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It's back to Eden in Lucas


LUCAS -- For all practical purposes, the Garden of Eden in Lucas once again is the people's garden.

An open house for the cleaned and repaired vision and flat-out hard work of Civil War veteran Samuel P. Dinsmoor is set for 1 to 4 p.m. today under the big top adjacent to the Garden.

It's a way to thank the community for its support as well as welcome back members of the Kohler Foundation, based in Kohler, Wis., and its restoration team.

Last year, the foundation purchased the iconic Garden of Eden, sending in a team of people to restore and repair the unusual mix of concrete statues.

That team will be back, said Lucas artist and Garden neighbor Erika Nelson, to give the statues a protective coating. They'll have to clean off a fresh coating of bird droppings before the coating can be applied.

One of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art, the Garden of Eden was first started by Dinsmoor in 1907. He worked on it for 22 years, using more than 100 tons of cement to fashion a mix of sculptures -- including the iconic Adam and Eve.

Although he died in 1932, before completing the entire project, he's buried in a mausoleum he built. His remains still can be seen through the glass.

As promised, the Kohler Foundation has given Eden to a newly created non-profit group, the Friends of S.P. Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden.

Nelson and Doug Hickman serve on the board, as do two people with connections to the University of Kansas.

"That's our core board right now," Nelson said. "We'll probably expand in the future."

The oral agreement, she said, is that regardless of the size of the board, half of its members will be Lucas residents.

No matter. It is, after all, the community's garden once again.

The board's non-profit status might not mean a whole lot, but it will allow a "truer" message to come out.

"There might be a psychological difference," she said.

Its place in the community -- a focal point of the community -- will not change in that it will still pay taxes.

It could, however, let Eden apply for grants to help with improvements and any future restoration projects.

The Kohler Foundation already has said it might be willing to step forward and help if the need arises.

And fees charged to tourists should cover all of the costs.

That's the way it's been since Wayne Naegele first purchased and opened the Garden back in the '50s, but there was never enough to cover reconstruction costs. With the Kohler Foundation's help, that's been taken care of.

The Kohler crew's return will give them a chance to renew friendships made during their stay here last summer.

"They lived here for four to five months," Nelson said.

She's still amazed at the transformation of the garden.

"Everything was grey," Nelson said of the concrete. "When it was cleaned, all the colors came out."

They were colors put there by Dinsmoor himself, including rouge on cheeks or spots on knees as if a statue had been kneeling.

"Not lost," Nelson said. "Just hidden for a very long time."

And as for Dinsmoor himself?

"We did not touch Dinsmoor's body," Nelson said of the restoration project. "He's still there. He's still there greeting visitors."