Column: Downtown plaque history revisited

Fr. Blaine Burkey, O.F.M.Cap.
Hays Daily News

It was quite exciting to learn of current enthusiasm in seeing that the 46-year-old Hays City series of historic plaques is now at its best appearance. Congratulations to all those involved in that accomplishment.

I hope you'll let me join you in revisiting the plaques' history. The placing of the original 26 plaques in 1974 were entirely the work of the Ellis County Historical Society.

Leo Dorzweiler and about eight others of us had not yet founded the Volga-German Society of Ellis and Rush Counties. We brought that group together shortly thereafter to prepare for the glorious Centennial of the Volga-German Immigration in 1976.

During the historical society's second organizational meeting, in 1971, the suggestion first arose that we should prepare cardboard placards featuring various historic sites and ask the various downtown businesses to put them in their window displays. At some point, I'd have to research the date, I agreed to write such a series, but said I would not do it for cardboard placards which would quickly disappear whenever it was time for a new window display. I wanted something more permanent, but had no idea where that would go.

This very well may have led to a project of the Hays Daily News, which published on about 20 successive Sundays full-page articles which I wrote on the early history of Hays, a series they named "Old Hays City."

Meanwhile Adolph Reisig, one of the founders of the ECHS, went to the city commission and convinced them to finance a series of bronze historical markers. Willie Pfeifer chaired the committee which supervised the physical construction and erection of the plaques. A.R.K. Foundry of Oklahoma City did the actual casting, State Glass Co. of Hays encased and installed the markers, and I wrote the text of all of them, and had the Kansas State Historical Society certify their wording.

The 27th marker on the Volga-Germans (at 13th & Fort) was added to the series at a much later date, and I suspect it was funded by the Volga-German Society.

I was sorry to hear the marker from Hangman's Bridge has disappeared. It's ironic that we first hear about its theft in the midst of the Black Lives Matter period of our national history, since it was clearly a set-in-bronze admission of our racist past. Taking the plaque away, however, in no way removes what happened there.

Fr. Blaine Burkey, Denver, is archivist and communication consultant for the Capuchin Franciscans.