African American farmers in Nicodemus, Kansas, in the 1870s

The Hidden History of Kansas

By Jill Draper

“The world is way more interesting under the surface than you think,” says Adrian Zink as he emerges from a day’s work in a local storage cave, one of many below-ground facilities carved back in the day by companies mining limestone. Employed by the U.S. National Archives, which keeps records at several underground sites, Zink naturally comes across fascinating bits of history, just as he did in previous jobs at museums, universities and historic sites.

Author Adrian Zink

He collected those stories and researched others for a book he published in 2017 called “Hidden History of Kansas.” On Monday, April 22, he’ll present a talk and photo slideshow on his book at the Red Bridge Branch Library.

Born and raised in Larned, Kansas, Zink grew up with a strong sense of curiosity about the world. He was especially drawn to history after a high school teacher went beyond names and dates and made it fun. His parents also gave him story ideas, including one about an 800-year-old Indian burial ground near Salina that was a tourist attraction until it shut down in 1989. “There’s no sign of it now,” Zink says, noting that Native Americans worked with officials “to close a chapter that was painful to a lot of people.”

Other stories focus on fascinating firsts and quirky characters. He tells about the first woman elected as mayor in the United States. Her name was put on the ballot by men as a joke in 1877, but she became an international sensation when she won. He also talks about a Ford dealer in Topeka who invented a game in 1911 called auto polo. More than 5,000 spectators came to witness the wild sport of men wielding mallets from doorless/roofless Model Ts in a Wichita alfalfa field. Nicknamed “the lunatic game,” it was soon popular nationwide at fairs and exhibitions.

“The next time you see a demolition derby, Nascar race or monster trucks, just keep in mind that they are child’s play compared to auto polo,” Zink writes. He’s currently at work on a second book that focuses on crime and other “wicked” deeds, and he’d like to write about hidden stories of Missouri in the future.

“There’s so much influence of Missouri on Kansas. The line blurs together,” he says.

The free program begins at 7 p.m. Reservations are required: See mymcpl.org/events, or call the library at 816-942-1780. After the talk, Zink will sell and sign copies of his book and chat with the audience about any hidden history stories they would like to share.

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