‘Emerging From the Ashes’ shows Topeka’s history through the lens of disaster and sacrifice

A smaller version of a memorial to honor all firefighters that died in the line of action to be built on the Topeka Capital campus. 

For 150 years, Topeka has grown as a community through national disasters, tornados and fires; and now the Great Overland Station is exhibiting the great men and women who have sacrificed their lives to protect their great city.

Within this exhibit there are two helmets showing the deterioration of wear overtime and the original helmet. There is also a medal that was bought for the first fire chief, George O. Wilmarth, that was passed on to Fire Chief William J. Cawker, and from there on to Fire Chief Benjamin F. Neil Jr., whose son is still currently serving on the Topeka Fire Department. Also on display are all the honors earned by Donald J. Gleason, in total over 46 honors. They have these glass grenade-style extinguishers that people would keep in their attics that would explode when they got too hot. They’re not used today due to Carbon Tetrachloride being extremely dangerous and cancerous.  There is a plaque that shows the fire from Rice Hall, a resident hall on Washburn University, on December 6, 1907, caused by an overheated stove. The damages estimated at $31,000 which is what it cost to build in 1874.

Sarah House, a tour guide for the Great Overland Station, explained that they are building a memorial for all the firefighters that have died in the line of service. The appearance has the same template as the Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima statue. This memorial is to be built on the same campus ground where Rice Hall burned down.

“In this exhibit you will see many pieces of firefighter equipment used in various eras. We owe each of these courageous men and women our deepest gratitude and the highest respect for the service they provided to our community each and every day. This exhibit also presents some of the significant fires during the last 160 years, in most cases the building damaged by fire has “emerged from the Ashes” to be reborn with a new spirit of commitment and energy. The people of Kansas and Topeka are resilient thought fires, floods, and tornados. They live out the Kansas Motto, ‘Per Aspera Ad Astra’, To the stars through difficulties.” -Beth Fager, Campaign Director of the Great Overland Station. House recommended that Washburn students come see the exhibit to get a feel of the town and its great history that made Topeka who is it today.

The “Emerging from the Ashes” exhibit will be on display from Aug. 25 through Sept. 26th Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-4pm at The Great Overland Station at 701 N. Kansas Ave. in North Topeka. The cost is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors (62+), $2 for children (3-12) and children under two are free. Contact Sarah House at 785-232-5533, ext. 13 or go to www.greatoverlandstation.com for more information.