Walking Into History: Abilene, KS and Abilene’s Victorian Inn

Abilene's Victorian Inn

Abilene’s Victorian Inn

So it was on an overcast and gray day that I found myself once more answering the call of the road.  I was headed to Abilene, KS, the home of former President, Dwight D Eisenhower, and Abilene’s Victorian Inn, owned and operated by Jay and Adrian Potter.

I felt like the Henry David Thoreau of the highway because of the solitude of my drive.  I was the only motorist on the road for long stretches of time.  Since there wasn’t much in terms of scenery, I had lots of time for thinking and rocking out to the shuffled up tunes on my MP3 player.  About 1pm, I thought that I was ready for some lunch, but no restaurant appeared on the horizon.  By 2pm, I knew I was hungry and decided to stop at the first place I could find.

Luckily, I had just entered the town of Clay Center, KS and found a Wendy’s.  What I expected to be a quick lunch break ended up being an early start to the adventure.  While I munched my burger and enjoyed a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, an elderly gentleman laid his cap down on the chair across from me and politely asked how my day was going.  I told him my day was going great and the gentleman headed to the counter and ordered a drink.

He then sat across from me and asked if I were a local.  When I replied in the negative, he said I had that look about me.  I chuckled softly and the gentleman started asking me where I was heading.  I handed him my business card and told him about my project.  We began to talk and I learned his name was Francis and that he was retired military.  Francis was a fount of knowledge about the city of Abilene and its neighboring cities, telling me a great deal about the history of the area.  After a half hour of chatting, we warmly shook hands and I continued on the road to Abilene.

I arrived at Abilene’s Victorian Inn at 4pm and was pleasantly greeted by Adrian.  She brought me into the gift shop (yes, there was a gift shop) and checked me in.  Adrian then gave me a tour of the inn.  There is a whole lot of house to explore and all of it beautiful.  Aside from the spacious suites, there is a good sized front parlor with a splendid chess set for anyone interested in a game.  The living room is very cozy with a large gas fireplace and a piano.  The dining room was well stocked with cookies, teas, cocoa, soda, and snacks for the guest.  Most interesting was a piano in the front corner.  Adrian explained that the piano had once been owned by Nat King Cole who had actually visited her parents back in the day and had played his signature song, “Mona Lisa”, on it.  I felt honored to touch such a piece of musical history.

Adrian then led me to the Eisenhower Room, my home for the next couple of nights. I loved the rich blue color of the carpet, the large comfortable bed, and the semi-private balcony.  In fact I’m sitting on it right now while I write, people watch, and soak up the scenery.

The gift shop at Abilene's Victorian Inn

The gift shop at Abilene’s Victorian Inn

022

The Eisenhower Room

The Eisenhower Room

This piano was once owned by Nat King Cole

This piano was once owned by Nat King Cole

My semi-private balcony

My semi-private balcony

Dinnertime soon arrived and I decided to give Mr. K’s Farmhouse a try.  This restaurant is off the beaten trail and it actually is in a farmhouse.  Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the restaurant.  The experience was a bit of a disappointment.  Despite the restaurant not being very full, I was forgotten about moments after being seated.  After noticing that I hadn’t been served for 10 minutes, a kindly lady at a nearby table came to my rescue when she walked into another room and found a server for me.

I opted for the house’s specialty, steak strips.  The meal began with a very tasty soup which I believe was cream of potato.  It had a nice zip, was creamy, and the bacon bits were a nice touch.  The steak strips were a bit of letdown, being a touch on the bland side.  I finished my meal and returned to the inn where I spent the rest of the night working on a mystery game before retiring.

The next morning I awoke and was more than ready for breakfast.  I was especially looking forward to this meal because Adrian Potter has a great reputation for her culinary skills.  She has even written a cookbook of the inn’s meals which is available for sale in the gift shop.

Let me assure you that Adrian’s reputation as a chef is well deserved and then some.  Adrian started the meal off with an ambrosia parfait that consisted of cream, granola, bananas, blueberries, and the freshest, sweetest cherries I have ever tasted.  After that came Adrian’s specialty:  Coconut Praline Pecan French Toast served with a side of baked bacon with strawberries and sweet cream.  The breakfast looked so wonderful, I almost didn’t want to eat it, lest I ruin the presentation.  Needless to say that feeling lasted for all of a second before I began savoring the cuisine.

Braced by that terrific meal, I decided to explore the town.  I meandered through the business district for a bit and then made my way to visit Seelye Mansion.

Seelye Mansion

Seelye Mansion

Seelye Mansion was the home of Dr. Seelye and his family.  Dr. Seelye created a pharmaceutical empire that lasted from 1898-1938.  The empire came to an end when the FDA told Dr. Seelye that he could no longer make the medicine that brought him his wealth.  The house was once known as the Mystery House because nobody was ever allowed inside.  This all changed when Dr. Seelye’s two daughters, who remained in the mansion until the end of their days, befriended a young college student who became the caretaker of the estate.  In the eighties, the sisters began offering tours of the house and it is well worth a visit.

The house is in pristine condition and many of the home’s original items are still present.  I learned that Dr. Seelye’s wife and I share the same great love for Christmas.  Mrs. Seelye always loved decorating the house for the holidays, usually setting up 80 Christmas trees!!  That tradition is still maintained today as each room had a Christmas tree or 3.

Mrs. Seelye loved Christmas.  Note the figurines above the fireplace.  It was a magnet powered toy made by Thomas Edison that played 23 different Christmas carols.

Mrs. Seelye loved Christmas. Note the figurines above the fireplace. It was a magnet powered toy made by Thomas Edison that played 23 different Christmas carols.

Aside from the rich history and festive nature of the mansion, one of the more interesting exhibits was the bowling alley in the basement.  The old fashioned bowling alley was not only the predecessor to modern bowling, but it also was the predecessor to skeeball.

All of the visitors got to try their hand at the alley.  The rules for this version of bowling were that five paddles were set at the end of a long alley.  You used an oversized skeeball and threw it down the alley.  The best shot would be to take out two paddles.  You had three shots and if you could knock out all 5 paddles, it was a strike.  Otherwise your points were based off the number above the paddle you hit.  I scored a 4.

The alley is also a very valuable antique.  A collector had visited the mansion last year and offered one million dollars for the alley!!  The foundation turned down the offer.

The Seelye private bowling alley

The Seelye private bowling alley

I spent a couple of hours inside the mansion and then started walking back down the street to visit the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.  As I walked down the street, I decided I should get something small for lunch and I passed a restaurant called Taco Grande.  I stepped inside and the place was packed!  I took that as a good omen for the food.  I ordered a couple of tacos and found that feeling to be right on the money.  These were some of the tastiest tacos I had ever eaten.  If you’re just looking for a quick bite and you’re in Abilene, stop here.

Once I had finished my quick lunch, I continued on to the Presidential Library.  The museum was interesting, but I was a bit surprised as it seemed more concerned about the history of World War II and the technological advances that took place during Eisenhower’s lifetime than the life of Eisenhower.  If you’re a history buff, I would definitely recommend a visit.  I just would have expected more focus on Eisenhower’s personal history as opposed to the history of World War II.

What I found more appealing was Eisenhower’s boyhood home which exists on the grounds.  This house is tiny.  Maybe 7 rooms, at most.  The tour only took 5 minutes and I just tried to imagine how this house managed to contain the Eisenhower’s 4 energetic sons.

199

Dwight D Eisenhower

Dwight D Eisenhower

Eisenhower Museum

Eisenhower Museum

After finishing my tours, I returned to the inn where I organized my photos.  From there, I attended services at St Andrew’s and then went to the M and R Grill for my supper.

By all means, have a meal here.  If you like sports, there are plenty of TVs around the restaurant, each on a different game.  I ordered a Kansas City Strip sautéed with onions, mushrooms, and green peppers.  After enjoying an excellent salad, I supped on a truly excellent cut of meat.  My steak was cooked to perfection and the corn on the cob served on the side hit the spot.

As I enjoyed the feeling of a full stomach, I returned to the Inn where I began working on this article and relaxed the night away.

This morning I got cleaned up and headed downstairs for another one of Adrian’s fantastic meals and some more stimulating conversation with the guests.  Today’s breakfast began with a goblet of grapefruit dusted with powdered sugar and topped off with a cherry.  That sugar really did wonders on the grapefruit as it reduced its acidity and brought out its sweetness.  From there, the main course was a frittata that had an alphabet of ingredients such as egg, turkey sausage, tomatoes, and several different kinds of cheese to name a few.  On the side were some small links of turkey sausage and a light, fluffy, buttery biscuit.

With another tasty breakfast under my belt, I went to my balcony to put the finishing touches on this article and get ready to return home.

In closing, let me say that Abilene is the best town I have visited since I started this project.  The people here are so friendly, especially the hospitable Jay and Adrian Potter.  There are a lot of historic homes to see.  There’s a lot of history to experience.  There’s just a lot to do.  I loved it so much that I’d like to return in the summertime so I can experience the seasonal attractions and more of Adrian’s fine cooking.  If you haven’t been to Abilene, go there.  Get yourself a room at Abilene’s Victorian Inn and tell them Chris’ Corner sent you.

Advertisements

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 3, Days 2 & 3: Lazy Days and Betrayals

One strange thing I’ve noticed about Arizona Mat. . .OK, one of the many strange things I’ve noticed about Arizona Mat is that he always takes the day before an exploration to do absolutely nothing.  He calls it getting into a state of “exploring zen”.  I’m not sure if I believe it or not, but I’m certainly glad he does this because I need that 24 hours to readjust my body clock to the new time zone.

I spent my morning eating a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch, taking a long bath, rescheduling my viewing of Giraffealanche, and organizing my belongings while Arizona Mat made plans with Johnny V.  Arizona Mat’s behavior around Johnny V was truly astonishing.  In past chronicles, I have presented Arizona Mat as an arrogant, pushy, egocentric boor.  And believe me, that’s an apt description.  However, Johnny V seemed to bring out Arizona Mat’s better qualities.  He treated Johnny V like his father.  He was respectful, jokey. . . almost likable.

After a morning of puttering around, we took a walk to Jack in the Box for a bit of lunch.  Johnny V settled for a soda.  Arizona Mat enjoyed two Southwest tacos and a cinnamon-sugar doughnut.  I enjoyed a Bacon Sriracha Burger.  Afterwards I asked to stop at an FYE store so I could peruse their DVD selection.  Arizona Mat decided he would head for home while Johnny V offered to keep me company.

FYE didn’t have much of a selection so Johnny V and I left the store and walked to Fry’s to pick up some pumpkin ale and chips.  As we walked, Johnny V told me how he had been a friend of Arizona Mat’s father for many years and that he considered Arizona Mat a son.  I was really touched by this story and found myself really liking Johnny V.

Upon buying the liquor, we returned to the house.  Arizona Mat and Johnny V caught up on old times while I went to rest in my room for a couple of hours.  Afterwards, Arizona Mat introduced me to an anime series called Attack on Titan while Johnny V went for a swim in the pool.

Eventually, Arizona Mat wanted to go out on the town.  So we piled into his car and went bowling.  Arizona Mat was on a roll as he broke 200 again.  In fact, he surpassed the game he had bowled during my last visit.  I started off very strong, slipped in my next two games, readjusted my style, and finished strong.  Johnny V had a rather unique bowling style.  Yet it seemed to work, as he usually had good rolls.  In fact, he had the roll of the night when he picked up a 6-7 split.  It was really a fun night and I felt loose and relaxed.

The next morning, we found ourselves on the road at about 8:30am.  Johnny V had requested that Arizona Mat make a stop in Kingman, AZ so he could visit an old friend.  Arizona Mat agreed to the request and we made good time, arriving in Kingman shortly before noon.

We pulled into the driveway of a trailer home and Johnny V told us to make ourselves at home while he went to find his friend.

“OK, Chris.  Once we get into Vegas, we’ll start looking for the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!) right away,” said Arizona Mat.

“And then, you’ll be giving it right to me,” said a voice.

Arizona Mat and I looked up and saw an elderly man wearing a cap with a closely cropped beard.  Arizona Mat’s eyes narrowed as he said, “You!” huskily.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“This is my best enemy,” said Arizona Mat.  “His name is Robert Schulte (pronounced Ro-bear Shull-tay).  And he’s the leader of Le Gang De La Farine D’avoine.”

“The Oatmeal Gang???” I said disbelievingly.

“Don’t let the moniker throw you.  They’re a deadly gang of elderly adventurers who specialize in stealing rare artifacts.  We’ve met on several occasions,” said Arizona Mat.

“And once more, something you have discovered will belong to me,” said Schulte with a sinister smile.

“I don’t think so, Robert,” said Arizona Mat with a chuckle.  “The odds are slightly against you.  Three to one.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that, Arizona,” said Johnny V, reappearing in the room with a Luger leveled at us.

“Johnny??” said a stunned Arizona Mat.

“Johnny has been one of my most trusted operatives for years,” said Robert Schulte smugly.

“A double agent!” I said.

“Very good,” said Johnny V.

“But what about all that stuff about Arizona Mat being like a second son?” I asked.

“Oh, that was all true.  But this is about money,” said Johnny V.

“Do you have any friends who don’t try to stab you in the back?” I asked Arizona Mat.

“Just you,” said Arizona Mat.

“I’m more of an acquaintance than a friend and I don’t like you that much.”

“Eh.  I take what I can get,” said Arizona Mat, as he reached a hand into his jacket.

In a blur of motion, Arizona Mat withdrew a foam noodle and slapped the gun out of Johnny V’s hands.  I threw a chair into the path of the two men and Arizona Mat and I bolted through the door.  We dove into his car while Arizona Mat revved the engine and burned rubber out of there.

So there we were.  Making a desperate rush to Las Vegas to keep the Voodoo Blue out of the hands of a dangerous gang who had no qualms about eliminating the two of us.  My blood froze as I began to realize the stakes of this particular bet.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 6: Revelations & Bowling Balls

So a short while later, we found ourselves back at the estate of Arizona Mat where Mongrel, Arizona Mat, and the police sat around the living room while I stood court in the center of the room.  I pulled one officer to the side, whispered something in his ear, and sent him down the hall before beginning the denouement.

“In order to understand this case, we need to go back to the day of the first attack,” I said.

“Wait a moment,” said Arizona Mat.  “You’ve done well, my friend, but I’ll take it from here.  Obviously my colleague and I have come to the same conclusion.  Since I’ve been the target, I feel it’s my privilege to bring this fiend to justice.”

I stared at Arizona Mat for a moment, then gestured for him to take the stage while I stood in a corner.

“Thank you.  It has always been my philosophy that one truth prevails and that is certainly the case here.  The person responsible for these heinous attacks is Tall Square, my former sidekick.  He’s always been jealous of my intelligence, wit, good looks, and discoveries.  My besting him in the handshake contest was clearly the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Once he realized that he ended up in Nome, AK, he realized he had the perfect cover to launch a series of devastating attacks on me in secret.  

First, he arranged to have an explosive “surprise” sent to me, sans return address, so I wouldn’t be able to trace the package back to Alaska.  After arranging for the package, he chartered a flight back to Phoenix and has been following me around.  He rented a car so he could chase me down at Paseo Vista.  When my superior brain outfoxed him, he immediately drove to my home and set up the wasp farm, since he still had keys to my home.  When that failed, he trailed us to Buffalo Wild Wings where he paid off a thug to beat me senseless.  Unluckily for him, Chris spotted him waiting outside the scene of the crime.  

He slipped into my house, hoping he could get at me while the others were asleep.  Due to Chris’ propensity for deep sleep, he managed to get to me, but chose not to finish me off, as he would want it on a grand stage.  He hoped that stage might have been the sushi restaurant, but we managed to escape the sinister swordsman he had hired. In case that attack failed, he set up a bomb in my pool. Unfortunately, Chris took the evening swim that night and was nearly blown to kingdom come.  When he realized he failed, he followed Chris and I to Castles N Coasters where he used us like a real life shooting gallery.

By now, my former sidekick must have reached the limits of his patience and, any moment now, will kick in the door in an attempt to launch one final murderous assault upon my glorious personage.”

Everyone turned to look at the door.

Nothing happened.

I came out of the corner and patted Arizona Mat on the shoulder.

“That was actually a nimble piece of logical reasoning.  But you made two crucial errors.  One, Tall Square doesn’t strike me as the most subtle of people.  He would have started with the murderous assault.  Two, it’s a 10.5 hour flight from here to Nome and they are two hours behind us.  It’s simply not feasible for him to have arranged any of this.”

“Oh,” said Arizona Mat, sitting back down, his face red as a beet.

“Not that he was completely wrong,” I said.  “The assailant certainly wanted us to think Tall Square was behind this.  Hence, the little surprise delivered to Arizona Mat as well as hiring someone with a similar physical build to Tall Square for us to witness on the scene for the BWW brawl.  The attacker had to be someone with access to the house.  He also had to have knowledge of where Arizona Mat would be in order to set up these traps and attacks.  I realized that Arizona Mat’s need to broadcast his whereabouts to the world via Facebook was how the assaulter managed to set up his various death traps.

At that point I ordered Arizona Mat to stop broadcasting our whereabouts via FB and the combination of that plus our staying close to home closed off the avenues of attack for our villain.  The day of the Castles N Coasters attack, I happened to glance at Arizona Mat’s cell phone which was open to his FB page and I learned the truth.

He only has one FB friend.  Clearly that person must be the attacker.  But to be certain of my theory, I posted that we were at Castles N Coasters in an attempt to provoke an assault.  I had arranged for the police to be nearby, but the attacker managed to slip through the cordon.  Of course, the attacker didn’t always need FB to set up an attack.  On several occasions, he was right along our side.  Isn’t that right, Mongrel?”

Mongrel had blanched when I made that accusation.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said with a nervous chuckle.  “I was there at Paseo Vista and BWW.  I was also attacked by the wasps in the pool.”

“That was the brilliant and, dare I say, daring part of your plan.  You made yourself look like a potential victim of collateral damage so you wouldn’t be suspected.”

“But there’s no motivation,” countered Mongrel.

“Oh, I disagree.  You’ve had the run of the estate since Arizona Mat and Tall Square started their little handshake duel back in January.  It would be such a shame to lose it all and be reduced to a lowly B level sidekick again.  So at some point, you decided to eliminate Arizona Mat and frame Tall Square for the crime.  Or maybe you planned to get rid of both of them and adapted your plan after you found out Tall Square was flown to Alaska.”

While I was speaking, the officer whom I had sent out of the room returned with a sheaf of papers in his hand.

“And I believe this kind officer has provided me with the evidence I need to prove your guilt.”

An examination of the papers revealed Mongrel had been forging Arizona Mat’s name on various documents.  He had given himself power of attorney over Arizona Mat’s assets as well as rewriting his will to name himself sole heir.

“Anything you care to say, Mongrel?” I asked.

“You don’t know what it was like,” said Mongrel in a sad voice.  “I was kept so much in the background that you didn’t even know I existed.  Why shouldn’t I have had the estate?  I took care of it.  Arizona Mat was never around.  Occasionally he’d bed here, but normally he and Tall Square were out having misadventures.  When you started publicizing his antics, it made him even more insufferable.  This estate is mine.  I earned it.”

Mongrel was cuffed by one of the officers, read his rights, and taken away.

Needless to say, Arizona Mat was ecstatic now that the threat to his life had ended.  In celebration, we went out to the Brunswick Zone for a few hours of bowling.  Arizona Mat was back to his arrogant, self-aggrandizing ways.  As he bored me with tellings of his various “explorations”, he managed to have a red hot night of bowling, closing all, but 2 frames and bowling a 200+ point game for the first time in 20 years.  I, myself, had a sharp night of bowling as my old form began to reassert itself as I averaged 120 points.

We returned to his home and slept the sleep of the peaceful, but this adventure wasn’t over just yet.