Stir-crazy yet? After nearly three months of social distancing, that’s to be expected. And yet, things aren’t exactly back to normal. Never fear, we’re here to help with four great day trips that are a two-hour drive from Kansas City. We picked spots that are safely spacious but which offer excitement, fresh air and much-needed changes of scenery. Get out there, but remember to use common sense and follow CDC guidelines.
Things are still a little crazy out there right now—you may find that public facilities you’d expect to rely on in places like parks are closed or unsafe. Be self-reliant by bringing essentials with you.
- Bottled water
- Toilet paper and trowel
- Hand sanitizer or soap, extra water and paper towels
- Granola bars or other snacks
- Bug repellent
The site of a brutal bludgeoning spree is now open to thrill-seekers and paranormal investigators
In the tiny Iowa town of Villisca sits a house that would be completely unassuming if it weren’t for the sign in the yard reading “Ax Murder House.”
On June 10, 1912, eight people were bludgeoned to death here. It’s believed that the killer(s) hid out in the attic while waiting for the family to return home from a church function. After everyone fell asleep, the killer(s) emerged and bludgeoned Josiah and Sarah Moore, their four children and two young girls spending the night. The investigation yielded a number of suspects, but nobody was ever convicted, and the case remains unsolved to this day.
The house was a rental for many years before being restored to its original condition in the nineties—the owners removed the electricity, plumbing and garage and added an outhouse, chicken coop and barn. The house has been the subject of a number of books and movies and has been featured on paranormal docu-reality shows such as Ghost Adventures and Most Terrifying Places in America.
Today, the house operates as a museum and tourist attraction. Visitors can take tours during the day for ten dollars. The tour includes a video and a quick lesson on the history of the house. Then the tour guide will leave you and your group alone with the house—and whatever other residents may still be there. For true thrill-seekers and paranormal enthusiasts, a group of six or fewer can reserve the entire house for overnight tours and investigations for just four hundred twenty-eight.—Ethan Evans
GO: Take I-29 north to St. Joseph, then take exit 56A to get onto US-71 north and go 66 miles to Villisca. Take a right on High Street, a right on 5th Avenue and then a left onto East 2nd Street.
A new hatchling joins the generations-old chicken fight in a Kansas mining town
It’s no secret that for the past eighty years, the town of Pittsburg, Kansas, has been embodied in a fried chicken feud. After their husbands were injured in the dangerous coal mines that dominated the local economy at the time, two women—one named Mary, the other Annie—started rival fried chicken stands a few hundred feet away from each other on a country road.
You may not know that they’re still squabbling down in Southeast Kansas. Today, the rivalry between the originals on the rural north side of town seems to have cooled while a fresher fight between Chicken Annie’s Original and Pichler’s Chicken Annie’s has picked up steam.
As with any small-town feud, it’s not something an outsider can get to the bottom of while parachuting in (“Oh, we all get along great!” said one server; “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” grumbled another), but the good news for road-tripping diners is that you don’t really need to pick a side.
Mary’s, Annie’s and the other Annie’s all make basically the same lightly seasoned brand of bird (Mary’s batters with egg and milk while both Annie’s only use egg) and serve it with sides like tangy German-style slaw, green beans and chip-chopped fried onions. I preferred Chicken Mary’s—which was also the busiest spot in town on a Friday night during quarantine—but there’s no wrong choice among them. —Martin Cizmar
GO: The originals are 120 miles due south on US-69. From the highway, turn left onto E. 600th Avenue and look for Mary’s, followed shortly by Annie’s.
An abandoned town is as cool as it is creepy
Type “Dunlap, Kansas” into Google Maps, and there sits a small square around an unincorporated town on the eastern edge of the Flint Hills.
Dunlap was once a town for Exodusters—freed slaves fleeing to Kansas—during the Reconstruction Era that followed the Civil War. Exoduster Benjamin “Pap” Singleton migrated to Dunlap from Tennessee and started a colony there in 1880. Life for the Exodusters wasn’t easy. They were forced to segregate and treated poorly by white settlers. There was even a separate cemetery for Exodusters.
The population of Dunlap dwindled around the time of the Great Depression, and the town filed for bankruptcy. In 1988, Dunlap’s post office shut its doors, and in 1993, Dunlap’s last black resident was buried in the colored cemetery. Not much is there today. A few deserted homes and an abandoned high school gymnasium still stand despite the school being demolished over a decade ago. One poignant reminder of the town’s history is the Colored Cemetery. The Dunlap City Cemetery sits right on the edge of town while the Colored Cemetery, which was inducted into the National Register of Historic Places in 2018, is about a half mile out in the rolling Kansas hills. —Nicole Bradley
GO: Take I-70 to Topeka. Hop on I-470 and take the Kansas Turnpike. Take exit 147 toward US-56/Council Grove/Osage City/Admire. Take US-56 until you hit Road F, then take F until Road 290, which will take you into Dunlap.
Stroll the original Main Street, USA
Back in February, Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes rode down Main Street, USA, at Walt Disney World. What took him thousands of miles and a Superbowl victory is much simpler for the rest of us: Hop in the car and drive a couple of hours to Marceline, Missouri—home of the original Main Street, USA. Marceline (population 2,233) was Walt Disney’s hometown, and its Main Street is the model he mandated for the Main Streets at his theme parks around the world.
Walt’s father, Elias Disney, brought the family here in 1906 to start a forty-eight-acre farm. Although the family left four years later, when Walt was nine, the town held a place in his imagination.
“More things of importance happened to me in Marceline than have happened in the past or are likely to happen in the future,” Walt once said.
Start your trip at Ma Vic’s Corner Cafe for a Dusty Miller, the ice cream treat original to Marceline since the early 1900s. From there, it’s just a few steps to the Walt Disney Hometown Museum, a ten-thousand-square-foot, two-story structure housed in the 1913 Santa Fe Railway Station. Walt’s only sister, Ruth Disney Becher, gifted thousands of family artifacts to the museum. On the grounds you’ll find the resto-ration of the Midget Autopia Ride, the only ride to leave Disneyland and be operated outside of a Disney property. You can walk or pedal your way around the track in your own custom Autopia car.
Nearby is a bandshell that’s familiar from Disney films. Note that the marquee proclaims the “World Premiere of the Great Locomotive Chase”—Walt and his brother Roy came home in 1956 for the premiere and greeted each child as they entered the theater. Walt addressed the crowd on that occasion: “You children are lucky to live in Marceline. My best memories are the years I spent here.”
In attendance was a little girl named Kaye Malins, who grew up to become the director of the Disney Museum.
Even the post office here, named for Walt Disney, is unique—they stamp mail with a one-of-a-kind cancellation. Not far away is the Disney Farm and Barn, which has a replica of the barn. Walt kept the blueprints of the original structure, such was his obsession with this little town. —John C. Tibbetts
GO: Marceline is 135 miles from Kansas City. Take I-35 north to Cameron, then go east on US-36 for 70 miles and watch for the sign to Marceline.