Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Drawing the Veil on Cherryvale, KS

I try to write about great small places to visit when you're out of KC, tooling around with a tank of gas and the urge to explore. Today, I'll write about a place that I really, REALLY want to be a cool place to visit.

But isn't.

So with my sourpuss face in focus, je te presente...

Cherryvale, KS, population 2386.
I love their logo. This is from their t-shirts, available on their website. Very, very nice.

Let's start with the nice stuff. Cherryvale's website is http://www.cherryvaleusa.com/. There's a terrific link to a flickr account full of pictures of "southeast Kansas." Lovely, crystal-clear pic's. Not particularly of Cherryvale- just of the region. You can read an interesting- albeit, brief- history of Cherryvale, starting with the 1850's. And that sweet logo, on a t-shirt, for only 15 bucks.

It looks a lot better on their website than here. Plus that site has a bunch of cool old pics of other towns.

Why did I go to Cherryvale in the first place? Being a buff for history, fried food, and the macabre, I read about "The Benders", a murderous pseudo-family that moved onto land a few miles north-north-east of Cherryvale around 1870. To the right you see the cover of a comic book based on them. Whodathunkit. Below is the national marker at a roadside rest-stop, north-east corner of 169 Hiway and 400, located a few miles north of Cherryvale. It tells a reduced version of the Benders' homicidal domicile.

Looking east-south-east from that rest stop, this view leads to where, a scant few miles away, the Benders became Kansas's first (known) mass murderers. Yeaaah, spooky. Right up my occasionally creepy alley.
Back to Cherryvale. Kate Bender, the buxom beauty with brutal depravity, worked at a restaurant in Cherryvale. She also held spiritualist meetings, "seances," there. I wanted to find vestiges of that history, and to find more upbeat history.

See, dinky little Cherryvale also offers two other women of much better distinction: the stunningly beautiful and so-very-modern-looking Louise Brooks.

She was a 20's dancer and silent screen actress. Quite popular in Europe, and well known, if underappreciated, in the states. She's soooooo goth; there are several bars up here in KC into which she would fit nicely, with maybe some chrome studs added to the outfits and a nose piercing. NOTE: if you look her up on Google images at work (or in the library), be sure to set the content filter to "moderate." Ms. Brooks was unafraid to model for nude art photos. Or is that, French postcards? You decide.

Another actress lived in Cherryvale for some time. You probably know her: Vivian Vance, most famously known as "Ethel Mertz", the neighbor and friend in "I Love Lucy."

If you prefer to say "I Love Ethel", then you'll also love http://jowaha.com/
PPE/vivian.html. That's where I found the pic of Vivian Vance below. Check out her headshot on the left. Yowza.

So you're probably saying to yourself "What's Mark's problem with Cherryvale? Two beautiful actesses came from there, a weird/sick/twisted/INTERESTING crime story involved the city, it's got that uber-cool logo...what gives?"

I went to Cherryvale early in January, 2009, with high hopes; I think that was my first mistake. A couple of years ago I talked to a very, very nice man- Wayne Hallowell, owner of the Leatherrock Hotel in Cherryvale. He had (has) very high hopes for his remodeling of the Hotel, a former rest stop for rail travelers. The website is
I had called him after seeing that the book "The Benders: Keepers of the Devil's Inn" was available through him for about 10 bucks (including shipping). I had found the book on alibris.com for 75 bucks- which was RIDICULOUS for a paperback book that was still available! Wayne was gracious, courteous, and very very helpful. When I stopped by the Cherryvale Hotel, here's what it looked like.

The porch sported, at that time, a bunch of detritus- including two bathtubs. You can see them under big window on the right. It's very hard to figure out where the entrance is, where to knock, how to get in. I know from talking to Wayne that he means well for this building. But the surroundings appear tired and, well... (I'm sorry Wayne!) junky. That describes poor Cherryvale's appearance in a nutshell: tired, and growing more tired by the year.

On the left: the view of the railroad that's maybe 100 feet from the hotel. The rail line is still quite busy.

To the right: the view down the street. Sigh. Maybe it was just the grey, dismal weather that made it so depressing.

This is the Cherryvale Depot, a couple of blocks down from the Leatherock Hotel. Nope- it's not a coffee house, a museum, nor a restaurant where you throw peanut shells on the floor. It's still an operational depot. Interestingly- it was dismantled and rebuilt here! Now that's some dedication.

I drove all OVER Cherryvale, searching for...well...something. Some pics from around the city:

And a sign of the (old) times....

The Cherryvale Museum is closed from Fall to Spring; I'll have to return in April if I want to wander it's historic offerings- including the hammers used in the Bender murders. When I was driving back to KC, Cherryvale stuck in my craw. Not as a problem. More as a sadness, a loss. I stopped at north of Cherryvale at Rick's Half Way House Saloon in Colony, KS, for a beer, a diet Dr. Pepper, and to gather my thoughts. Here what I wrote while there:

"Cherryvale is a shadow of history, a whisper of autumnal wind from the years of westard expansion. The city exists like a brick-brown oak leaf clinging to the limb. I really don't know if a fiscal spring is in the works; however, winter is inevitable.

There wasn't much money in Cherryvale. You see few, if any, of the grand dame houses or the proud downtown buildings of yore. This city is prairie-built, clinging to the dirt, fighting the winds of weather and time, existing in spite of conditions- not because of them.

Driving down a rutty backstreet, I passed three girls ambling. With no sidewalk, I had to slow and go by them right there int he street. One young lady smiled and waved to me, the stranger in the used Honda. Her youthful friendliness reminded me- seeds exist beneath winter snow, waiting their chance to bloom.

I hope Cherryvale sees just such a season, so that seeds planted with best intent will have that chance to grow."

POST SCRIPT: I'm looking at Cherryvale from a completely touristic point of view. It might be a great place to live, to work, and more. The people I met there were very very nice. I mean to cast no aspersions on them, nor on the city in general; this is only my opinion of the city's value as a leisure destination. Hopefully, some day, I'll eat every one of these words. :)

1 comment:

  1. my 50 year high school reunion is this spring...i am coming back and like you i feel a sadness at the deterioration of the town i grew up in/around..memories are sweet of summers at the pool, the old opera movie house and cokes made with syrup and carbonation at the corner drugstore soda fountain..carhop job at the L & L drive in..high school sports and marching band...there is an ache for the times and the people of this small town in my heart..it will always draw me back...