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Where the Glaciers Roamed

March 13th, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

Luigi’s Limoncello


While Dave and I were in Atchison to visit the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum recently, we also stopped in to take a look at Benedictine College. Our niece is planning on attending Benedictine next year, so we wanted to check it out.

The campus is near the Missouri River; enrollment is about 1,900 students. While walking around campus we heard an announcer calling a baseball game and there was activity on a soccer field.

On campus is St. Benedict’s Abbey, home of the Kansas Monks. The abbey church was empty and we found a brochure in the lobby, so we took the self-tour.

Most Catholic churches I’ve visited have been about a hundred years old, give or take, but this building has the ‘50s written all over it. Finished in 1957 and designed by Barry Byrne, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, the church has a modern and simple design with long lines and cold surfaces.

Hanging above the altar is a double crucifix. According to the brochure, “Facing the nave, his head still lifted in the last breaths of life, is Christ crucified. Facing the choir, head slumped upon his chest, is Christ in death.”

On the back wall is a 610 square-foot fresco painted by Jean Charlot in 1959, showing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (a dove) as well as other historic figures in the St. Benedict’s tradition.

The abbey has a guest house with nine rooms available. Behind the abbey is the curving Missouri River with benches along the bank.

We checked out Mary’s Grotto on campus near the library. Instead of old and rounded stones like I had expected, it is a modern grotto with sharp-edged rocks. Candles are set up inside the cave. “I’ll bet it’s pretty at night with the candles lit,” Dave said.

When it was time to head for home, we checked the map to consider the various routes. I pushed for driving through Leavenworth because I had an ulterior motive: limoncello cake.

Last spring when I attended the Kansas Sampler Festival in Leavenworth, several friends and I hit Luigi’s Italian Restaurant for dessert. There I was introduced to limoncello. I even remembered Luigi’s street address from memory, 700 Cherokee, so we set the GPS and headed south.

On Highway 73, we were traveling the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway which runs from White Cloud up north, through Atchison down to Leavenworth.

Approaching Leavenworth from the north, one of the first exits was for the U.S. Penitentiary. “I want to take a tour of the prison,” Dave said.

We exited the highway, but on the road leading to the penitentiary, signs, big ones, said, “No Trespassing,” and I’m pretty sure they meant it. So we got back on the highway and drove past the prison.

The building is an intimidating fortress with a dome in the center of the long multi-storied structure. There was a guard tower on the corner as one would expect and it sure looked like the setting of a prison movie. It didn’t seem visitor-friendly, so we kept on driving.

At Luigi’s, seated in the upstairs dining room, we ordered our limoncello. The cake and its icing were light and lemony and not overly sweet. Raspberry and chocolate sauces were swirled on the plate. Including a bit of raspberry sauce with a bite of cake made my eyes roll back into my head. So good.

Looking at the map again, we chose a route through McLouth. Marci Penner of the Kansas Explorers Club had often mentioned McLouth’s stone in the middle of the road on Granite Street. I didn’t measure it, but I’d say it is a couple feet high and maybe 4-5 feet wide. Apparently, this unmovable chunk of granite was left by a glacier and the street was built around it.

We took back roads toward the town of Perry and drove over the dam at Perry Lake. “We’re sure getting our share of curvy roads on this trip,” Dave said.

The whole day we kept commenting, “This sure would be a pretty trip to take in the spring or summer.”

If you’re looking for some steeper hills, aim your car northeast in the coming months. There will be plenty of gorgeous scenery when the color green returns to this land carved by glaciers.

Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh

churches, columns, small towns, traveling

  1. March 13th, 2012 at 12:21 | #1

    Love these vicarious roads trip with you and Dave. The prison is indeed a daunting presence, probably more so if you’re an inmate. Like Dave, I can imagine stunning architectural shots of the interior, and the exterior as well if they’d let you. Which they probably won’t.

  2. Frank Thompson
    March 13th, 2012 at 21:33 | #2

    First time I can remember seeing the rock without a beer can on it…

  3. heineken160
    March 13th, 2012 at 22:35 | #3

    Did the brochure mention Joe Ihasz? Joe is the Hungarian immigrant who carved many of the works at St. Benidict’s. I have met Joe. My brother Terry introduce us.

  4. Eleanor Browning
    March 15th, 2012 at 12:43 | #4

    I’ve never been to Atchison. I’ve always wanted to go on their “ghost” tour….And, I appreciate your article and the photographs!