Vandalism at historic KCK site generates support for preservation efforts

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John Brown statue in KCK
John Brown statue in KCK

KCUR reports the latest vandalism was discovered earlier this month at a statue of abolitionist John Brown in Kansas City, Kansas. Part of Brown’s hand and a scroll he’d been holding were missing. Last year, vandals scrawled racial epithets and symbols on the statue.

The statue marks the entry point to the historic Quindaro Ruins, stone foundations and caves with archaeological artifacts linked to the activity of abolitionists and the Underground Railroad.

Concern among community residents and others about vandalism at the site, and about gas line work close to a nearby secluded small cemetery, has caused gas and oil company Phillips 66 to begin brainstorming at the corporate level about how to help with the area’s preservation.

“And one of the things we’d like to do is talk to folks in the community who represent that area and see if there’s anything Phillips 66 can do to support efforts to help preserve the rich history of the Quindaro cemetery and the ruins,” Phillips spokesman Rich Johnson said.

Residents visiting the Quindaro area earlier this month saw large construction machinery chugging down the path toward the cemetery. Three workmen stopped to explain that Phillips 66 was doing routine maintenance on gas lines and was taking extreme caution not to harm any of the headstones and remain on the right of way granted by the city.

Johnson said later that the company is sensitive to the area as sacred.

Members of the Quindaro Ruins working group also have been collaborating on a plan to honor the tie many groups feel to Quindaro. The group is made up of community members, local leaders, Native Americans, historians and federal officials.

“We’re getting people ready to take Quindaro seriously,” said Marvin Robinson, a resident who grew up in the neighborhood and has long advocated preserving the ruins. He goes regularly to the site for inspiration. “We believe this multi-layered Quindaro site is going to have its time. We hope the people are ready to take it in.”

The group has come together every couple of months over the last three years to hear about how a destination honoring the Quindaro site would best communicate the history, archeology and riverfront heritage, how it would educate and reach out to other communities, and what amenities would best serve the public.

“We’ve got a large group of varied stakeholders all working toward the same goal,” said Jim Ogle, executive director of Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, a federally designated area in eastern Kansas and western Missouri charged with preserving historic and cultural places relevant to frontier history.

The National Parks Service allocated funds in October to help develop trails and signage through the ruins and will continue to help with efforts to attain National Landmark Status for the ruins.

The planning process has been plagued with dissension and disagreement for decades. Stakeholders have come and gone. Questions have been raised about how to preserve the site, how money has been spent and where loyalties lie. The black, white and Native American communities all have rights to some of Quindaro’s complex history.

“(There are people) who genuinely feel they’ve been under siege for decades and still sometimes feel under assault,” Ogle said. “But we’re trying to reinforce enthusiasm about progress that has been made.”

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