Eliza Myers

Confluent Cultures in Kansas City, Kansas

 
 

Eliza Myers
Published May 01, 2017

With threatening slave hunters camped at the edge of Quindaro, Clarina Nichols nervously hid a runaway slave named Caroline in an empty cistern before sneaking her north to freedom. This harrowing tale of former Quindaro, a historic town started by abolitionists in 1856, is one of many similar tales of escape preserved in Kansas City, Kansas.

Kansas City may be known today for its modern sports facilities, which include the Kansas Speedway, but it retains its fascinating past, which spans all the way back to the Hopewell Native American culture 3,000 years ago. The city’s historic attractions tell stories through guided tours and customizable group programming such as the Wyandotte County Museum’s educational programming and Strawberry Hill’s culturally authentic Tea Room experiences.

From a forgotten town on the Underground Railroad to an early camp site for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Kansas City’s historic sites will keep any group captivated.

Historic Quindaro

In the 1980s, an archaeological study in Kansas City uncovered the remnants of a legendary portal for fugitive slaves. Residents of the former town of Quindaro originally helped stop the westward spread of slavery. The town’s citizens aided escaped slaves from Missouri and linked them to the Underground Railroad.

Though the town was later abandoned, in its heyday, citizens chartered the first black school west of the Mississippi River and invited former slaves to gather in the residential community. Today, groups can learn this intriguing piece of Kansas City’s history at the Quindaro Ruins and Overlook, the Old Quindaro Museum and the Quindaro Underground Railroad Museum, all within a block of one another.

Tours generally start at the Quindaro Underground Museum to learn about the town and the historic school through artifacts, documents and a knowledgeable docent. Afterward, visitors can wander through the Quindaro Ruins and Overlook to see the stone and brick foundations of homes that welcomed fleeing slaves. A John Brown statue also stands nearby in tribute to one of the nation’s best known opponents of slavery.

Visitors then continue into the Old Quindaro Museum for a more personal glimpse into the families living in Quindaro.

“The Old Quindaro Museum has some old shackles that slaves actually wore,” said Kerry Green, group sales and partnership manager for the Kansas City, Kansas, Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They have a lot of artifacts from the families who settled there. When you go in there, you have a feeling of ‘Wow, this really happened in our world.’ It makes you understand the story.”

Strawberry Hill Museum

Guests can taste history with delight at the Strawberry Hill Museum’s Tea Room, which features a menu full of authentic Slavic desserts. This relaxing experience concludes a tour in which groups learn about Kansas City’s influx of Slavic immigrants and the impact they had on local culture.

“Each room features a different European culture,” said Green. “You can see each Slavic culture’s traditional clothes, decorations, toys and other day-to-day items.”

Guides reveal 16 Kansas City nationalities, among them Belgium, Croatian, Slovakian, Mexican and Irish. Exhibits on these immigrants’ art, music and dance reveal the city’s diverse heritage.

Visitors will also discover the past of the 1887 Victorian home, one of the best examples of Queen Anne architecture in Kansas City. The house also served as an orphanage after an influenza epidemic in 1919 until its close in 1988.

Many groups love to book tours during the Olde World Christmas event, when the Victorian home decks its halls with Christmas finery from various cultures across the globe. Others plan meals on-site or incorporate a trip to the museum’s gift shop for local and Baltic-Slavic crafts such as Polish pottery.

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