Two days. That’s how much time we had to throw together a Plan B when Suz, Kathryn and I came to the painful conclusion that we were forced to abandon Plan A, which was our much-anticipated Overnighter to Oklahoma. The strong chances of weekend thunderstorms were not letting up in our neighboring state so we just gotta let that go and focus on dryer territory. Many years ago, my Tom Kat, Greg, and I, along with Stephanie and a mutual friend of ours, rode to Ellinwood and I remembered that it had some interesting underground areas that you could go through. I looked at the weather forecast for Ellinwood for Saturday, June 23rd, and it was clear skies. Check. I calculated the distance. One hundred and eight miles. Check. I looked for restaurants and found two that got good reviews. Check. I ran the idea by Kathryn and Suz who gave me the thumbs up. Check. With all the criteria met, it was settled – Ellinwood was replacing Bartlesville and Tahlequah for our June Road Trip.
As I was making the plans for the ride to Ellinwood, I thought it would be a good idea to make sure the underground tunnels were available to tour on Saturday. That’s when I learned from Chris, the owner of the Wolf Hotel and Chief Executive Officer of the underground, informed me that they already had a large group coming in on Saturday for a catered lunch and tour and hey, why don’t you join them? Yeah, why don’t we? Being tight on time, this would save me from having to communicate with a restaurant. With everything in place, I spread the word to the Kitties and crossed my fingers that a two-day notice for a ride would still result in a good turnout. Boy howdy, was it ever a good turnout! Seventeen Kitties and two guests said, what the heck! Let’s go see the underbelly of Ellinwood!
While it was pouring rain in Oklahoma (we nailed that decision!), it was all sunny and dry on Saturday morning here in Doo Dah. Beautiful bike after beautiful bike came pouring into the QuikTrip parking lot and we commandeered a large chunk of it for our meetin’ spot. I think Lori is under the impression that every ride is a costume ride. It’s either that or she was confused and thought that this was a gathering for the Future Farmers of America as she showed up overalled from top to bottom and looking like Old McDonald had just stepped off the farm! Well, if she doesn’t like Gung Ho or Wackado for a Road Name, how about McKitty? Or Haymaker? Or Corn Cob? Or Crop Duster? Crop Duster could have a second meaning, if you catch my drift. Get it….catch my drift?? Damn, I make myself laugh!
After introducing ourselves to our two guest riders, Stephanie and Tresny, we had a brief meeting to go over the route and divided the group into two with Kathryn in the lead of one group and Kari and Bobbie, who were convertible Mustanging it, in the lead of the other group. We all biked up and we were off right on time!
At the very tail end of the second group was Stephanie, with Suz behind her riding final sweep. Unbeknownst to all the Kitties in front of them, almost immediately after pulling out of the QuikTrip parking lot and getting on 135, Stephanie’s sunglasses went flying off her face. That’s No Bueno! Maybe Stephanie can just duck behind her windshield for the entire trip. What’s that you say? She doesn’t have a windshield on her bike?? That’s a BIG No Bueno! So how did Stephanie ride the 108 miles to Ellinwood with no sunglasses and no windshield? Like a BadAss, that’s how! I think we all know what Stephanie’s Road Name is going be, don’t we? BadFreakingAss!
The ride to Ellinwood was absolutely perfect! It was cool, but not too cold. There wasn’t so much as a whisper of wind and there was abundant sunshine (which was NOT good for Stephanie!) Everyone rode in perfect formation and most importantly, our Lead Riders led us right to the Wolf Hotel without one dreaded U turn! Well done ladies!
After arriving at the Wolf Hotel, which is where all tours for the underground tunnels begins and ends, we made a potty stop and then joined the other tour group, who were a bunch of senior citizens from the Kansas City area who were very tolerant of this girl gang of rough and rowdy bikers, in the lobby. Our tour guide, Rick, provided us with some fascinating education about the hotel and the tunnels. I tried to embed as much as I could into my pea-sized brain so I could pass on some of the interesting facts, so let’s see how well I did, shall we?
• The town of Ellinwood was settled by German immigrants in the late 1800’s when they were encouraged by Kansas state leaders to come to the sunflower state (was it really the sunflower state in the 1800’s?) because it never gets too cold there, it never gets too hot, it has very little humidity, the air smells like perfume and you could literally grow anything in its lush and fertile soil. Where was Truth in Advertising in the 1800’s??
• Following the customs of Europeans, after the German settlers built the two square blocks of the business district (which still remains the same today), they built businesses below ground covering the same area with tunnels connecting all the businesses. At the time, they called this area the basement, or whatever the word for basement is in German. Someone please Google that for me.
• Once the town was established, it became an important stop on the Sante Fe Trail.
• Along with the cattle being moved on the Sante Fe Trail came dirty, stinky, hungry, thirsty, horny cowboys.
• The underground businesses became an important part of servicing the cowboys, as well as other men in Ellinwood. Women were never to go in the underground businesses as they were considered too delicate for what went on down there. Well, except for the women who were taking care of those horny cowboys! Soiled doves were more than welcome in the tunnels!
• With the popularity of the railroad, the Sante Fe Trail was used less and less which meant fewer cowboys coming through town. Soon the tunnels and underground businesses fell out of favor and were no longer used and they were locked up.
• In the 1970’s, a lady in town, Adrianna with a German last name I had no chance of remembering, rediscovered the tunnels when she inherited a building after her father’s death. She opened the tunnels back up for the public to see. After all, it had been eons since anyone had seen them so there was a whole new audience.
• Everything was going swell until in the 1980’s, the town of Ellinwood decided to replace the decaying sidewalks along the above ground business district and while doing so, to fill in the tunnels with sand because of liability issues. Seriously? You have something underneath you that is 100 years old and you’re going to destroy it? What were you thinking??
• Fortunately, Adrianna managed to convince the town leaders that they couldn’t fill in the tunnels under the building she rightfully owned so back off you no good politicians! These are mine! All mine!
• What remains today are the tunnels and businesses under Adrianna’s building. Adrianna is no longer living but current town leaders have been shown the money and understand this is an important part of the Ellinwood commerce, not to mention Kansas history.
• Interesting fact: Wichita also used to have underground tunnels and businesses back in the day. After all, there were plenty of dirty, stinky, hungry, thirsty, horny cowboys in Wichita too!
After our history lesson, we were anxious to see if Suz and Denise could overcome their claustrophobia as we all descended the very stairs those dirty, stinky, hungry, thirsty, horny cowboys once used. I’m happy to report that Suz and Denise overcame their fear and braved the tunnels like champions.
The first stop on our tour of the underground businesses was the harness shop owned by Tom Drake, who may have been the only resident of Ellinwood without a German name. The story goes that as the railroad replaced cowboys on horses, Tom had less and less business so he tried to sell his equipment. However, no one was stupid enough to buy harness making equipment with no horses to harness, so he just walked away from all his equipment and left it in the shop. The items we saw were the actual tools and equipment ole Tom used in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. How cool is that??
We also saw what Bobbie refers to as pie cooling tables, but in fact, they were BODY cooling tables. This is where the deceased would be laid out to cool before embalming. Aren’t dead people already cool? Why do they have to be cool-ER? The deceased weren’t actually laid out in the tunnels; after all cowboys have a line and walking around dead people was crossing it, but the tables are being stored down there. I thought it would be a great photo op but I couldn’t get any takers for laying down on a table where dead people used to lay. Something about being too much like laying in a coffin. Sissies!
Suz and Denise got their picture taken behind the original teller cage that was saved from the Ellinwood Bank, which was closed down many, many years ago. The story goes that the President of the bank and a teller, who were brothers, were stealing from it. This eventually led the teller brother to commit suicide by shooting himself. I think this photo op was Suz and Denise’s way of proving to everyone that they did, in fact, go down in the tunnels and look how they are smiling! I think their claustrophobia has been cured! You’re welcome.
The next stop on our tour was the Jung (pronounced Young) Barber Shop. Apparently, Mr. Jung not only cut hair and gave you a shave, but he fancied himself as an Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor, with special emphasis on the throat part. “Got a sore throat? No problem – just sit right down here and I’ll take my unsterilized, barbaric tool and yank those tonsils right out. Need anesthesia? Well, you should have visited the saloon before you came here because that’s as close to anesthesia as you’re going to get. Well I’ll be damned, looks like we got a good bleed going where one of your tonsils used to. Let me just heat up this here tool in the wood stove and cauterize that for you.” The story as told to us by Rick, our tour guide, was so painful to listen to that one of the seniors on the tour said to me, “Sometimes the good old days weren’t all that good.” True dat Mr. Grandpa!
Next it was time to see where the cowboys got their stink off when arriving from the trail. If you were flush with cash, you could pay 15 cents for a half tub of warm water, a piece of lye soap and a clean towel. If you were strapped for cash or wanted to save your money for more important things like a soiled dove, you could save yourself 10 cents and use water that was left over from the last stinky, dirty cowboy and dry off with a towel that had been used by Lord knows how many other men. Holy Stink Balls! I won’t even use the towel my husband has used let alone from a bunch of filthy strangers! I am so spoiled.
Now that we’ve heard the gruesome tails of throat surgery and dirty cowboys, who wants to eat? Rick led us back out of the tunnels into the bright and glorious sunshine and we walked across the street to the Wolf Hotel, which was built in the late 1800’s. The dining room in the hotel was once known as the most prestigious place to dine in the area. Most of us had a light lunch of delicious chicken salad sandwiches and a fruit salad while Kathryn and Tricia dined on a green salad because they are not chicken salad Kitties. We then topped it off with the most amazing brown a la mode!
We only had 30 minutes to eat as the second half of the tour was to follow our lunch. Therefore, the pulling of the winning 50/50 ticket had to happen quickly. I found out that it doesn’t matter if it happens slow or quick, I still ain’t winning. I gave one of our guests, Stephanie, the honor of drawing the number. While we skipped the tradition of new people winning in May (that sucked for you Lori, Krista and Deborah), it resumed in full force in June with Stephanie picking her own number and walking away with 58 smackeroos! I guess she has us all to thank for paying her Kitty dues! You’re welcome.
After lunch, Chris, the owner of the Wolf Hotel, started the tour of the hotel in the dining room. I was preoccupied with gawd knows what so I didn’t catch the entire story, but there was something about a man who shot himself in that very dining room and you can still see the hole where the bullet went through his head and into the tin ceiling. Sure seems like people tend to want to shoot themselves in Ellinwood!
We then were introduced to Miss Sally who has been a fixture of the Wolf Hotel for several decades. The story goes that prior to Chris buying the hotel a few years ago, this was the home to an antique store for 30 years. Miss Sally, who is a mannequin, was essentially the “We’re Open” sign as she would be placed outside to let everyone know the store was open for business. When Chris purchased the hotel to bring it back to its former glory, Miss Sally came with the deal and she is present for all the events that are held at the hotel. After placing a Kitty bandana on her pretty little plaster head, we appointed her as an honorary Krome Kitty and all gathered around her to have our picture taken to commemorate the occasion.
We then proceeded with our tour of the hotel by seeing what would have been at one time the underground laundry room for the hotel and other businesses that were part of the underground tunnel system, to include the library and saloon. It was interesting to hear the story of how people like Maureen, who just HAD to have a stiff drink every now and then, ignored the Prohibition laws by calling alcoholic drinks by a different name. You could have a shot of “coffee”, “lemonade’ or “giggle juice.” Just like Maureen, these people had no problem whatsoever with being “over served.”
We then proceeded to the top floor of the hotel to take a peek at the sleeping rooms which were all furnished with antique pieces from the era when the Wolf Hotel was a thriving hotel. Wouldn’t you know it? In one of the rooms, there was a framed article and well, whaddya know? Right there in black and white, was a picture of Kathryn’s kinfolk! Actually, it was her husband’s kinfolk, and the picture was of his great-grandparents. Kathryn had told me while we were planning this trip that her husband’s family spent a lot of time in Ellinwood and this right here proved it! Several of us counted the number of beds in the hotel and we concluded that yes, this would be perfect for a Kitty Overnighter! We could “giggle juice” ourselves silly in the saloon and then stumble up the stairs and fall into one of the antique beds. Brilliant!
Following the tour, we all settled up our tab and bid our farewell to Chris, Beth (his beloved volunteer) and Miss Sally. It was time to head back to Wichita. As we were leaving, Chris called out, “You all come back now, ya hear!” Oh, you can count on that! Motel 6 might leave the lights on for ya, but they ain’t got an underground saloon!
Those on board for the “Being Forced Underground” Road Trip were Queenie, Lady, Lori (or is it Corn Cob?), AliKat, Tink, River, Moonshine, PonyGirl, Sycho Suz, BatKat, da Vinci, Half Pint, Squirrel, Star, Ice, Wrench, Winer and guests who became members, Stephanie and Tresny.
Janice – KKMC Founder