"Kansas is the ugliest, most hateful state in the country.
It's where bad Nebraskans go when they die."
That little piece of interstate calumny popped up on my
computer screen earlier this month, and it immediately caught my
attention. Having been born in Kansas, having been a Kansas citizen
for the first quarter-century of my life, my feelings were badly hurt
and I teared up for a minute or two.
But then I remembered that I've been a citizen of Nebraska
for the last 47 years, and for some reason Rev. Fred Phelps' name
leapt out of my memory and I recollected having once given him an
obscene gesture. So I was happy again.
Rev. Phelps, you'll remember, is the guy from Topeka who
takes his over-populated family with him when he takes his anti-gay
signs to funerals.
So I assumed that the author of the above quotation had Rev.
Phelps in mind and my badly hurt feelings got all better.
But still, I thought, it wasn't fair to condemn an entire
state because of one inhabitant. Rev. Phelps, on his own, couldn't
make the whole state of Kansas a hellhole where bad Nebraskans have to
spend eternity, could he? So I did some reading and here's what I
First, I cannily deduced, the antagonism that appeared to
be directed at the whole of Kansas was really about a town of 1,600
residents in southwest Kansas. The town is Meade and it's the county
seat of Meade County.
And that touched a sensitive spot in my psyche: the Kansas
town I grew up in is also in Meade County. It's named Plains and it
has about half the population Meade has, and it's 14 miles west of
Meade, and it's not the county seat of anything. And even though
Meade is twice the size of Plains, our high school competed with
theirs in football, basketball, and track.
When we beat Meade, it made a successful season for us.
When Meade beat us, it was nothing more that what was expected.
In the summer, we'd go to Meade to swim in their municipal
swimming pool. Plains didn't have a swimming pool then, and the Meade
kids would splash the chlorinated water in the eyes of the Plains kids
and make fun of our swim suits.
And so forth.
So when I figured out it was only Meade and not Plains that
bad Nebraskans would go to after they die, I felt a little better.
But I digress.
To go back to the opening quotation, what, you may be
wondering, would lead anyone to call Kansas "the ugliest, most hateful
state in the country"?
It's not, I'm afraid, because it's the home state of Rev.
Phelpsalthough some of his influence may have spread like small pox
as far west as Meade.
The Truth, Mainly
The quotation is more likely pointing to the reaction of
some of the Meade citizens to a rainbow-colored flag flying just below
the U.S. flag in front of the Lakeway hotel and restaurant in Meade.
The rainbow flag, according to an Aug. 7 piece by Mike Hendricks in
the Kansas City Star, was displayed by J.R. Knight, co-owner of the
hotel and restaurant. He received the rainbow flag, he said, from his
12-year-old son who had bought it at a tourist spot in Liberal,
Kansas, about 35 miles west of Meade. The tourist spot is called
"Dorothy's House" and it sells memorabilia from "The Wizard of Oz"
book and movie.
You all remember Judy Garland singing "Somewhere Over the
Rainbow." Hence, the rainbow flag.
Hardly sounds ominous, does it?
But when the Meade County News ran a picture of the rainbow
flag, it was identified, Hendricks wrote, "as a symbol of the gay
Hendricks pointed out that the rainbow "happens to symbolize
many other thingsequity, diversity, human rights and the Rainbow
And on Aug. 16, the Wichita Eagle reported that many Meade
citizens were boycotting Knight's hotel and restaurant, that someone
had cut the rainbow flag down, and that "Recently, someone flung two
brickswith expletives written on themthrough a front window,
destroying two neon signs along the way."
I suspect that Rev. Phelps is gloating to see his seed
sprout into still more hatred and intolerance. I suspect that most of
Meade is ashamed that he has reason to gloat.
And I trust that the entire town of Plains is contemplating
moving the Meade County boundary far enough east that no one will
associate Plains residents with the Phelpsian disease that seems to
have spread beyond Topeka to more innocent parts of Kansas.
You know the parts I meanthe parts that somewhere over the
rainbow have retained their innocence, the parts where some believe
good Nebraskans might go to when they die.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail