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Never Mind, Toto. We’re Actually Still in Kansas.

August 11, 2011

When you tell people you’re planning a cross-country road trip, the first question they invariably ask, “How far are you going?” If the conversation continues after you answer, “All the way across,” at some point they will ask whether you plan to see the largest ball of twine.

I’m not sure why the ball of twine is what everybody seems to naturally think of when they think of the kinds of things people do on a cross-country road trip. I think part of it is that there are lots of small towns or offbeat individuals around the country trying to bring themselves some attention and income by having the world’s largest whatever, and visiting such places just seems like the sort of silly thing you do on a road trip. And we’ve visited plenty of these silly places, like the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN, the smiley face water tower in Ashley, IN, the Center of the Nation monument in Belle Fourche, SD, Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, and the Gum Wall in Seattle, WA. And I suppose the ball of twine is generic enough to mock–you don’t really need to know where it is, you just need to assume that one exists.

The truth is that three exist. I know this because I, like everyone else, thought about the largest ball of twine when I was planning our road trip. So I looked it up to see how far out of our way it might be. Turns out there are three towns that claim to have the largest ball of twine. Two (one in Minnesota and one in Texas) both claim to have the largest ball of twine created by a single person. I don’t really care which of them is correct, because they are both significantly outside of our route. Besides, the third ball, which is in Cawker City, Kansas, is not only roughly on our route but much bigger than the other two and thus undisputedly the largest in the world. The distinction is that it was started by a single person but it’s grown with the help of many. In fact, Cawker City has an annual festival during which the whole town is invited to add twine to the ball. In short, there are some pretty big balls out there, but Cawker City has the biggest. (If you see that phrase on a T-shirt anytime soon, I’m totally suing.)

Wednesday was our Kansas day. We woke up in Colorado, just west of the Kansas border. By the end of the day we hoped to be in Missouri. Cawker City is pretty much smack in the middle, and was thus stop #1 for the day.

After losing an hour along the way by crossing time zones, we arrived at The Ball around 1 pm. The first thing you notice about the ball (besides it enormous size, of course) is that it lives in its own gazebo. The second thing you notice is that it also has its own mailbox. (The ball doesn’t actually receive mail–the oversized mailbox holds a guestbook.)

[Look at the people to the right of the ball in the photo to get an idea of its size.]

We’ve seen lots of exciting things on our strange little journey across this country. The world’s largest ball of twine is definitely not the most exciting of them. However, it’s the only one we got to help build. They didn’t let us carve more detail into Mount Rushmore or add I-beams to the Sears Tower or induct anyone into any of the Halls of Fame. But the best thing about the Cawker City ball of twine is that anyone is welcome to add twine to it. And if you call one of the two retired women who maintain the ball in advance they might even meet you at the ball with a spool of sisal twine that you can add, thus making the world’s largest ball of twine even larger. I called one of those women, Linda, on Wednesday morning and put the ball in her court, so to speak. (You like that one? I’ve got dozens more. It was a long drive.)

Our participation in the growing of the ball made our visit so much more fun. Feeling obliged to spend some tourism dollars in the town after they let us play with their ball, we walked around the main strip a bit. We were amused by the many paintings in nearby store windows, each of which is a copy of a famous masterpiece but with a ball of twine strategically added.

We were much less amused to see that most of these stores have gone out of business. Economically, the town just hasn’t been able to get the ball rolling. OK, OK, I’ll stop now.

Anyway, we continued east from Cawker, bound for Kansas City’s fantastic Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. As we got closer, though, it became evident that we would arrive only about 20 minutes before the museum closed. We decided to hold off until the morning to give the museum its proper due. Instead we spent a bit of time in Topeka, stretching our bizarre streak of consecutive capitol cities to five states. We made a quick stop at the capitol building but then noticed signs along the way for a national historical site about the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 civil rights decision in Brown v. Board of Ed. Sam had no idea what that was but I’m a bit of  Supreme Court junkie so I decided to swing by anyway. Turns out the site, which is basically a civil rights museum, is housed in the Monroe School, which was the school attended by the Brown kids.

We didn’t stay long but it was a big treat for me, and it gave me a chance to talk to Sam about the civil rights movement and racism in general. We’ve had some pretty nonsensical conversations over the past few weeks but some pretty heavy ones too, and this was a good one. Until we started making more ball jokes.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Tra permalink
    August 11, 2011 12:27 pm

    Seeing the world’s largest ball of twine is #1 on my bucket list! I love finding blogs by other folks who love roadside attractions as much as my family. We’ve seen the world’s largest bowling pin, apple, globe, kaleidoscope, and garden gnome!

    –Traci from the “Go BIG or Go Home” blog

  2. August 11, 2011 12:28 pm

    I hit the enter button too soon!

  3. ABH permalink*
    August 12, 2011 5:50 am

    The garden gnome was on my to-do list, too, but it was just too far out of the way so we didn’t go.

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