There is a tradition in my home state of celebrating the day it became a state back in 1861. This “holiday” was first observed as far back as 1877 by schoolchildren in Paola.
It wasn’t until I moved to another state that I realized that the concept of celebrating one’s statehood wasn’t a common occurrence. In fact, I’ve lived in Maryland now for over 14 years and I couldn’t tell you when it became a state (hold on a second…it’s April 28, 1788. Thanks, Google!).
Several states have a great deal of pride (I’m looking at you, Texas) for a variety of reasons. Then there are specific things within each state that people take pride in, which spill over to other states when people move, travel, or become enamored with the spirit itself. I’m no football fan, but I’m quite aware of the uniqueness of the Green Bay Packers from Wisconsin. The Philadelphia Eagles have gotten a reputation for being fiercely loyal of their team. The list goes on.
Kansas Day really began when those students realized the significance of the country’s independence from Britain and how important the fact that Kansas was able to be a state. Moved by this sense of patriotism in his classroom, Alexander LeGrande Copley decided to make something out of it.
The celebration consisted of speeches, drawings of the state symbols, accounts of historical facts, songs, and a list of notable “firsts” in the state. I wonder if the level of depth those students with their research about Kansas statistics and facts has translated into the modern day prevalence of “largest _____ in the world” type of attractions that the state is known for.
Copley went on to become a superintendent of Wichita schools, where he continued the tradition and encouraged other teachers to duly celebrate the statehood day. Newspapers covered these celebrations and eventually even a booklet was published as a guide for educators on how they could commemorate the day.
That pretty much cemented the holiday as a statewide occurrence. Throughout my own childhood there were always things happening on or around the day. As younger kids, we would draw pictures of the state seal or symbols like wheat or cattle.
In middle school, I remember taking a bus all the way up to Havensville (about 25 minutes north, which seemed far) to a school where there were people dressed up in pioneer style outfits doing period activities like churning butter, shoeing horses, and shearing goats.
In 2011, Kansas celebrated 150 years as a state and there were much larger celebrations. At the time, I gathered my co-workers with Kansas connections to put together a party at our office. It had just so happened that one of the newly opened meeting rooms was dubbed the Kansas Room (all the rooms were named after states), so we got permission to hold the party outside of that room in the hall.
All of us brought Kansas products, which included homemade brisket, Pizza Hut pizza (the chain originated in Wichita where there is now a museum), cheese, chips, cookies, snacks, pop (aka soda), and even some beer from the now-defunct Tallgrass Brewery in Manhattan. Our little Kansas delegation ended up singing the first stanza of “Home on the Range”–the state song–to the company president. This ended up starting a chain of state parties for other states in or near the other state rooms during statehood days or other notable state celebrations.
This may all seem silly, but I really enjoy the quirkiness of it all. It is a testament to the spirit of state pride and an important lesson in enjoying the moments that make where you live a little different than another place.
Happy 159th birthday, Kansas. Ad astra per aspera!