DISCOVER GOESSEL / Museum a perfect day trip get away

If anyone tried to ring the giant replica of the Liberty Bell in Goessel, it might make a whooshing sound, perhaps, but it won?t ring like the iconic American symbol of freedom after which it?s modeled.

That?s because it?s made of wheat.

The bell is about twice the size of the real Liberty Bell and is housed at the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum, 200 N. Poplar in Goessel.

?The Smithsonian (Insti?tu?tions) in Washington, D.C., commissioned Mennonites in the area to do this,? said Marjorie Shoemaker, museum director.

The bell is made from chicken wire, wheat straw and wheat kernels. Menno?nites were asked to make the wheat bell for the Smith?sonian?s bicentennial exhibit. It was on display at the Smithsonian from 1976-78 as part of the Smithson?ian Kansas exhibit, Shoe?maker said. Now, it?s behind glass at the Turkey Red Wheat Place on the grounds.

?Some have stopped by to see the bell,? Shoemaker said. ?Sometimes, they want me to take their picture in front of it.?

For example, several years ago, a small group of college students was traveling Kansas, seeking the biggest and best of things, and they stopped at the Goessel museum.

The special bell was made for the amazingly low cost of $51 and donations by 200 Goessel-area Mennonites during more than 2,000 hours. It measures 6 by 6 feet, and the weavers ranged in ages from 10-80. The clapper itself is 5 feet 6 inches and was constructed ?by the spiral weaving of wheat with the wheat heads forming the hammer,? a nearby sign stated. Grains of wheat form the inscription and crack. It weighs probably less than the original bell at about 80 pounds and is 6.5 feet tall.

The bell isn?t the only item on display at the museum, which Shoemaker described as an ?open-air folk museum.?

The Immigrant House, built in 1974, is home to the gift shop, and has a variety of items, including folk art and 30 family display areas set up by descendants of the original Goessel immigrants, who were Menno?nites from Ukraine, which was part of Russia at the time, Shoemaker said.

?The mission of the museum is to share their history ? tell their story and also to honor agriculture in Kansas, not only Mennonite farmers, but other farmers, particularly the wheat farmers,? Shoemaker said.

The Mennonites who settled in the Goessel area came from the Alexanderwohl congregation in Ukraine; they made the trip as a congregation. Half who made the trip stayed in the Goessel area while the other half moved to the Buhler area.

?They came over on two ships because one ship couldn?t carry everybody,? Shoemaker said.

?I guess it was just open prairie,? Shoemaker said about what the land was like when they arrived to the Goessel area. Goessel is a town of about 535 in Marion County, about a 15-minute drive north of Newton on Kansas Highway 15.

She also said she heard there was just one tree between Goessel and Hillsboro at the time, although the accuracy of the comment isn?t verified.

?Eight buildings in a village-like setting tell the story of Mennonites who emigrated from the plains of Ukraine to the plains of south-central Kansas in 1874 and helped turn Kansas into the breadbasket of the world,? a museum flier stated.

The Immigrant House also has a reproduction of an ?original? immigrant house, which is populated by many mannequins.

?This 18-by-40-foot room depicts the space in which nearly four families lived in the two shelters built in 1874,? an information sheet by the display stated. ?Each of the buildings was 200 feet long and housed about 33 families. They lived communally until they could settle on their own land. Some families lived in the shelters for up to five years.?

The impetus for the museum started in 1970, when the Goessel Prepara?tory School, which was constructed in 1906, was part of the high school. In 1970, the old school wasn?t going to be used anymore, so its fate was to have it torn down or moved.

?Some concerned people in this area didn?t want that to happen,? Shoemaker said, adding they scraped some money together, a man bought the building, and the museum later purchased it from him.

The group also purchased the land the museum grounds are on, and the prep school was moved to the property. Since then, five more buildings were donated, moved there and restored. These include Schroeder Barn, built in 1902; Friesen House, 1911; Krause House, 1875; Goessel State Bank, 1910; and South Bloomfield School, 1875.

The other two buildings at the museum complex are the Immigrant House and Turkey Red Wheat Palace, which were constructed in 1974. The museum was dedicated in 1974.

One thing that?s unique about the Schroeder barn is it was built as a wedding gift for Jacob H. and Susanna Schroeder. The coupled lived in two rooms, and their first four children were born there.

?Those rooms aren?t very big, either,? Shoemaker said. ?A lot of visitors say they?re glad they came. Some have said this is one of the best displays of agricultural they?ve seen.?

Last year, visitors hailed from more than 30 states and six countries outside the United States, Shoemaker said.

?They just have to come and see it,? Shoemaker said about the museum. ?Expect to walk.?

Patrons can use the self-guided tour pamphlet, available in the gift shop, to explore the museum grounds.

In addition to the wheat Liberty Bell in the Turkey Red Wheat Palace, visitors will see tools and implements for farming used from the 1880s-1950s.

The Friesen house was constructed for the Bern?hard and Susanna Goertzen Friesen family in the Queen Anne Victoria architecture style. Furnishings in the home were used by Goessel-area Mennonites, and a special feature includes a hearth and cauldron in the kitchen.

The Krause House, built for Jacob Krause, was one of the first constructed by Russian Mennonites after arriving in the area. Features include stairway sod insulation and a working Russian Mennonite-style oven.

Goessel State Bank served the community from 1910-1935. The building had a variety of purposes after that, including as a feed storage building.

?While the building has not been restored as a bank, it houses a variety of artifacts used by housewives on laundry day, a shoe repair shop and other businesses,? a flier stated.

South Bloomfield School closed in 1954 and was used as a granary at a farm until 1963. At that time, it was restored and moved to the museum complex.

Goessel Preparatory School ?provided the equivalent of two years of high school and closed when Goessel Rural High School was organized in 1925,? a pamphlet stated. It features a stained-glass piece of Kurt von Goessel, a German sea captain; he is the man Goessel was named after in 1895.

Fundraiser

The museum is having its 2015 Heritage Fundraiser Dinner at 6:30 p.m. March 21 at Alexanderwohl Menno?nite Church in rural Goessel. Jim Griggs, photographer, will share stories, pictures, artifacts and videos on ?Wild Tanzania.?

The cost is $50 per person or $25 if attending the dinner for the first time. Children 12 and younger are $5. Call 620-367-8200 to reserve tickets.

Gift shop

The gift shop is in the Immigrant House. Many kinds of items are sold there, including consignment pieces from area artisans, books, candy, wheat weavings, jams and jellies, a 10-generation fan chart for genealogy, metal work, beaded earrings, arrowhead, potholders, hand and finger puppets, and quilted wall hangings.

Hours

The museum is open from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays in March, April, October and November. Hours from May through September are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Admission is $4 for people 12 and older and $2 for youth 7-12. Discount pricing is available to people older than 61 and for AAA members.

For more information, visit www.goesselmuseum.com or call 620-367-8200.

by Wendy Nugent

The Edge