Fun fact: the Wizard of Oz movie was released in theaters nationwide 76 years ago today on August 25, 1939. Although it was only a modest success at the box office when it was initially released, the movie had staying power and its popularity continued to grow—much to the chagrin of native and adopted Kansans alike, who grow weary of the constant refrain of jokes.
“Toto, you’re not in Kansas anymore!”
“Click your heels together.”
“Where are your ruby slippers?”
Although the movie’s classic lines have often frayed the nerves of countless Jayhawks everywhere—especially when used as fodder on signs created by fans of whatever team the Jayhawks happen to be playing—the joy this bird has brought to hundreds of children and their families is worth it.
This Wizard of Oz-themed Jayhawk, named “Lions and Tigers and Hawks, Oh My!” and perched at Hilltop Child Development Center on the KU campus, was part of Jayhawks on Parade, a 2003 collaboration between the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Lawrence, Inc., the University of Kansas and the Alumni Association. Thirty fiberglass birds, each attached to an 800-pound concrete base, were transformed by 35 artists into creative renderings of the Jayhawk.
Hilltop’s bird, created by Doug Barth and Amanda Warren and sponsored by KU Endowment, combines the characters from the movie and sports the Tin Man’s funnel hat, the Cowardly Lion’s mane, the straw fringe of the Scarecrow and Dorothy’s ruby red slippers. The famous yellow brick road is depicted on the Jayhawk’s beak, and a heart-shaped locket is chained to its chest.
Twelve years later the birds have flown their original nests, but many can still be found around Lawrence. I think we all agree: there’s no place like home.
Planning is underway for a complete reconstruction of Memorial Drive, to begin in summer 2016 and continuing the following two summers. The project will replicate improvements made the past three summers to Jayhawk Boulevard, including subsurface utilities, new concrete road surface and sidewalks, and improved LED lighting, with crimson and blue banners adorning the lamp posts.
Campus planners also hope to use the project as an opportunity to move “The Victory Eagle” statue now perched in front of Dyche Hall to Memorial Drive, where it would join the parade of other memorials to KU’s 20th-century war casualties.
The bronze statue, a World War I memorial depicting a female bald eagle defending her nesting eaglets, was part of a national campaign to place replicas of the statue at every county line along U.S. Highway 40, then a primary transcontinental highway. The statue placed at the Douglas-Leavenworth county line was dedicated in 1929, but, as interstate highways overtook their two-lane counterparts in primacy, “The Victory Eagle” became overlooked and, in 1980, was vandalized and knocked off its pedestal.
Tom Swearingen, g’60, then director of exhibits for KU’s Natural History Museum, secured the statue for KU, and it was rededicated on Mount Oread in 1982. Now University Architect Jim Modig, a’73, is eager to see the inspiring work of art find its final, permanent home on Memorial Drive, likely between the Campanile and Korean War Memorial.
“It’s a war memorial,” Modig says, “and it would be great to get it down there with the other memorials and treat it with respect that way.”
Memorial Drive reconstruction is budgeted at about $6 million. Like the Jayhawk Boulevard project, public funds will be used for the utilities, road surface, sidewalks and lighting, and private donations will fund landscaping improvements.
The final stretch of Jayhawk Boulevard improvements had originally been scheduled for completion in summer 2016. It is now scheduled for 2017.
A significant change created by this summer’s work was replacement and repositioning of the boulevard’s north traffic booth. Originally situated at 13th Street, in front of the Kansas Union, the booth was first moved one block south, to 14th Street; that change allowed for easier public access to the Natural History Museum in Dyche Hall, but still restricted daytime access to Danforth Chapel and Lilac Lane.
A significantly smaller booth, which no longer dominates the streetscape as did the previous island, has been moved west of Lilac Lane, allowing for public access to Danforth Chapel, Watkins and Miller scholarship halls, the east lot of Fraser Hall, and Blake and Twente halls.
A KU icon passed away this week, though many alumni might have missed it. If they’re not familiar with his name, they definitely know his work.
Professor Emeritus Elden Tefft, f’49, g’50, left his mark on campus by creating one of the most beloved (and photographed) sculptures on Jayhawk Boulevard: “Academic Jay” in front of Strong Hall.
His other works are equally notable, including the bronze “Moses” kneeling before the stained-glass depiction of the burning bush at Smith Hall, as featured in the university’s official seal. But the Strong Hall Jayhawk is much more meaningful to me, for very personal reasons.
For starters, Tefft’s Jayhawk was a gift of the Class of 1956. My father, Don Johnston, b’56, l’66, was a member of that class and took great pride in it. When his classmates celebrated their their 50th reunion, small paperweight versions were commissioned as commemorative gifts for attendees (pictured).
The ’56 Jayhawk, as I came to know it, has always been the symbolic (if not the geographic) center of KU. That was definitely the case in 1988, when KU’s improbable run to the NCAA Championship featured impromptu celebrations that flooded Wescoe Beach, with the ’56 Jay surveying the scene. I remember racing to campus after KU knocked off Duke to advance to the title game, where I climbed the base of the ’56 Jay, taking in the celebration from the Jayhawk’s lofty granite perch.
I returned to the base of statue ten years later, surprising my KU sweetheart as she took a seat, and I got down on one knee. We were engaged under the watchful eye of the ’56 Jayhawk, like so many others who have celebrated significant milestones with Tefft’s iconic creation.
Perhaps it is fitting that as we celebrate the life and contributions of Elden Tefft this month, the KU Alumni Association’s 2015 calendar features his ’56 Jayhawk for February. Photographed by Chris Lazzarino, it watches over campus with a timeless look and its signature half-smile, focusing its gaze toward the horizon, towering toward the blue.
See a collection of photos from Elden Tefft’s work on iconic KU landmarks on the University of Kansas’ Flickr page. Do you have a memory or special photo with Elden Tefft’s iconic KU landmark? Share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.