The ARGO: guide to snuffing out Topeka’s ghost town reputation

Leah Sewell

nce, while at a train crossing waiting for freight to snake by on the north side of town, I witnessed a tumbleweed roll its way across what used to be a busy avenue. The words ghost town crossed my mind and for an instant I was caught in a disturbing fantasy in which I was indeed in an abandoned place where the only movement was the rushing Santa Fe train. Everyone who had lived in this place had given up all their hopes about its worth. Storefronts shuttered and boarded. Signs of life nowhere to be found. But then I snapped out of it: Wait a second — I’m in Topeka, the capital of Kansas, with a population over 120,000.

?Let us wage war against the tumbleweeds.

?The railroad crossing where I first discovered that tumbleweeds do, in fact, exist in Topeka is located on North Kansas Avenue, once a bustling strip of thriving stores and gathering places. The flood of ’51 put an end to all that. Business owners fled to the south downtown, once referred to as “uptown” (according to an amiable old man that used to pass his time at Tucker’s). Time chugged on, business lagged and small business people moved west. Or they disappeared altogether, making way for big chain business. And for the tumbleweeds, of course. These slowly migrated to the vacated areas of our town.

?The name of this publication derives from the 1890’s at Washburn, when a monthly insert magazine, the ARGO, originally appeared. Although the times were bleak (it was the Victorian Age, and women still wore corsets), the residents held hope for the future of Topeka. Now the streets that those residents built are less frequented than the concrete strips of the far west and south. 7,000 plus students at Washburn find themselves with few options for entertainment and the tumbleweeds are seemingly taking over.

?I say we wage war.

?The ARGO, I hope, will be a hidden weapon. Within its pages, you will find numerous responses to the question, “What is there to do in this town?” The always busy and entertained A&E writers will scour Topeka in search of diversions. Information about upcoming events in art and music will be at the fingertips of all readers.

?I’ve had a gradual realization since writing for The Washburn Review’s A&E section: you must work with what you’re given. Topeka’s culture may not be easily identifiable, and it may not be centralized as in Lawrence or Kansas City, but it is out there. The ARGO staff seeks to make Topeka’s culture more visible. ?

?For the time being, we recognize that many Topekans, and Washburn students in particular, frequently travel the 20-minute drive to Lawrence to seek out the centralized, easily accesible scene. This is why we present, in the pages of this first issue of The ARGO, some information about happenings in Lawrence. Sometimes it is nice to get out of town, and we are privileged to have a town nearby serving as an example of what we wish to achieve in our own city.

?We want poetry readings, live music, art shows, good food, bookstores, theatre, festivals, museums and home-grown entertainment. Home-grown being the key phrase. And to some extent we already have these things.

?Our first tactic should be to show our support for what is already available to us. Let the staff of The Washburn Review and The ARGO show you where to start.

?It is my hope that monthly The ARGO will be a resource, a guide if you will, to fending off Topeka’s resemblence to a ghost town.

?And signs of life? Let them be found everywhere.