Telescopes point at the sky. Little green men pose under an umbrella on a front lawn. All that’s missing is “The X Files” theme music playing upon entering Geneseo.
The legacy of a multifarious doctor lives on through an oddball annual festival in the Rice County community, on this day in July colloquially called “Dimension G.”
Kansas UFO Day celebrated its second year of extraterrestrial-focused events with live music, a parade through downtown Geneseo, vendors, fireworks show and an after-dark screening of the 1956 sci-fi film “Earth vs. The Flying Saucers.”
Geneseo city officials declared the community the UFO Capital of Kansas in 2022, not because of any unknown sightings or strange happenings, but because of a wide-ranging collection gathered and a museum established by local chiropractor Dr. Elmer Janzen.
“He was very highly educated,” Abby Janssen Wimer says of the doctor. Janssen Wimer is related to the eccentric character by marriage.
“He was a lifelong student, as noted by all his diplomas (in the museum).”
The Kansas UFO Day Festival in Dimension G is just one example of a broader trend of eclectic self-promotion among rural Kansas communities. The schedule of quirky Sunflower State events unfolding in the weeks to come include the Twine-O-Thon in Cawker City (Aug. 18-19), the Adam’s Apple Festival in Lucas (Aug. 23), the Spinach festival in Lenexa (Sept. 9) and the Outhouse Festival in Elk Falls (Nov. 18-19). (See more detail below.)
Dr. Janzen’s certificates, ranging from a Swedish massage license to colonic treatments, are on display in the museum’s main room. Another room is filled with the reason for the UFO festival: Atomic Age memorabilia, including books and newspaper clippings about UFO phenomenon, photos, drawings and other alien-related items collected over the course of Dr. Janzen’s life.
Janzen’s fascination with outer space was birthed in the 1950s when he met a Nickerson man named John Dean. Dean legitimately believed aliens were living among humans and practicing Christianity on Earth. Janzen’s interest was piqued when Dean took him to an extraterrestrial convention in 1957. Janzen returned every subsequent year to feed his curiosity. A copy of the sign Dean penned for his automotive shop, stating “Space Ships Welcome,” is on display in the museum window.
Dr. Janzen led the museum from its foundation in 1964 until he became ill in 1976. When he died in 1977, he donated his various collections, all housed in Janzen’s original white-and-green home at 907 Silver Avenue in Geneseo.
“His documentation is incredible,” Janssen Wimer says. “He took meticulous notes on everything.”
A Geneseo City Museum board member, Janssen Wimer says Kansas UFO Day is the hook that brings people to “Dimension G.” But she says it’s richly detailed Rice County history, preserved though one doctor’s unending passion for documenting local happenings along with his own fascinations, that sticks with people as they depart.
“That’s ultimately what I feel in my heart is important,” Janssen Wimer says. “We have to be able to appreciate where we’ve come from, where we’ve been, and where we want to go to, and we’ve got to preserve that and make it available for future generations to know and appreciate.”
Off-beat tourism is becoming a more commonly used concept in Kansas, as rural community leaders are seeking new ways of boosting local economies. This approach promotes communities for what they are – neat places with something eclectic, historic, or both to offer outside visitors.
An example is the Russell County community of Lucas. Home to about 350 people, the town sees more than 15,000 tourists each year, according to resident Mary Ann Steinle.
“Lucas is the grassroots art capital of Kansas,” Steinle says. “There’s so much artwork in this town, but it started with the Garden of Eden.”
Steinle is referring to a handmade amalgamation of Biblically influenced art and culture sculpted by S.P. Dinsmoor at his home in the early 1900s. Dinsmoor added to his art installation until his death in 1932. As a symbol of his eccentric nature, Dinsmoor’s mummified remains are housed in a hand-built mausoleum on the property.
In her 15 years as a tour guide, Steinle has met people from at least 50 different countries, including Australia and China. She sees new visitors to the Garden of Eden daily who tell her they want to explore the kitschier side of Kansas. Several young families have moved to the community in recent years because they are drawn to the town’s “do your own thing” attitude.
When it comes to promoting a community, Steinle says “go with what you have.”
“We embrace our craziness,” she says. “We like the quirkiness.”
- The Twine-O-Thon in Cawker City, Aug. 18-19. This festival celebrates the World’s Largest Ball of Twine and includes opportunities for townsfolk to add more twine to the massive sphere. Food, craft vendors and live music round out the schedule. The 20,000-pound twine ball was immortalized in the 1983 comedy movie “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
- 49th Annual Adam’s Apple Festival in Lucas, Aug. 23. This event in downtown Lucas includes craft and food vendors, a parade, car and motorcycle show, live music, a community dinner, watermelon feed and fireworks. It celebrates the community’s overall artistic spirit.
- A relatively new addition to the Kansas festival landscape, Fredonia’s Sausage Fest, which is scheduled from 6 p.m. to midnight on Aug. 26. With the 5K Wiener Walk, a scavenger hunt called the Quest for the Gilded Banger and a triathlon of eating, drinking and running called Wiener Weway, the festival walks a fine line between bawdy humor and community building.
- Spinach Festival in Lenexa, Sept. 9. Since the 1930s, the city of Lenexa has been known as the Official Spinach Capital of the World, because of abundant spinach crops at the time. The Spinach Festival includes craft vendors, live music, recipe contests, and the creation of the world’s largest spinach salad.
- Outhouse Festival in Elk Falls, Nov. 18-19. Home to about 100 people, Elk Falls is the self-proclaimed Outhouse Capital of Kansas. This festival has been around since 1996. Visitors can tour a dozen decorated outhouses and vote on their favorite. The person behind, or seated upon, the winning outdoor lavatory will receive the Outhouse Throne Award – a trophy in the shape of a chamber pot.