Adrian Zink, a Kansas native, had his interest in history sparked by a high school teacher who made the past come alive with interactive classroom experiences. After earning a degree from KU, he worked at museums, universities, archives and historic sites. His recently published book, Hidden History of Kansas, digs deep into the state’s history to relate the overlooked stories of “fascinating firsts, humorous coincidences, and intriguing characters.”
One of Zink’s favorite stories is about auto polo. A sport dreamed up in 1911 as a marketing stunt by a Ford dealer in Topeka, it became popular coast to coast into the 1920’s. The matches pitted two cars per team against each other with two men in each car–one to drive and one to hit the ball with the mallet. Truly a “lunatic game,” it did lead to the first patented roll bar for a vehicle.
Boston Corbett is the man who shot John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, despite orders to capture Booth alive. Courtmartialed over the incident, the trigger-happy Corbett became notorious for his erratic behavior, likely caused by mercury poisoning from the years he was a hat-maker. He moved west and homesteaded in Kansas, became a street-corner preacher, and eventually was hired as a doorkeeper for the Kansas House of Representatives. When he brandished a gun inside the statehouse, the legislators committed him to the state mental asylum. Two years late, he escaped and was never found again.
Railroad executives renamed the town of Weeks, KS, after a St. Louis baseball player named Bushong in 1886 without consulting the residents. Why? Because the St. Louis Browns had won with World Series over the Chicago White Stockings that year.
Susanna Salter became the first female mayor in the United States in 1887. Nominated as a joke by the men in Argonia, KS, she was elected by a strong majority just weeks after women had been given the right to vote in Kansas city elections. She served capably but briefly, leaving office after one year and never seeking elected office again.