On a snow-covered January day, 50 Kansans gathered in one of the oldest buildings in Wichita to celebrate the state's legacy. The celebration Sunday was in the tradition of the first state celebration on a winter day 149 years ago.
"When Kansas became the 34th state on Jan. 29, 1861... when the 34th star was put on the nation's flag, Kansans were ready to celebrate. They were ready to put the difficulties behind them," local historian Joyce Suellentrop said during the celebration at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum.
Suellentrop explored the history of Kansas — through its territorial period and struggles with abolitionists and pro-slavery supporters to its use of iconic symbols such as the state flower, the sunflower; the state song, "Home On The Range"; and the state bird, the meadowlark.
The program featured poetry readings by Wichita State University professor Jeanine Hathaway and music by an ensemble of vocal students from Wichita Collegiate School.
The state's legacy began on that January morning in 1861 when news that Kansas had been accepted into the Union as a state was telegraphed from Washington, D.C,. to Leavenworth, Suellentrop said.
Kansans fired canons in celebration. They shouted and cheered and built bonfires, she said.
The headlines in the Leavenworth paper offered this encouragement, Suellentrop said:
"Let us all take heart. Hope on and hope ever. Let us forget borders, wars, drought and hard times. A new era is being operated."
Suellentrop also related stories of past state anniversary celebrations. For the centennial, plans began nearly four years in advance, Kansas men celebrated by growing beards and centennial coins, stamps and tablecloths were issued. Contests were encouraged to find the best Kansas-themed poetry and stories. Parades were held.
"We think of Kansas Day as traditional and have always celebrated it in schools, but really, when you look at our origins, we didn't just appear magically," the museum's director, Eric Cale, said after the program.
"It was through a lot of effort. We have a very unique history."