tools and limestone quarried nearby, he constructed his twelve room “log” cabin.
The notion behind his build, was for it to be more than just a residence. Located near the town’s train station, Dinsmoor envisioned the home to be a money making attraction funded by travelers. It would be almost impossible to miss the garden and its 40-foot tall concrete sculptures. The quarried stones, some up to 20-feet long, were transported from nearby Wilson Lake by wagon. He dovetailed the corners to resemble a log cabin, and used concrete to sandwich the layers.
Unique Building Design
Once you pass inside, the uniqueness continues. Our tour of the home was given by a descendant from his second wife. Dinsmoor married her grandmother when he was 81 years old, and she was his 20 year old housekeeper. As the story of Dinsmoor continued to unfold, we began to realize just how amazing the accomplishments of this untrained builder were. On the main floor of the home, Dinsmoor used redwood, walnut, and oak to create elaborate moulding. No two windows or doors in the house are the same size. This meant that every one of them had to be custom built.
The home was the first in the town of Lucas to have electricity and running water. It would later be discovered that he had tapped into the city’s water main. When you consider Dinsmoor’s lack of formal training, it makes his construction even more impressive.
The monies raised from tours helped supplement the ongoing construction of the “garden”. Dinsmoor lived a fairly frugal lifestyle, which allowed him to pour as much as he could into his plans. All of the quirkiness in his design helped add intrigue, which he used to feed his tourism demand. Always a bit of a showman, Dinsmoor would nag those who gathered to view from afar. After all, he hadn’t worked this hard to miss out on potential revenue.
Building His Garden of Eden
With his house complete, Dinsmoor turned his focus on creating his “garden”. He assembled concrete “trees”, up to 40 feet tall, to support his creations. All of the structures were made by Dinsmoor, who only employed an assistant to help mix the 113 tons of concrete. His first sculptures focused on biblical subjects. His depiction of Cain and Abel is overseen by a fiery eyed devil, as well as an open armed angel. Incorporating light into his pieces helped add an additional layer of intrigue, as well as helping to draw visitors after sunset.
A Shift In Focus
Over time, he would shift his direction to focus more on the the political atmosphere of those days. Some believe it was the Ludlow Massacre, in Colorado, that sparked Dinsmoor’s change in direction. Across the front of the home is a series of pieces that show the “chain of destruction”. A soldier draws a bead on a native Indian, who is in the process of aiming himself. We followed the chain as it moved to smaller and smaller targets. Eventually it ends with a bird preparing to feed on a caterpillar eating a leaf.
Dinsmoor’s political commentary continues with pieces focused on highlighting the struggles of the common man. With the Depression looming on the horizon, big business was seen by many to be a threat to modern civilization. One piece depicts the fight between Liberty and Trusts, while another shows Rights being split by a handsaw, labeled ballot. His campaign against Trust continues with a piece showing it as an octopus bent on destroying the world.
His final piece was designed to depict the crucifiction of Labor. Unfortunately, time caught up with Dinsmoor and the pieces were unfinished at the time of his death, at 89 years of age. Over the years after his death, the site fell into disrepair. In 2012, the Kohler Foundation chose this important collection of grassroots art for a restoration project. Months of labor, involved clearing trees, removing mold, and restoring the pigment tint to the concrete pieces helped bring these works back to life.
Defiant In Death
Our tour finished at the 40-foot mausoleum Dinsmoor erected prior to his death. His body rests above his first wife’s , which he removed from the city cemetery without permission. He encased her casket in concrete to prevent city officials from removing it. Inside the crypt, we found Dinsmoor laid out in a concrete casket with a glass cover. While some may not want to visit this last sight, it was Dinsmoor himself who left instructions in his Will that he be part of the tour. Always a showman, he was confident that visitors would want to see the person behind the construction of this version of the Garden of Eden. With our tour complete, we thanked our guide for the wonderful stories of this unique individual. As we moved about town, we would catch sight of some of the pieces above the rooftops. It was a clear reminder that age does not have to be a restriction of creativity. Do you think you would want to visit this uniquely Kansas site?