Visiting Westboro Baptist Church & The Equality House: A Place of Overdue Reckoning

In a tranquil Topeka, Kansas neighborhood, an unmistakable divide becomes apparent along the street.

Occupying a corner of this neighborhood stands the Equality House, adorned with the vibrant colors of the Pride flag.

The Equality House was purchased in 2012 by Aaron Jackson, the founder of nonprofit organization Planting Peace, after he saw a “for sale” sign on a house when looking at the neighborhood on Google Earth.

It’s painted to resemble the pride flag with the rainbow colors and is “a symbol of compassion, peace, and positive change.”

In stark contrast, just across the street, looms the notorious Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), the controversial religious organization founded in Topeka, Kansas, in 1955 by Fred Phelps.

It’s a “church” mostly composed of family members and recognized for strong anti-gay rhetoric and its picketing of military funerals and public events with offensive signs and slogans.

Westboro has been condemned by other Christian churches and several organizations consider the church to be nothing more than a hate group, while others suggest its a cult.

The church’s activities have led to numerous legal challenges, especially those around free speech. They’ve won some battles, lost some battles, and have had their fair share of ethical issues with the Bar as several members of the family are lawyers.

Their formula has always seemed pretty simple to me.

Push the legal boundaries as far as they can go and aim for the most amount of controversy to increase public exposure and ridicule. The more exposure they get, the more their message spreads. The more ridicule that they receive, the more legitimate (in God’s eyes) their message becomes.

“Nobody has the right, in my view, to think he’s preaching the truth of God unless people hate him,” their founder Fred Phelps once said.

As much as I despise their tactics, in my eyes groups such as this are just sort of the price we have to pay for free speech.

I fully support restrictions placed around events like funerals that force protesters to keep a distance but free speech is something that I put a lot of value on.

Granting the government broad discretion to determine what speech is acceptable and what is not could lead to a slippery slope where freedom of expression becomes curtailed. Government authorities might use their power to suppress dissenting voices, stifle political opposition, or silence unpopular viewpoints.

Where it becomes incredibly hard to swallow is when it comes to kids.

At these protests, the church displays abhorrent messages such as “thank God for IEDs,” often getting small children to carry these hate-filled messages.

Indoctrinating small children into extremist thinking is heartbreaking to see.

When extremist ideologies are forced upon them at a young age, their developing minds can become captive to these ideas, making it difficult for them to critically evaluate or question the beliefs they are being taught.

These kids will likely grow up alienated and in the case of WBC, some even claimed that they were subject to abuse and now face issues with PTSD.

The threat of being excommunicated from their community, losing the support of their family and social network, and having their realities shattered can be an overwhelming possibility for anyone thinking about leaving.

With an organization like Westboro Church, it’s hard to imagine any scenario where one person could be impacted enough to change their position and break out.

Yet, as many as 20 family members have turned away from the church and Phelps family. Several of these ex-members have written books and spoken out publicly about WBC.

One of the most notable cases is Megan Phelps-Roper who left after engaging in Twitter debates with people who challenged her beliefs and brought contradictions to the surface. It’s actually how she met her husband, Chad Fjelland, as well.

Another notable person is Danielle Phelps who is openly gay and joined the Marines and like other ex-members is vocal about her prior WBC life.

With so many leaving and the passing of their founder in 2014 (after he was reportedly voted out) it seems that the church has lost a lot of its steam. Compared to a decade or two ago, things seem to have been very quiet for Westboro, though they do continue to picket.

So why visit them now?

Back when I attended a Christian school located in a conservative Texas community from 2001 to 2006, I faced some of the darkest times being closeted.

When you’re 15, devoid of confidantes, enduring doctrinal condemnation on a regular basis, and bracing for the heart-wrenching prospect of alienation from those held dear, a unique blend of fear, isolation, and denial engulfs you.

Imagine going to youth service thinking that this will be the day it happens. The day that you suddenly escape damnation and become straight because God is going to answer your prayers.

At some point, about midway through the service, you start to feel like something special is happening. Butterflies begin to emerge, hopes start to get realized, and you can’t wait to give God thanks for your “miracle.”

You make your way to the front during the altar call, anticipating that something divine is about to occur, and eagerly await the laying on of hands as the service draws to a close.

Then, after the service ends and once the euphoria wanes, like getting smacked by a ton of hardcover bibles, reality comes crashing down on you reminding you that this was just an illusion and its time to go back to your bedroom and deal with the evening’s heartbreak on your own.

Now have this happen to you on repeat for 5 to 6 years.

The good news for me is that I got through it and became a more resilient person for it.

I don’t lean into the victimhood, dwell on the injustices, or hold grudges. None of that is productive or particularly attractive to me.

Instead, my thinking is more along the lines of: it happened, it sucked (royally), but it’s just one more reason why I feel like I can persevere through just about any mental battle that comes my way.

After those tumultuous high school years and during college and law school, I was on the long and bumpy path to coming out and it was during this time that I was often exposed to WBC.

When I was constantly researching biblical arguments and homosexuality, guess who tended to pop up a lot during that era?

Each time I came across WBC I was always repulsed on a deep level. Whether their presence tainted military funerals or their anti-gay messages oozed forth, the repugnance was visceral.

It wasn’t even so much the hate that got to me, though.

In some ways, what they were doing felt even darker.

It’s the contorted fabric of doctrine, defiantly opposed to reality’s influence, that makes this a more dynamic and withstanding force than pure hatred.

When you’re dealing with hate, it’s often a product of ignorance or the searing ache of personal pain. Both of these maladies, with the right amount of exposure and love, can often be soothed and mended. Hate has a tendency to fizzle out over time.

I can personally attest to that having watched some people very close to me come around in a major way after I came out despite some of their prior views being largely held up by hate.

And sure, WBC bears the scars of their own pain and ignorance as told by its ex-members.

Yet, what is truly chilling is their chosen battleground — a realm where the forces of love, knowledge, and reason struggle to breach the fortified walls of their conviction.

In this realm, twisted ideologies can merge with unchecked tribal instincts against “outsiders” to produce wild results. Distorted beliefs and repulsive values perpetuate through time and are born over and over again via indoctrination and brainwashing.

If hate can be likened to a shroud of darkness, then this place exists within a black hole — a gravitational singularity devouring all enlightenment in its grasp.

So when I walked up to the WBC compound, it stirred a few emotions. A little shot of adrenaline, curiosity, tenseness, and believe it or not, empathy.

After all, I have experience escaping my own abyss. I can understand, to a degree, the type of inner dialogue some of those members have experienced. It can be rough, to say the least.

As I stood on this quiet and empty suburban street, I noticed WBC looked a lot smaller than I’d imagined and its anti-gay signs hung up on the building’s exterior had lost much of their sting.

My gaze then moved to the Equality House.

It’s reported that Fred Phelps, the founder of WBC, was ousted after he told people at the Equality House, “you’re good people” or something along those lines. Reportedly, he had been suffering from dementia which some people think may have actually opened his eyes up in his last days, which he apparently experienced largely in isolation.

Taking in the brilliant colors painted on the Equality House, a sense of peace finally landed.

It was this weird reminder that order had been largely been restored in my life.

I reflected on the 10 year relationship I have with my husband and how far removed those days of fear, isolation, and self-loathing felt. Their remnants are still felt but they are just that, remnants.

There was a recognizable release within me and I felt a washing over of gratitude on this hot and humid evening in Topeka, Kansas.

After getting a few photos we hopped back in the car to grab a burger for dinner. And as I watched WBC disappear in my rearview mirror, I felt a little lighter.

Exploring Hodag Folklore in Rhinelander, Wisconsin: What Are These Things?

As you journey through the northern reaches of Wisconsin and breeze through the charming town of Rhinelander, keep your eyes peeled for something out of the ordinary: an assortment of mythical monsters located throughout the town.

These curious beings, known as “Hodags,” have left their playful mark on everything from buildings to storefronts, inviting you to immerse yourself in their enchanting folklore.

Hodags find their place in the league of legendary beings that include icons like Bigfoot and the chupacabra – enigmatic creatures that have etched themselves into our imagination.

But where did their story come from?

The origins of the Hodag tale could potentially trace back to the indigenous inhabitants of the region, notably the Anishinaabe people.

One of the important mythical beings that existed within their culture was the underwater panther, also called “Mishipeshu.”

Some report it to be a large, serpentine creature with the head and paws of a lynx, the horns of a deer, and the scales of a fish and legends suggest it resides within the depths of lakes and rivers, perhaps linked to storms and unfavorable weather patterns.

Pictographs of the animals have been found in the great lakes area in places like Agawa Rock, Ontario, and it has a pretty striking resemblance to a Hodag, though there are some key differences.

But how exactly did the Hodag become synonymous with the town of Rhinelander, Wisconsin?

Back in the late 1800s, whispers of a formidable creature dwelling in the woods began to circulate. Amidst the lumber-camp bunkhouses, where tales spun like wildfire and entertainment was scarce, the notion of a 7-foot behemoth with luminous eyes frequently stirred restless nights for those who braved the stories.

Then, in the year 1893, the folklore transformed into reality as a newspaper reported the alleged unearthing of a Hodag in Rhinelander.

The articles claimed the Hodag had “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end”.

The intricate account was set in motion by none other than Eugene Shepard, a prominent figure in Wisconsin known not just for his role as a land surveyor and timber cruiser, but also as a skilled prankster.

Interestingly, Shepard held ties with the Anishinaabe community, a connection that likely infused his creative well with the inspiration for this elaborate tale.

In any event, Shepard claimed to have worked with other lumberjacks and (accidentally?) used dynamite to slay the beast which is why they only had its charred remains for the photo they took.

The report caused quite a commotion in the region, yet little did they know that the real sensation was yet to unfold three years later.

In 1896, Shepard took his claims a step further by asserting that he had successfully captured yet another Hodag, and astonishingly, this time it was alive!

According to his account, he enlisted the aid of bear wrestlers who employed a long pike pole (logging tool) with a sponge at the end soaked with chloroform to subdue the creature within the confines of a cave.

And that is how they caught the Hodag but not before it made a meal of an unfortunate white bulldog.

A mere picture would not be the product of this Hodag catch though.

Instead, he took it on tour throughout the state.

The creature made its public debut at the inaugural Oneida County fair, where fascinated attendees eagerly paid to catch a glimpse of the enigmatic Hodag. Scores of individuals flocked to witness the spectacle, often with a mix of fascination and apprehension.

Within the confines of dimly lit tents, Shepard showcased the creature, ingeniously attaching wires to it in order to simulate movement and instill a sense of fear among the curious onlookers.

Before long, this spectacle generated an immense buzz that rippled across the nation, catching the attention of luminaries like P. T. Barnum.

In fact, the sensation grew to such proportions that a team of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution contemplated an expedition to Rhinelander for a thorough investigation.

It was at this juncture that Shepard finally conceded, revealing that the Hodag, his rendition, at least, had been a carefully crafted fabrication.

Indeed, his confession revealed that he had fashioned the creature out of carved wood, adroitly embellishing it with a blend of animal hides and horns to achieve an eerily realistic appearance.

But since then, the Hodag legend and folklore has lived on, continuing to capture the imagination and fascination of many.

Even in present times, there are locals who claim to have spotted the creature, endowing it with a sort of Sasquatch-like reputation.

Others share tales of sightings that often lean toward the comical. For instance, golfers in the vicinity of Rhinelander have attributed vanishing golf balls to the Hodag’s mischief.

When it comes to Rhinelander, the town has wholeheartedly embraced its association with the Hodag, integrating it into the very fabric of its identity and culture.

Stroll around the city, and you’ll encounter sculptures or references celebrating these remarkable creatures at seemingly every turn.

One of the most striking sculptures is found right in front of the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, which many people will see as they enter the town.

Rhinelander hodag

Don’t miss the Hodag in front of the Oneida County Courthouse and another in front of the library.

Rhinelander hodag

You’ll also see them referenced throughout the city in store names, ambulances, busses, the high school mascot, and pretty much everywhere you can imagine including a stain glassed window on a church.

And of course, you’ll have to stop by The Hodag Store when in town.

While Hodags might have eluded your memory or escaped your attention, they’ve stealthily left their mark on pop culture across the decades.

J.K. Rowlings’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them mentioned them as “horned, with red, glowing eyes and long fangs, and the size of a large dog.”

They were also featured in a 2012 episode of Scooby Doo and on on the Travel Channel series “Mysteries at the Museum.” Not to mention various YouTube videos.

Rhinelander hodag

For me, I’d never heard of the Hodag until we were driving through Rhinelander on the tail end of a very long trip to the Upper Peninsula.

We noticed the Hodag sculptures and just as we were leaving town, I told Brad we’ve got to make a U-turn to uncover the mystery behind these creatures.

Being a Sunday, my exploration options were somewhat constrained, as many of the establishments I would have hoped to visit were unfortunately closed.

But that didn’t stop me from taking a quick survey of the city and finding out more about these interesting creatures and the backstory of their folklore.

As I hurriedly delved into my research, the narrative of the Hodags instantly captivated me.

Exploring such tales is not only entertaining but also serves as a gateway, enticing individuals to delve into a locale they might otherwise have simply passed by without a second thought.

As we traversed the town, we unearthed picturesque lakes and enchanting forest landscapes that gave us a newfound admiration for this town of just over 8,000 people. Had it not been for being on the road for 23 long hours, I would’ve probably spent more time exploring this town.

Though my encounter with the Hodag was fleeting, the tale has etched itself into my consciousness, and I now stand as a novice custodian of the Hodag folklore, ready to share it with anyone willing to lend an ear!

The American Gothic House: A Visit to the Second Most Famous House in America

Nestled amidst the sprawling farmlands of Iowa, you’ll find one of the nation’s – and many argue, the world’s – most celebrated abodes. Dubbed the American Gothic House, its fame arises from its role in an iconic painting that emerged during the Great Depression.

If your travels take you to Iowa, this destination deserves your attention, and the best part is, it won’t demand a significant chunk of your time – except, of course, for the potential hours you might spend driving to reach it.

In this article, I’ll provide you with all the essential information you need before setting foot in this historic locale.

What is the American Gothic House?

The American Gothic House, located in Eldon, Iowa, stands as one of the world’s most renowned residences. It is known for its appearance in the iconic painting “American Gothic” by Grant Wood, often hailed as the most famous American painting.

The artwork’s parodies have reached a scale that rivals even the famed Mona Lisa, showcasing the breadth of its cultural impact across many generations.

Today, there’s a visitor center and museum located just next to the house where you can learn more about the history of the painting, the artist Grant Wood, and the cultural significance of the American Gothic House.

Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity to view original Grant Wood artwork and other exhibits that will offer you a deeper understanding of the entire story behind “American Gothic.”

The original portion of the house that contains the two gothic windows was built in 1881 to 1882 by Catherine and Charles Dibble. No one is exactly sure why this oversized, Gothic window was added to the house but some speculated it may have been just to add some beauty to their every day life.

It’s said that while taking a drive in the area, Grant Wood spotted the house and was fascinated by its appearance with its large seemingly out of place Gothic window.

At that point, he decided to study it closer and after sketching it out he decided to paint a portrait of who he imagined would live in a house like that. But he still needed subjects.

So Wood chose his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby, and sister, Nan Wood Graham, as his subjects. He attempted to tweak their features slightly to reduce their recognizability, though the dentist is pretty recognizable.

Interestingly, the subjects were never actually positioned before the house together, nor did they pose together. Wood ingeniously melded their individual images with the house, alongside a series of other creative decisions.

The renowned painting ended up garnering the prestigious bronze medal from the Art Institute of Chicago’s annual exhibition in 1930, along with a $300 prize. This recognition propelled its acquisition by the Institute and secured its place as an enduring masterpiece in their collection.

Many people from the Midwest initially didn’t receive the artwork very well and saw the painting as a negative portrayal of rural life that was too grim and unflattering.

Over time, however, attitudes toward “American Gothic” evolved. As the painting gained recognition and became an iconic piece of American art, its themes of hard work, resilience, and the enduring spirit of everyday people resonated with a wider audience.

The painting’s value as a cultural representation and its artistic significance also helped change perceptions. Today, “American Gothic” is celebrated as a quintessential American artwork and a symbol of American rural life.

As for the house, it also rose in popularity, eventually becoming listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and acquired by the State Historical Society of lowa in 1991.

There’s a lot more interesting history to uncover but I’ll leave the rest up to you to discover, hopefully with a visit to the American Gothic House.

American Gothic House

Where is the American Gothic House?

The American Gothic House is located in Eldon, Iowa, and it can be found at: 300 American Gothic Street, Eldon, IA 52554.

Right next to the house is the the American Gothic House Center which was built in 2007 and is home to the museum. I would highly recommend that when you visit you allocate some time to check out the visitor center and gift shop.

Note that there is an admission fee of $5 per person aged 13 and over and this includes the gallery, media room, use of costumes, and restroom facilities. The house and the gift shop are free to visit.

American Gothic House

American Gothic House experience

We were fortunate enough to visit when they were having the open house and offering tours of the interior. So we started off our time at the American Gothic House by going inside!

If an interior tour is what you’re aiming for, keep in mind that the American Gothic House opens its doors to the general public solely on the second Saturday of each month from April to October, running from 11 am to 2 pm.

This schedule is contingent upon volunteer availability but admission is completely free, and you won’t need any tickets or reservations.

American Gothic House

It was a genuine privilege to explore the hallowed halls of this historic residence, and I was surprised to find how well-preserved it was on the inside.

American Gothic House

Upon entering, we encountered volunteers whose knowledge about the house was truly impressive.

Come with all of the questions you can think of and you’ll have them answered along with some other interesting information. Ranging from the historical background of the house to the intricacies associated with the painting, your time inside promises to be a highly informative experience.

American Gothic House

You will be able to stroll around a little bit and check out the various rooms. One of the highlights definitely lies in the bathroom, where you’ll find one of the most intriguing features – a bathtub that ranks among the smallest I’ve ever encountered!

American Gothic House

Usually, access to the upstairs is restricted due to the challenging staircase and limited space. However, thanks to some special permission, we managed to get a glimpse of the second floor. Here’s a sneak peek into what it holds.

American Gothic House

Following an exploration of both the painting and the house, we proceeded to the museum.

American Gothic House

Inside, you’ll find a lot of exhibits that will shed even more light on all things related to the American Gothic House and Grant Wood.

These exhibits will help you in deconstructing the renowned painting into distinct elements that you might have overlooked with a cursory glance.

Through them, you’ll gain an understanding of the various components and repeating shapes and patterns embedded in the artwork. Additionally, you’ll delve into insights about Wood’s intentions behind the painting, a topic that has sparked debates for decades.

American Gothic House

Among the highlights of the museum is original artwork by Grant Wood, a captivating addition from the Michael Zahs collection. While the American Gothic painting might be the sole piece by Grant Wood you’re acquainted with, this is your opportunity to encounter a multitude of his works.

Additionally, the museum features exhibits that delve into the extensive array of parodies that have sprung from this artwork. Learn how this painting has inspired parodies ranging from classic films to political and social movements, showcasing its enduring impact on popular culture.

After exploring the museum, it was time for us to capture some iconic photos in front of the house. Fortunately, there are numerous opportunities to strike great poses and create memorable photo moments.

If you’re aiming to elevate your photos to the next level, consider renting a costume from the museum. To do so, present your driver’s license at the front desk for verification and inquire about available options.

With the rented attire, you’ll have the opportunity to don a costume reminiscent of the original subjects in the painting, whether you want to resemble the father or daughter.

American Gothic House costumes

If the idea of adding extra layers in the heat doesn’t sound appealing, you can follow our lead and simply go for the pitchfork option.

Once you are in the area in front of the house there’s an engraved Gothic window on the ground that will show you where to step for the best shot. Stand right on the tip of the window and that will put you where you need to be.

American Gothic House
American Gothic House

If you’re visiting while volunteers are out and about they can help take your photo for you. Otherwise there is a nifty little “selfie stand” that you can use to put your camera on a timer and then snap a photo yourself.

American Gothic House

Final word

Most likely, this attraction will be a few hours out of the way which may make you wonder whether or not it’s worth the additional driving time. In our case, it added a couple of hours to our original plans on our way to Wisconsin.

But in my opinion, it was well worth the extra time. It’s just such an iconic painting and being able to see the original source of inspiration and getting the privilege of going inside was an extremely memorable experience. If you can time your visit with one of the Saturdays that they do the open house, I’d highly recommend doing so!

Oz Museum Review: Enchanting & Memorable (Wamego, Kansas)

Just a quick 40-minute drive west of Topeka, you’ll uncover a treasure that’s an absolute must-see for enthusiasts of the Wizard of Oz. Known as the Oz Museum, this captivating gem beautifully encapsulates the enchantment of the iconic 1939 film and its various adaptations.

Having recently had the honor of exploring this fantastical museum, let me share with you the journey is like.

What is the Oz Museum?

The Oz Museum, located in Wamego, Kansas, is a museum dedicated to the classic story “The Wizard of Oz” and its various adaptations, including the famous 1939 film starring Judy Garland.

Opened in 2004, the museum celebrates the legacy of L. Frank Baum, the author of the original “Wizard of Oz” book, and the enduring popularity of the story and its characters.

Oz Museum

Where is the Oz Museum?

The Oz Museum is located in Wamego, Kansas, USA. The exact address is: 511 Road to Oz Highway, Wamego, KS 66547.

Part of the fun is the journey along the way as you drive down the “Road to Oz” Highway on your way to the museum.

road to oz sign

Just steps away from the museum, you’ll encounter a delightful array of Oz-themed establishments such as Toto’s Tacos and the Oz Winery, transforming your visit into a town-wide Oz extravaganza.

And if you’re lucky enough to be here during the fall, the town comes alive with the annual “OZtoberFest” celebration. Streets close down, giving way to a lively spectacle of food vendors, craft stalls, live performances, costume contests, scavenger hunts, trivia, and more. For those with an unwavering passion for all things Oz, this event is an absolute must-attend.

oz winery

Additionally, stay observant as you explore the city, for it’s a place where hidden references to this beloved tale are scattered, offering unexpected encounters and delightful surprises along the way.

Our experience at the Oz Museum

We arrived about 10 minutes before the museum opened which was perfect timing because it gave us some time to check out the iconic yellow brick road directly across from the museum.

Oz Museum yellow brick Road

It’s an alleyway adorned with Wizard of Oz murals and Toto statues and you definitely don’t want to miss it on your visit.

The Toto sculptures are part of the “Totos Around Town” art project where you can find 15 Toto sculptures each featuring a one of a kind of design. It’s a concept several other towns have gone with such as the “Pikas in the Park” at Estes Park. Check the museum for a map of all of the Totos.

Oz Museum yellow brick Road

Once we entered the museum, we were greeted by very friendly staff members and we purchased our tickets which were only $10 for adults, which I felt like was a great value.

Prepare for your entrée into the museum with a nostalgic welcome on the sepia-toned porch, a fitting prelude before stepping into the vibrant technicolor realm of Oz.

As you cross the threshold, a heartwarming encounter awaits you—Dorothy and Toto extending their greeting in the whimsical landscape of Munchkinland.

Oz Museum

Throughout the museum, you’ll find a trove of over 2,000 artifacts, some of which are on rotation so things may look a little different each time you visit.

You’ll find details both big and small from the movie and tons of memorabilia from over 100 years of Oz history.

Among the initial captivating displays, you’ll encounter the very first edition of the enchanting “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” book, a treasure that marked the inception of this wondrous saga. Alongside it, an array of subsequent adaptations is seen, offering a glimpse into the ever-evolving universe of Oz.

You’ll also find life-sized re-imaginations of its iconic characters. Whether it’s gazing at Dorothy’s innocence or standing beside the resilient Tin Man, these detailed recreations offer endless photo ops.

Oz Museum tin man

Among the captivating collection, you’ll discover an array of original props from the 1939 film, including an assortment of Munchkin apparel that has been meticulously preserved over the decades.

Explore the vintage production notes from the 1939 MGM masterpiece, a rare glimpse into the past. These precious documents stand as some of the few surviving remnants from that era, as the practice of discarding such articles was commonplace at the time.

Oz Museum arifacts

Among the captivating highlights is the official death certificate of none other than the Wicked Witch of the West herself.

At some point, you’ll surely notice the the hand jeweled ruby slippers, covered in over 3,500 Swarovski crystals, which were created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the making of the movie.

Where are the original slippers?

Well, there are multiple pairs that were used in the movie and they are located all over. One of the pairs was destined for the museum but en route to the museum in 2005 they were stolen!

In fact, someone has been recently indicted for the theft and will face a federal trial.The slippers were recovered in 2018 and are currently being used as trial exhibits worth $3.5 million! Unfortunately, it’s doubtful they will ever make their way to the museum.

Oz Museum

Certain original props, due to their fragility, are no longer available for public display. This holds true for the delicate rubber flying monkey miniatures featured in the film.

Among approximately 300, merely four have endured the test of time, with two of these precious artifacts resting within the museum’s vault. Too delicate to be put on display and with a waning life span, you can find life-sized photos of them in the exhibits.

There’s a theater in the back of the museum where you can always catch an Oz film playing and outside on the floor you can compare your hands to the imprints made by the original munchkins.

Oz Museum theatre

Summon your courage as you venture into the depths of the haunted forest. And as you emerge from its enigmatic embrace, brace yourself for an unforgettable rendezvous with one of history’s most renowned witches.

Oz Museum haunted forest

Explore various corners of the museum where documentaries are showcased on repeat. While these films may stretch over a bit more time, I recommend taking a moment to check them out.

Through these documentaries, you’ll get a closer look at the dynamics on the set and insight into the ingenious techniques that brought the film’s special effects to life.

Oz Museum arifacts

As your Oz adventure draws to a close, don’t miss the chance to step into a whimsical hot air balloon before bidding farewell to this magical realm.

Oz Museum arifacts hot air balloon

As mentioned, the museum touches on various adaptations of the Wizard of Oz, offering a plethora of artifacts and memorabilia spanning diverse creations such as “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz,” “The Wiz,” “Wicked,” and even one of the more contemporary productions, “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

From signed photographs to props used in these productions, you can immerse yourself in a kaleidoscope of Oz-inspired creativity.

Oz Museum artifacts wicked

Once you exit out you’ll be able to take a second look at the gift shop. We ended up purchasing the Wizard of Oz book after our curiosity was piqued.

But that’s not all; the museum also boasts an array of diverse souvenirs, spanning from eye-catching T-shirts to charming mugs and various other keepsakes. And for a mere two dollars, you can experience the exhilarating Gale Force tornado machine, where you’ll feel the electrifying sensation of being swept up in a tornado, just like Dorothy.

Oz Museum tornado machine

Final word

Our experience at the Oz Museum was nothing short of delightful. Even if it entails a slight detour, the journey to this museum is an investment that pays off handsomely in time well-spent.

I’d suggest indulging in the film before your visit if feasible, to rekindle the storyline’s essence. And if you can manage to delve into the original book or its subsequent continuations, even better.

The Wizard of Oz story holds a singular enchantment, a kind of magic that’s truly its own, and this museum has harnessed that very essence. Through its careful curation and thoughtful presentation, it crafts an experience that is nothing short of captivating.

Denver’s Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel: The Longest Running Bar in Town

Denver boasts a treasure trove of historic destinations.

From the legendary Buckhorn Exchange, hailed as the city’s oldest dining establishment, to the venerable Four Mile House, a sentinel of history standing proud as Denver’s oldest enduring structure.

Yet, for those with an appetite for diving into the annals of time while savoring a libation, the Cruise Room emerges as an absolute gem.

Within its historic walls, an evocative ambiance reminiscent of the 1930s awaits. Recently, I embarked on my own visit to the Cruise Room, and here’s how the experience went.

What is the “Cruise Room?”

The Cruise Room is an iconic bar and lounge located in the Oxford Hotel in Lower Downtown (LoDo) Denver, Colorado. It is the longest operating bar in Denver, opening its doors on a very special day of December 5, 1933.

What was so special about this day?

Well, it marked a milestone that resonates with a significant turning point in American history.

On that very day, the curtains were drawn on the era of Prohibition, the nationwide ban on the production, sale, and distribution of alcoholic beverages.

Before its grand public debut, it had a clandestine life as a speakeasy, offering a secret haven for patrons to savor illicit libations during the Prohibition era. And after it opened in 1933, its doors never shuttered.

Denver's Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel

Beyond its reputation as one of the region’s oldest bars, the Cruise Room draws visitors in with its distinctive art deco design, a masterpiece crafted by Charles Jaka.

Notably, Jaka is also the creative mind behind the iconic Observation Bar on the RMS Queen Mary, a historic ship that includes dining establishments, a museum, and a hotel, currently located in Long Beach, California. His design for this bar was a tribute to the very essence of the Queen Mary itself.

With its sleek lines and an aesthetic inspired by ocean liners, it’s no wonder that the bar earned its fitting moniker, the “Cruise Room,” seamlessly whisking patrons away on a voyage of style and nostalgia.

Denver's Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel

Take note of the special shape of the bar which actually resembles a wine bottle.

Denver's Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel

Gazing upon the walls, your attention might be drawn to the intricately carved panels adorned with succinct expressions. These panels pay homage to various ports of call for the Queen Mary, each encapsulating the essence of toasting traditions and cocktail culture from its respective location.

Each of the panels are original except for those of Italy and Germany which were reportedly taken down during World War II by soldiers staying at the hotel.

Denver's Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel

You can find a nice selection of drinks at the bar ranging from an Old Fashioned to a Tom Collins but they are specifically known for their martinis.

As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, it’s always a little bit weird spending time in bars and checking them out but they had a good selection of non-alcoholic cocktails including the “bee sting” which I went with and thoroughly enjoyed.

The bartenders, while very busy, were also very on point.

As for food, it’s limited to small plates, such as oysters, olives, and cheese and charcuterie samplers. If you’re looking for a full meal, you can head to the hotel’s attached restaurant, Urban Farmer.

Denver's Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel

At one end of the bar, an enticing jukebox awaits, though regrettably, it was out of service during my visit. Nevertheless, the air was alive with melodies as they continued to fill the bar.

Denver's Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel

Something else that is special about the history of the bar is that it’s located in the historic Oxford Hotel, which holds the distinction of being the oldest operating hotel in Denver.

Established in 1891, the Oxford Hotel has a rich and storied past that is deeply intertwined with the city’s history. This iconic establishment has retained much of its original charm and architecture, offering visitors a glimpse into Denver’s past.

Interestingly, the Oxford Hotel has gained a reputation for being haunted. Over the years, there have been numerous reports of paranormal activity within the hotel’s premises.

The Cruise Room, as an integral part of the Oxford Hotel, also shares in this supernatural reputation, making it a unique and intriguing destination for both history enthusiasts and those interested in the paranormal. It’s haunting largely revolves around the “Postman.” 

Believed to be the apparition of a postman from the 1930s who lost his way while on a mission to deliver Christmas gifts, he is often seen sitting at the bar, ordering a beer, and then disappearing. When the bartender goes to check on him, they find the beer bottle is still full.

Final Word

If you’re in Denver looking for an interesting historic spot, then the Cruise Room is definitely a great contender. Its unique blend of Prohibition-era nostalgia, speakeasy heritage, and the vibrant spirit of post-repeal revelry make it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking to immerse themselves in Denver’s rich past while savoring the present.

Buckhorn Exchange Review: A Memorable Wild West Experience

Denver is a playground of historic spots that teleport you into the Wild West era. From the oldest standing structure in Denver once used by pioneers to a multitude of mining tours in the mountains, the Old West vibes are endless in this state. 

But one place that is definitely unique in this regard is the famous Buckhorn Exchange restaurant. 

Below, I’ll talk about my recent experience at the Buckhorn Exchange and give you some insight into what to expect. 

What is the Buckhorn Exchange? 

The Buckhorn Exchange is the oldest restaurant in Denver. 

It’s home to a 500+ piece collection of taxidermy and is known for serving up a range of game meat and appetizers such as rocky mountain oysters.

The restaurant was established back in 1893 by Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz. 

Zietz was a member of the famous William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody scout band where he started by the age of 12 after coming to Colorado from Wisconsin in 1875.

Valued for his sharp tracking skills and aptitude, he became lifelong friends with Buffalo Bill and also close to other members of the band like Chief Sitting Bull, making him an ally to many Native Americans. 

The building housing the restaurant was initially built in 1886 but in 1893 Zietz utilized some savings and opened up the Rio Grande Exchange, which he would later change the name to the Buckhorn Exchange in the early 1900s.

A building with a red awning

The Buckhorn Exchange’s location directly across from the Rio Grande railroad yards made it a popular stop for many people of diverse walks of life. 

In the early days the Buckhorn Exchange served miners, silver barons, gamblers, roustabouts, businessmen, and railroadmen who could simply walk across the street and cash their checks.

As Zietz became more renowned for his hunting abilities and growing collection of taxidermy on ths walls, the restaurant also quickly developed a solid reputation and attracted the likes of high-profile guests, such as US presidents.

In fact, in 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt arrived and enlisted Zietz to be his hunting guide. Zietz obliged and accompanied the president hunting big game on Colorado’s Western Slope where they hunted buffalo and antelope. 

Several other presidents also visited this famed restaurant over the years including Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. And it’s also been a hit among Hollywood legends like Bob Hope and other notable humans such as astronauts and even Great Britain’s Princess Anne. 

A group of framed pictures on a wall

Part of the history is found upstairs where there is a white oak bar worth checking out. It was built in Essen, Germany, over 150 years ago and then eventually transported over to the US, where it eventually found its way to the restaurant.

A bar with a counter and a bar with bottles and a person behind it

This historic establishment also has an interesting connection to the prohibition era. 

During prohibition it said that Zietz converted the front of the restaurant and saloon into a grocery and that he would hollow out loaves of pumpernickel bread to hold bottles of bootleg whiskey inside. After prohibition the bar reopened and was issued Colorado’s first liquor license which is still on display in the restaurant.

Today, the site is just as much a museum as it is a restaurant with loads of memorabilia on display. It has sort of captured the essence of the wild west in a way that is unique, especially for a restaurant. 

Designated a historic landmark by the City and County of Denver in 1972, it’s certainly one of the key historical sites in Denver. 

A sign on a brick wall

My experience dining at Buckhorn Exchange

As soon as you enter the restaurant, you’re hit with the overwhelming number of taxidermy pieces and memorabilia occupying seemingly every inch of the walls. It’s quite the spectacle and instantly immerses you into a wild west vibe like no other.

A wall of stuffed animals

I made reservations (highly recommended) for a 7:30 PM dinner, and as soon as I entered my table was ready and I was immediately seated.

I had a couple of different servers helping me out as the place was pretty busy and both of the servers were pretty outstanding. I certainly had no complaints about the staff.

A group of people in a restaurant

I loved the vintage menu with news excerpts from over 100 years ago telling some interesting history and tales about the restaurant. From President Theodore Roosevelt’s praises of Shorty Scouts’ guide skills to a foiled hold up at the restaurant, it certainly has a colorful past.

But on my visit I didn’t need a menu because before I entered the restaurant I knew exactly what I was going to order so I put in my order of the elk with peppercorn (medium rare), Caesar salad, and went with an order of their famous rocky mountain oysters. 

In that past, I always went back-and-forth on whether or not I would ever try Rocky Mountain oysters which are fresh-water oysters harvested from pristine alpine lakes in the Rockies.

Just kidding, they are of course, bull testicles. 

Ultimately, I decided that I could not pass on the novel experience, especially with only a couple of days left in Colorado. After all, they are all full of vitamins, minerals, and protein and with them being deep fried, it couldn’t possibly be that bad.

After putting in the order, I did a little bit of strolling around just to check out more of the taxidermy animals. It’s pretty amazing to see such a vast collection including things like zebra, moose, bighorn sheep, a golden eagle, a wall of antelope — the collection is seemingly infinite.

A wall of stuffed animals

You may want to enjoy your meal first but at some point I’d recommend you getting up out of your seat and just kind of wandering around a little bit, just like you would in an exhibit hall.

A group of framed pictures on a wall
A wall of stuffed animals

Be mindful of the servers who are moving about pretty quickly so that you’re not getting in the way and try not to encroach too close to people at their tables. For the most part I think people are understanding that they’re essentially dining inside of a frontier museum and that others will want to check out some of the exhibits.

Also, make sure that you go upstairs to check out the additional rooms including the historic bar. 

A staircase with pictures on the wall

Most of the newer collections are upstairs and there’s a lot to see including a grizzly bear and black bear duo which is pretty cool to see both of them together.

A stuffed bears in a restaurant

But back to the food. 

Call me crazy but I actually mostly enjoyed the rocky mountain oysters. 

They came with two different sauces including the horseradish sauce which I think really helped the “stomaching” factor of eating them. 

There was a kind of an odd aftertaste that I couldn’t quite place and was always eager to get rid of.

But now that I have tried them, I think I would be much more interested in trying some of the other appetizers that sounded really good like the bison sausage. If you wanted to keep the costs in check, you could probably just get by with appetizers, which would probably make for a good bar visit.

A table with food on it

Soon after the appetizer came out, I was served up some fresh bread and also my salad. 

A plate of salad on a table

The servers were very attentive as I progressed through my meal and I never felt like I had to wait around for the next dish. It was a very smooth operation, which really helps enhance the experience considering that this place is not so cheap.

Soon, the main dish came out, which was the elk steak with four peppercorn crust.

I have to be honest, I saw a lot of reviews that sort of talked about the food being less than amazing. The idea was that you come here for the unique atmosphere and experience and the food is sort of secondary. 

But that was not the case at all with my elk steak.

It was absolutely delicious and perfectly cooked. It had just the right amount of juiciness to it and crispiness on the outside and it also did not taste overly “gamy.” 

There was a special sauce that came along with the elk but I only use that sparingly because I just enjoyed the meat by itself so much. The elk steak also came with some very good garlic mashed potatoes.

A plate of food on a table

It looked like they also had some tasty desserts on the menu but I was heading over to the Cruise Room at the historic Oxford Hotel after this so I didn’t want to stick around for too long.

After finishing up my meal, that’s when I made my way upstairs to check out the historic bar and some of the other taxidermy animals mentioned above. 

A hallway with pictures on the wall

At that point, the restaurant was set to close in about 45 minutes and I feel like the crowds really thinned out on this Sunday evening which made it a lot easier to appreciate lots of the photos and artifacts. So maybe try to avoid the peak times if you really want to admire everything. 

Final word

I really can’t recommend a stop at the Buckhorn Exchange enough. 

Yes, it is definitely not a standard dining experience having so many dead animals look down at you while you feast on your choice of animal proteins.

I’m sure some people feel a certain type of way about so many dead animals showcased and this of course may not be the right spot for people with certain non meat-eating dietary habits.

But if you just stop and realize the history of this place and appreciate the novelty of it, it’s hard not to be a huge fan of this restaurant.

It was the perfect place to try out Rocky Mountain oysters for the first time and I honestly can’t believe that I found them to be pretty tasty. 

And to cap it all off, the elk was just a fantastic dish that left me fully satisfied. 

With the great service and staff, this honestly was a perfect dining outing for me and I couldn’t say enough good things about the Buckhorn Exchange. Money well spent.

Are there Still Grizzly Bears in Colorado?

Anytime you’re heading to a destination with a lot of wilderness it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the potential apex predators.

In the case of Colorado, some people wonder if they need to be on the lookout for grizzly bears?

Below, I’ll take a look at whether or not you have anything to worry about and some of that factual and potentially non-factual reports that we’ve seen over the years.

Are there Grizzly Bears in Colorado?

The general consensus is that there are no longer any grizzly bears living in the wild within the state of Colorado. However, there are somewhat regular isolated (unconfirmed) sightings of grizzly bears and some people believe that they could exist in small numbers in remote mountain areas of Colorado.

brpwn bear

Grizzly Bears in Colorado: a brief history

Grizzly bears previously ranged from Alaska down to Mexico and even as far east as the western shores of Hudson Bay.

So they definitely called Colorado home for a long time.

However, their population in the continental US significantly decreased due to hunting and habitat loss from settlement and agriculture expansion. The people came and the bears exited.

Today, grizzly bears can be found in many places in Alaska and in portions of the northwestern United States, which includes Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

Places like Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park are places you can see them, as an estimated 700 bears live in the Yellowstone area. And they are reportedly expanding their presence, slowly making their way south.

But we’re talking about confirmed sightings within the state of Colorado here.

The last known and verified encounter with a grizzly bear in Colorado was in September 1979.

There, an elk hunting guide had a bad encounter with a grizzly bear near the headwaters of the Navajo River. He was severely wounded and barely survived after being airlifted to a hospital where he would spend a month recovering.

But as the bear was mauling his leg, he was able to summon the strength to fatally wound the bear by striking it with his arrows. And today, the bears remains are found at the Denver Museum of Science.

That thriller of a story was quite a surprise for many because at that point it had been believed that grizzly bears were extinct in Colorado. In fact, they had believed that the bears had not been around since 1951, almost 30 years prior.

The bear that attacked the hunting guide had a unique genetic signature found only in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, which raised the question for some of whether or not more grizzly bears could be in that area.

It’s also interesting because that is in the southern part of Colorado and you would think that if grizzlies were in the state they would be coming from the north which is where we know they exist.

If you do enough research online, you’ll come across reports of people who claim they have seen grizzly bears in Colorado since 1979. Typically, these are reports from people hunting or hiking in pretty remote areas.

Some of them almost come off as Sasquatch-ish sightings while others do appear to be more credible, even if the photo quality is horrible.

We just have no way of verifying these claims without hard evidence and there’s always the chance that some reports may not come in because of concerns of illegal hunting.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, they are pretty certain there are no grizzly bears in the state and there are not any talks of reintroducing them.

But as we’ve seen if another Grizzly Bear was found in Colorado it wouldn’t be the first time that a siting occurred decades after we thought grizzly bears were no longer present in the state.

A black bear in a meadow.
A black bear in a meadow.

Identifying your sighting

If you are in Colorado and spot a bear in the wild it’s almost assuredly going to be a black bear.

Some people get these mixed up with grizzly bears especially whenever the black bears are large and have a beautiful brown coat.

Some black bears, known cinnamon bears even wear a reddish brown coat that can look very similar to grizzlies. Others can be be blondish or even white like a polar bear (although that’s more of a Canada thing).

Probably the easiest way to distinguish a black bear from a brown bear is to look for the pronounced muscular hump on its shoulders. On a recent trip to Alaska we spotted both brown bears and black bears, sometimes from a pretty far distance and this hump (or lack thereof) was the easiest way for me to identify them.

A brown bear in a meadow.

If you get familiar with the facial profile of these two it’s also another way to tell them apart as the grizzly bear has much more of it dish-shaped face whereas a black bear has a straight face profile. (This to me is the second easiest way to distinguish these two.) 

Black bears also have pointy ears while grizzly bears have shorter, rounded ears.

One of my favorite things to hear is to “just look for the extra long light-colored claws” when trying to distinguish a grizzly from a black bear as if it’s not going to be too late when you’re that close!

But seriously, if you do have a good look at the bear from a distance, perhaps with binoculars, those large claws could stick out from afar.

Lots of times when you spot wildlife you don’t get a perfect view of the animal, though.

They could be partially submerged in a river or lake, shrouded in thick brush, or moving quickly through a forest at a distance. So often it’s pretty hard to tell exactly what you’re seeing.

To add to the confusion, the physical descriptions of both don’t always line up with what you see. The shoulder hump and face profiles aren’t always so clear-cut as some black bears can take on physical appearances that mimic brown bears (beyond their coat color).

black bear
A black bear spotted from afar in Alaska. Can you spot it?

Guaranteed places to see a grizzly bear in Colorado

Now, technically there are grizzly bears in Colorado but these are located at various zoos in wildlife centers such as the Denver Zoo, Rocky Mountain Wild exhibit at the at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and The Wild Animal Sanctuary.

And, as mentioned you can see grizzly bears (no longer alive) at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, where you can also view other types of black bears up close and maybe help you identify them better.

But if you’re asking this question, the chances are you’re wondering about the encounters in the wilderness….

Final word

The general consensus is that there are no longer any grizzly bears in the state of Colorado and that the last confirmed sighting was in 1979.

With that said, some people do believe that grizzly bears could still live in some of the remote areas of Colorado such as in the San Juan mountains.

The bears have popped up unexpectedly before so it’s hard to 100% rule out the possibility of grizzly bears living in Colorado, though a siting would be exceptionally rare.

Denver International Airport Is Full of Conspiracy Theories: Here’s What I Think

From mysterious underground bunkers housing secret government operations to alleged hidden symbols in its artwork, Denver International Airport is a place chock-full of wild conspiracy theories.

But what exactly are these conspiracy theories and how did they come about? And more importantly, is there any evidence to support any of these theories?

In this article, we will take a look at the conspiracy theory surrounding Denver International Airport.

In the first half of the article, I’ll hit on lots of the common conspiracies associated with the airport. But towards the end of the article I’ll get into what I think could be a more legitimate conspiracy theory and offer some evidence to support it.

The beginning of these conspiracy theories

The genesis of these conspiracy theories begins at the time of construction of the Denver airport.

Conception for the design began in the late 1980s and construction began in the early 1990s but it was anything but smooth.

There was disagreement about the location which was 25 miles from Downtown Denver (which was much farther than the previous airport) and the monstrous size of the airport had people asking lots of questions.

Indeed, Denver International Airport is still the largest airport in the US and it’s almost twice as big as the number two airport, Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW).

Once construction began it was a mess for some time. The project was subject to several delays, opening up around 16 months late and it went significantly over budget in the amount of billions of dollars.

Once it did finally open in February 1995, there were several issues with the facilities and an extensive baggage transfer system that was plagued by malfunctions and technical issues to the point that it was ultimately abandoned.

People wondered why this airport needed to be so big, why construction took so long and had so many issues, and why was the project so far over budget.

Related: Denver International Airport’s (DEN) Cell Phone Waiting Lot “Final Approach” Is Insane

Enter the conspiracy theories

One of the main conspiracy theories is that there is an extensive system of tunnels or even multi-level bunkers up to six stories in height below the airport.

Former workers reportedly claimed that there were several multi-story buildings being built below Denver International Airport and other reports talk about contractors only being hired for small portions of the project, presumably to keep them in the dark about the entire scope of the project.

Current airport employees claim that these tunnels and basement layers were all part of the baggage system and needed for the trains that run through the airport although some believe that there is more to the story.

Some suspect that these tunnels and potential bunkers could be used for some type of post-apocalyptic shelter.

They believe that the shelter would be used for high-ranking government officials, the ultra elite, or even members of the New World Order (NWO), a secretive and powerful global organization that allegedly seeks to control world events and impose a totalitarian regime.

One of the most talked about clues that ties Denver International Airport to the New World Order theory is that the dedication capstone for the airport features the Masonic Square and Compasses, which are well-known symbols of Freemasonry.

Image by K W Reinsch via Flickr.

For those unaware, the Freemasons are the oldest fraternal organization in the world, perhaps starting during the Middle Ages. They are not a secret society per se but more of a “society of secrets.”

They have a presence in Denver including an active temple in the mountainous ghost town of Nevadaville, west of the city.

Freemasons, which were involved heavily in the formation of our country and design of our capital, are often the subject of conspiracy theories that link them to secretive global organizations like the New World Order.

To make this even more intriguing to conspiracy theorists, the capstone also mentions “New World Airport Commission” right underneath the icon.

Some theorists view the mention of “New World Airport Commission” as cryptic reference to the NWO, as they suggest that such a commission doesn’t exist and never did.

During my own research, I came across some proof of their existence but nothing very concrete.

Now let’s zoom out for a second, literally.

If you were to look at the runway layout of Denver’s airport from the sky you could connect the dots in such a way that you see a resemblance to a swastika.

It’s definitely not a perfect alignment so you have to use some level of pattern hunting but at a quick glance it’s hard not to see some resemblance.

Some theorists claim that the swastika is a symbol of the NWO, suggesting that the same shadowy forces behind the Nazi regime are also working towards establishing a new totalitarian world order.

It doesn’t help that some of the artwork has links to the Nazis.

Leo Tanguma’s three-paneled mural titled “Children of the World Dream of Peace” featured in the airport has a terrifying Nazi-looking soldier with a gun terrorizing people. And there’s also a quote from a child who died at Auschwitz nearby.

Photo by Higher Forces via Flickr.

The multi wall mural is said to tell a story of humanity “moving past its aggressive tendencies, and defeating the ecological challenges we face.” While that version focuses on hope for the future, others have interpreted it as symbolic of an impending cataclysmic event or NWO takeover.

The sinister artwork continues when you step outside of the airport and see the infamous Mustang sculpture that has earned the nickname “Blucifer,” after being erected in 2008.

It’s a 32-foot-tall blue horse statue with glowing red eyes that have been interpreted by some conspiracy theorists as representing a demonic or sinister force, which some believe is an expression of the occult practices that groups like the illuminati are allegedly involved in (there’s no proof of this, of course).

Photo by Mike Sinko via Flickr.

Some have even linked Blucifer to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, further fueling apocalyptic conspiracy narratives.

At this point, the conspiracy theory begins to expand into a realm that gets into the supernatural.

The artist of the statue, Luis Jiménez, was killed while working on the horse after a piece of the sculpture fell on him and severed an artery.

People interpreted this to show that the sculpture was cursed and potentially the entire grounds as some reported that the airport was built on ancient Native American burial grounds (although that doesn’t seem to have been substantiated at all like many other claims).

There are even more claims about things like the airport being home to a FEMA concentration camp, the airport’s design resembling KKK hats, and a host of other theories that continue to get more ridiculous the further you go.

But for the sake of not letting this article get too ridiculous, I’ll avoid going too deep into every theory.

So what does the airport have to say about all of this?

Denver International Airport has happily embraced the conspiracy accusations and harnessed all of its marketing power.

Stroll through the airport today and you’ll see several innocuous references to the tunnels and the New World Order.

But they have made some official responses to some of the accusations.

They have answers for pretty much everything which isn’t that difficult considering the nonexistent level of evidence for most of these claims.

The tunnels are for the trains and baggage system, the “swastika-ish” runway layout was the best way to safely design multiple runways, and the artwork is just artwork. As for the aliens and lizard people, I think they just leave those alone.

Some of the answers have not been fully satisfactory such as what does it mean that the freemason symbol is prominently featured on the capstone and what exactly was the New World Airport Commission?

But put the New World order stuff in the back of your mind for a second and consider some of the military history of Denver and how that could relate to all of this, as I think it makes a far more compelling conspiracy theory.

The real conspiracy: a new government headquarters

There is talk that if something were to happen to Washington, DC, Denver would serve as a logical inland replacement. Indeed, something similar was reportedly introduced to Congress by former US Representative Tom Tancredo.

Why would Denver make sense?

First, you have the fact that Denver is located far away from both coasts offering more protection from maritime threats.

There’s also the Denver Federal Center, which is a massive center encompassing an area of about 670 acres. It houses 90 buildings, including one with “a fallout protection factor of 1000… designed to withstand the worst nuclear attack.”

With over 4,000,000 square feet of office, warehouse, lab and special use space and 28 different federal agencies on-site, it is the largest concentration of federal agencies outside of Washington, DC.

Then there’s the fact that not too far away in Colorado Springs, you have NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), which is responsible for the aerospace warning and defense of the airspace over North America.

And this is just one of the five major military installments in the area that support “many of the most important defense and intelligence missions in the world including missile warning, space control and missile defense, and operation of the worldwide global positioning system (GPS) network.”

But there are even key military sites very close to the airport where cutting-edge military aviation technology has been going on for a while.

If you know a lot about Denver’s history in the military you also know that it was home to one of the leading military surveillance schools and bases in the world in the first half of the 20th century.

It was called the Lowry Air Force Base and over the decades the base played a major role in the defense of the United States.

From training for the Boeing B-29 Superfortress (which dropped the type of atomic bomb tested at the Trinity Site) to photographic intelligence courses, it housed many of the Air Force’s most important training programs. (You can learn more about these at the Aurora History Museum).

The base officially closed on 30 September 1994, just a few months before Denver International Airport opened. Interesting timing….

Nowadays, Buckley Space Force Base is active and is located only about 10 miles south of the airport.

It’s home to a number of important things, including the highly secure Aerospace Data Facility-Colorado, which is a major data center for the United States government. It’s where we collect, process, and disseminate intelligence information from space for national security purposes.

So, if the US had to pick a location as an emergency replacement for Washington DC, wouldn’t it make sense to go with:

  • 1) a current capital city (lots of existing government infrastructure)
  • 2) a city the highest concentration of federal government agency sites outside DC;
  • 3) a city very close to some of the most important defense headquarters and away from coastal threats
  • 4) a city with apparently numerous fall out shelters
  • 5) a city home to the largest airport in the country

When you start to think about the high concentration of federal headquarters and the talk about it being a second capital to Washington DC, it does start to make you wonder if certain provisions were taken so that this giant airport could be utilized as some type of hub in the event of a rapid change in political headquarters.

There’s also the curious basement of the Denver Mint. It’s said that the Mint sits on an enormous amount of gold although trying to get an accurate estimate based on publicly available information seems to be pretty difficult.

If there is this unbelievable amount of gold underneath the Denver Mint then could there be other things of great value and what type of security could be down there?

Could there be any link between the Denver Mint with the airport? Perhaps it’s protecting valuable resources that could be used in such a harrowing time?

Another curious thing is that just next door to the Denver Mint near Civic Center Park there is a government building with a sign outside the indicates yet another fallout shelter.

Could that be a bunker that is linked to the Denver Mint and perhaps to other sites?

So what do I really think?

Personally, I’m not really big on conspiracy theories in general. I mean, they can be fun to talk about but as far as devoting serious mental energy into them that’s usually not a direction I choose to go.

I tend to be intrigued by a select few conspiracy theories that evoke a “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” situation in my mind. For example, I do not believe for a second that we know all there is to know about the JFK assassination. There’s simply too much “smoke.”

In the case of the Denver airport, it does feel like there could be something more to this site and its surroundings but again my theory would be more along the lines of it being outfitted to help facilitate some sort of quick relocation of government headquarters.

There is a lot of top-secret military action in the area (related to practically all of the country’s most crucial defenses) and with lots of the government facilities concentrated in Denver it’s not hard to think that there could be some type of contingency plan in place in the event of a catastrophe at our national headquarters on the East Coast.

Perhaps Denver’s airport, the largest in the country by far, would play a key role in this type of disaster scenario and it’s been equipped for such a day?

Maybe beneath the airport there are facilities like war rooms, lodging quarters, and communications rooms that would be used in the event of some type of disaster scenario.

Remember the Denver Federal Center with the fallout protection mentioned above?

It also stores water in a 5,000 gallon water tank (with back-up from an underground well), has food and lodging facilities, a communications center in a “metal box” room shielding sensitive equipment from electromagnetic pulses, and houses below-ground antennae.

Would it be that far-fetched to think some of those same things could exist under the airport?

To be clear, I don’t buy into any of the lizard people, aliens, or any of the super far-fetched things which I would also lump the New World Order under.

The obvious and undeniable connection to the Freemason society is interesting, though.

Given the reported legacy they have with building and utilizing clandestine underground tunnels and structures, perhaps they were somehow involved in planning out the ultimate subterranean structure were it to be needed in dire times.

If the talk about Denver becoming a secondary capital is true then it would certainly makes sense that the Freemasons, who were a huge part in the design of the country’s capital, would be involved on some level.

Kind of makes you think.

Exploring Colorado’s Geographical Identity: A Midwest State?

After researching a lot into the geography of Colorado, I was a little bit surprised to find out that there were questions out there regarding its status as a Midwest state.

Initially, I thought you’d have to be seriously confused to even make that claim but then I started looking into the geographic breakdowns and things are a little bit more interesting than I thought.

In this article, I’ll take a look at the somewhat unexpected question of whether or not Colorado could belong in the Midwest?

Is Colorado in the Midwest?

No, according to the US census, Colorado is not considered to be part of the Midwest.

The United States Census Bureau defines the Midwest as comprising 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

However, some parts of Colorado do share strong similarities with some states in the Midwest and I’ll talk about some of those below.

What exactly is the Midwest?

The Midwest could be confusing to an outsider because they would think it indicates a geographical location in the “middle of the west” which Colorado certainly could fit into.

But that’s not how its traditionally defined.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the Midwest could be broken down into two separate areas.

There is the East North Central which has states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. This is what I believe most people probably think of when they hear the word “Midwest.”

But they also have a separate section called the West North Central which has all of the remaining states such as Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

You’ll notice that there is no Colorado but there is a Kansas.

And why is that significant? I’ll show you in a second.

When you first think about Colorado the image that conjures up in your head is probably huge Rocky Mountains, mining towns, gushing streams, and alpine lakes.

But that’s only part of the state.

The eastern portion of Colorado is part of the Great Plains, just like Kansas. It’s made up of wide-open spaces, prairies, and agricultural land. Without the Front Range Mountains in view, you could easily mistake some areas of Colorado for Kansas.

Just take a look at the map below and see how much of the state is part of the Great Plains, which is also made up of four other Midwest states.

Map via University of Nebraska

Even more specifically, there is overlap in the high plains region between Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska among other states.

Map via NPS

But the connection goes deeper than just similar topographical or geographical regions.

Much of this eastern region of Colorado was part of Kansas Territory back in the mid-1800s.

The Kansas Territory was established in 1854 as a result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed settlers in the territory to decide whether to permit or prohibit slavery through popular sovereignty.

As part of the Kansas Territory, the region that would become Colorado was subject to Kansas’ territorial government.

Eventually, in 1859, “Pikes Peakers” founded the town of Denver along the banks of the South Platte River, which was actually named after Kansas Governor James W. Denver.

The discovery of gold in the region during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush accelerated migration, attracting thousands of fortune-seekers to the area. Many of these settlers came from Kansas and Nebraska, and their connections to these territories influenced Colorado’s early development.

Eventually, the influx of people and the need for local governance prompted the creation of a new territory.

On February 28, 1861, the United States Congress created the Territory of Colorado by carving it out of parts of the Kansas, Nebraska (another Midwest state), New Mexico, and Utah Territories.

With the formation of the Colorado Territory, the region gained its own distinct political and administrative identity, separate from Kansas and eventually Colorado was admitted to the Union as the 38th state on August 1, 1876.

All of that is to say that the history of Colorado is intertwined politically with states from the Midwest and a large portion of the state shares the same geographic region as several Midwestern states. So there is a Midwest connection.

So what is Colorado?

With all of that said, Colorado is definitely more of a mountain west state, in my opinion. Its defining feature — the Rocky Mountains — give it a certain feel that overshadows all of the state’s Midwestern similarities.

The state’s abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities, such as high elevation hiking, skiing, mountain biking, and rock climbing, offer experiences vastly different from most of the Midwest and more in line with what you would find north, west, and south of the state.

Also, the spirit of the Wild West and the frontier days still resonates throughout the state, reflecting the legacy of early pioneers, Gold Rush miners, and settlers. You can get a sense of this history in many places like the Buffalo Bill Museum, one of the many gold mine tours, or by popping into any of the mining museums.

There’s also a Hispanic and Native American presence found in Colorado (particularly in the southern part of the state where you can see it in the traditions, cuisine, architecture, etc.). That is more in line with what you’d find in Southwest states such as New Mexico and Arizona and even West Texas.

Some claim that there is still an influence of Midwest culture in the state, which seems hard to deny in the eastern portion of the state. And while there was once an influx of people from the Midwest into Colorado, most transplants coming into Colorado today come from California, Texas, and Arizona, which is probably why cities like Denver have such a melting pot feel to them.

It is worth noting that Colorado is sort of like Texas in that it’s an intersection of very different regions which makes pinning it down to one category a difficult task. Also, not everyone agrees on the definition of “Midwest” which further complicates the question.

Perhaps a better way of thinking about Colorado is that it’s primarily a mountain west state with noticeable similarities with the Southwest, Midwest, and Inter-mountain West.

Final word

Colorado is officially excluded from the Midwest, and some of its primary distinguishing characteristics deviate from the typical features associated with Midwestern states.

Nevertheless, Colorado does have certain connections to some states classified as part of the Midwest, leading to understandable inquiries about its geographic identity.

16 Things to Do in Los Alamos (+ Tips For Your Visit)

If you have a fascination for the history of the nuclear era, then a visit to Los Alamos is an absolute must. Nestled among stunning mesas and canyons, this town served as a nuclear epicenter where monumental decisions were made, forever shaping the course of human civilization.

Whether you’re planning a quick day trip or plan on hanging around for a few days, Los Alamos offers a compact and captivating experience, with many key sites conveniently located close together.

In this article, I will provide you with everything you need to know about visiting Los Alamos, including valuable tips to ensure you make the most out of your visit.

Prepare to immerse yourself in the rich historical tapestry of this unassuming town and uncover the secrets and stories that define its pivotal role in shaping our nuclear legacy.

Los Alamos sign

What to know about visiting these sites

Many of the key sites mentioned below are conveniently located in close proximity to one another, making it possible to enjoy a historic walk and visit most, if not all, of these sites.

There are lots of public parking lots available, so finding a parking spot should not be an issue. During our visit, we opted to park near Ashley Pond, which proved to be a common starting point for the historical walk.

Be aware that some of these sites are closed on Sundays, and even when they are open, they tend to have limited operating hours with some closing around 3 to 4 PM. Additionally, keep in mind that much of the town shuts down on weekends (including some of the best places to eat), so think twice about visiting on a Sunday.

The last thing to consider is that Los Alamos sits at a high elevation of 7,300 feet. This means that it can be pretty cool in the summer and simply amazing in the fall and spring. But wear extra sunscreen and hats because higher elevation sunlight can be extra harsh on your skin. Also, watch out for signs of altitude sickness if you’re not accustomed to higher elevations.

While some of these sites are private residences, access to them is restricted so be sure to avoid trespassing on private property. Other sites may not be open to the public, but you can still appreciate their significance from a distance.

With all of that out-of-the-way, let’s get into the sites!

Los Alamos statues

Manhattan Project National Historical Park

Manhattan Project National Historical Park is a collection of different historical buildings and grounds clustered together in the heart of Los Alamos. You can visit the Manhattan Project National Historical Park visitor center to get your day started and plot out your next moves.

It’s a very compact visitor center but there are some helpful rangers in there and you can always get your National Park Passport stamp!

Make sure you check out the Oppenheimer and Groves sculpture located just a little bit outside of the visitor center.

Manhattan Project National Historical Park visitor center

Bradbury Science Museum

The Bradbury Science Museum is a must-visit in Los Alamos. With over 60 interactive exhibits, it showcases the history and achievements of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and has a few key highlights you don’t want to miss like:

  • 15-minute film on the history of the Manhattan project
  • Trinitite display
  • Photography/film artifacts from the Trinity Site
  • Oppenheimer’s chair (just imagine the decisions made from that seat!)

They also have a lot of exhibits that go well beyond the Manhattan Project and explore a lot of the scientific discoveries and efforts that take place at the laboratory. The best part of this museum is that it’s free!

Tip: If you want to visit the Los Alamos National Laboratory, look into behind the fence tours. These are only offered a few times a year and will take you to a lot of the historical sites that are not typically open to the public. These are sites like: the Pond Cabin, the battleship bunker, and the Slotin Building.

Bradbury Science Museum

Los Alamos Historical Museum

Another museum that should be on your list is the Los Alamos Historical Museum. Built in 1918, this structure holds the distinction of being the oldest continually occupied building in town.

At this museum, you will have the opportunity to delve into the stories of the scientists, engineers, and everyday individuals who played crucial roles in the Manhattan Project.

The exhibits provide a comprehensive narrative, spanning from ancient times to the present day. I personally thought the letter from the US government to the ranch school, notifying them of the government’s intention to take over the school, was interesting. The fact that they allowed them to finish up a school term was pretty considerate considering the dire need to get things set up in Los Alamos!

As you explore the museum’s creaking wooden floors, immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of history — remember this very building was once the preferred lodging spot for General Leslie Groves.

While there is a nominal entry fee of five dollars, the experience is well worth it.

Additionally, for a more in-depth understanding, consider booking a walking tour (reservations recommended).

Los Alamos Historical Museum

Fuller Lodge

Originally built in 1928 as the dining hall for the Los Alamos Ranch School, the Fuller Lodge is a magnificent historic building meticulously crafted using 771 pine logs that were personally selected by architect John Gaw Meem and Ranch School director A.J. Connell. This structure carries a rich history, representing the early days of Los Alamos.

Today, the Fuller Lodge has been transformed into a vibrant cultural center that offers a versatile space for social gatherings, meetings, and housing various offices, including the Fuller Lodge Art Center and the Los Alamos Arts Council.

Visitors have the opportunity to explore this iconic log structure and delve into its heritage, witnessing firsthand the architectural beauty and historical significance it holds.

Fuller Lodge

Ashley Pond Park

One of the main attractions in the city of Los Alamos is Ashley Pond Park. The pond was very fittingly named after the founder of the Los Alamos Ranch School, Ashley Pond Jr. Back in the day, students used the pond for summer and winter sports.

During Project Y, the pond was surrounded by technical area laboratories but these structures were removed by the mid-1960s.

Today, it’s used as a public park and a hub for community events and it’s just a really beautiful place to go for a picnic or stroll. As mentioned above, it’s also a good place to begin your historical walking tour.

Ashley Pond Park

Ice House Memorial

The Ice House Memorial sits on the site of the old Ranch School Ice House where the students once stored blocks of ice cut from Ashley Pond during the freezing winters.

During Project Y, scientists used the icehouse to assemble the nuclear core of “Gadget,” the prototype atomic bomb that was later transported to the Trinity Site. As we had recently explored the Trinity Site open house and saw where the bomb was assembled (the McDonald Ranch House), it was really cool to see this site.

Today, you can check out the Ice House Memorial that contains original stone from the Ranch School Ice House!

Ice House Memorial

Bathtub Row

Bathtub Row is an actual street name with historic homes that were originally built for the Los Alamos Ranch School and then adapted during the Manhattan project to be used by scientists.

Back during the WWII days, these homes were the only ones with bathtubs which is how the street got its name!

Several of the homes are private residences so don’t trespass but from a nearby sidewalk you can let their unique architecture take you back in time.

Bathtub Row

Hans Bethe House

The Hans Bethe House is a unique residence situated on Bathtub Row. This house was once the home of chemist Edwin McMillan and physicist Hans Bethe, both of whom were Nobel Prize laureates.

It’s also a beautiful historic building showcasing a blend of modernist and adobe-style elements with a strong Pueblo Revival influence. (I couldn’t get enough of the architecture here.)

If you have an interest in the Cold War and the significance of Los Alamos during that period, this is a must-visit destination for you since it houses the Harold Agnew Cold War Gallery. Plus, you can view Frederick Reine’s 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics!

Hans Bethe House

Robert Oppenheimer House

Robert Oppenheimer, known to some as the “father of the atomic bomb,” was the director of the Manhattan Project and a visionary scientist. While initially some thought he would be an unlikely candidate for such an important leadership position, in the end he proved to be the perfect man for the job.

You can visit the Robert Oppenheimer House where Oppenheimer, his wife Kitty, daughter Toni, and son Peter lived from 1943 to 1945. It’s said that Oppenheimer was known for throwing parties at his house and that invitations to these parties were in high demand among the scientists working at Project Y.

Built in 1929, the house is nearly 100 years old and it’s said that it’s going to be undergoing renovations soon and will at some point open up to the public as one of the main attractions to visit. I will certainly be back for that!

Robert Oppenheimer House

Stone power house

This structure was built back in 1933 to house the ranch school’s electrical generator. But later on in 1944, it was remodeled and explosives expert George Kistiakowsky lived here.

Designed by architect John Gaw Meem, the building showcases more Pueblo Revival architectural style and stands as a historic remnant of the Ranch School era.

Stone power house

Civilian Women’s Dormitory

Another historic structure in the area that is easy to miss is the Civilian Women’s Dormitory. This building housed non-military staff working for the Manhattan Project, since military personnel were typically accommodated in barracks in the military section of Los Alamos.

These civilian dormitories called “Priority Dorms,” were heavily sought out by civilians because they were so comfortable and came with amenities like maid service, laundry, and room cleaning. For 1940s Los Alamos standards, this was essentially the Ritz Carlton for civilians!

Civilian Women’s Dormitory

WWII cafeteria

On the corner of 15th St. and Nectar Street you can find the old World War II cafeteria. This was once a favorite mess hall for the military members working on the Manhattan Project. And now it serves as the location for the Los Alamos Performing Arts Center.

WWII cafeteria

The pueblo ruins

Another intriguing site to explore is the pueblo ruins. Dating back to approximately 1225 CE, this location once served as the habitation of a Tewa-speaking community who are ancestors of the present-day Pueblo people.

The structures at this site were constructed using blocks of volcanic tuff and were utilized for various purposes, including cooking and sleeping quarters. It’s an interesting sight as you typically don’t see ancient ruins lying around a small-town neighborhood, just feet from a sidewalk.

The Romero Cabin

The Romero Cabin is right next to the pueblo ruins and it gives you a good sense of what the homesteading culture looked like on the Pajarito Plateau in the late 1800s.

This particular cabin was built by the Romero family back in 1913 but was eventually acquired by the US government. It was built on a nearby mesa and relocated to this spot in 1984. It’s a cool little spot to walk inside of and you really get a sense of the cozy quarters that some of the early inhabitants of this region lived in.

Right next-door is the Ranch School fire cache, which stored fire lighting equipment. And across the street from the Romero Cabin, you can see the site of the original main building for the Los Alamos Ranch School.

The Romero Cabin

Main Gate Park

All of the workers during the Manhattan project had to pass through a main security gate to access Los Alamos and there is a re-creation of the gate just outside of the main area of town.

Workers would arrive here after first meeting Dorothy McKibbin, “the gatekeeper of Los Alamos,” who oversaw things like housing, greetings, and issued the all important IDs needed by Project Y workers.  While security measures were stringent at Los Alamos, a few spies managed to infiltrate the area.

If you’re leaving town, the re-created gate is found just past the airport near a landscaping store — you should easily see signs for it.

Main Gate Park

The historic post office

This post office opened in 1948 on the site of the Ranch School Trading Post and is now listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It still serves as the main post office for Los Alamos County.

Did you know? During the time of the Manhattan project, all mail sent to Los Alamos was addressed to “P.O. Box 1663, Santa Fe, New Mexico”

Other sites to explore

If you’re in this area then you really owe it to yourself to check out Bandelier National Monument. It’s a gorgeous national monument with ancient cliff dwellings and a valley floor blanketed with tall pine trees.

Before heading to Los Alamos, we started off our day with a hike to the Alcove House which takes you up a couple hundred feet via stone steps and wooden ladders. It’s a great way to get up close to the historical Pueblo ruins and enjoy a good view but if you have a serious fear of heights you may want to pass on the ladders.

Our hotel was located in nearby White Rock which also made it easy for us to explore the beautiful White Rock Overlook which is a great place to be at sunrise or sunset. This entire region is truly a beautiful place to explore!

White Rock Overlook

Final word

Los Alamos is a fun and easy place to explore. All of the main attractions are within walking distance and because of the high elevation, the weather can be amazing as you stroll around outdoors. It’s really interesting to see how some of the old buildings have been preserved and others repurposed. It’s really easy to feel the history of this place, which probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

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