The kookiest, craziest thing about the Garden of Eden is something we can’t show you.
Tourists aren’t allowed to photograph it.
It’s probably for the best.
Our tour guide, Lynn Schneider, the site’s director, issued a kind caution as she unlocked the padlock to the steel door of artist S.P. Dinsmoor’s pyramid-shaped mausoleum, saying something like,“It’s OK to run if you’re not ready to see this.”
At least I think that’s what she said. I was too busy paying attention to the squeaking of a big steel door as she pulled it open, revealing another metal door beyond.
When we walked through that second door our little group of five stood face-to-face with S.P. Dinsmoor — or at least what’s left of his face after being mummified with charcoal for 83 years.
The man loved a good joke. He said as much in his self-published epistle, “Pictorial History of The Cabin Home in Garden of Eden.”
The Civil War veteran began building his place — made of limestone in the fashion of a log cabin — in 1904 at the age of 64. He called it the “most unique home, for living or dead, on Earth.”
He created a collection of giant concrete sculptures, religious and political in theme. .
Look up and you’ll see a concrete angel on top of his mausoleum, ready to carry Dinsmoor to heaven if that were his fate. (In case he was banished to a warmer afterlife, he made a water jug out of concrete for the trip. It sits next to his coffin.)
Dinsmoor charged visitors admission as he worked several years on it, money that helped sustain his family.
He started a second family after his first wife’s death. He was 81 when he took a 20-year-old bride in 1924. They had two children together. “An old man needs a nurse, a young man wants a companion. I got both,” he said.
It would take hours to admire all that Dinsmoor has wrought here.
In the garden, for instance, the devil with a pitchfork lurks behind Adam and Eve. Dinsmoor put glass behind Satan’s eyes, ears, nose and mouth and lit him up at night. “The darker the night the more like the devil he looks,” he plotted.
In another scene a soldier is shooting at an Indian, who is aiming an arrow at a dog, who is chasing a fox, who is chasing a bird, who is hunting down a worm with a leaf in its mouth.
Dinsmoor knew that people would keep coming here long after he was gone if his body was here. He was so right. A few years ago the Garden of Eden was a finalist to become one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas.
“He’s been dead for 83 years. People pay to see him. He’s still making his own money yet today. And that was his vision,” said Schneider.
So there he is in the mausoleum, laid out in his coffin behind glass, his stern mug now relegated to bones, his bounteous white beard but a tuft of dusty tumbleweed scrub on his chin.
Schneider shone two flashlights on his face so we could get a good look in the darkened room.
“It seems to me that people buried in iron and wooden boxes will be frying and burning up in the resurrection morn,” Dinsmoor wrote. “How will they get out when this world is on fire? Cement will not stand fire, the glass will break. This cement lid will fly open and I will sail out like a locust.”
One of his wives lies beneath him, cemented in for all eternity.
Dinsmoor put in his will that no one but his widow, descendants, their husbands and wives “shall go in to see me for less than $1. That will pay someone to look after the place and I promise everyone that comes in to see me … that if I see them dropping a dollar in the hands of the flunky and I see the dollar, I will give them a smile.”
And danged if he didn’t wink at me.
Garden of Eden
Where: 305 E. 2nd St., Lucas, Kan.
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily May-October; 1-4 p.m. daily March-April.
Cost: $7 adults, $2 children (6-12) and free for children 5 and younger.
Info: 785-525-6395; garden-of-eden-lucas-kansas.com