Driving by Manhattan City Park, especially when you are new to the area, you will notice a pretty large statue. The statue is known as Johnny Kaw. For those who are fans of Paul Bunyon-like tales, Johnny Kaw's name might be familiar to you. For those who are not, Johnny Kaw is a fictional Kansas settler, created in 1955 by George Filinger.
George Filinger, a professor of horticulture at Kansas State University created Johnny Kaw to celebrate the centennial of Manhattan, Kansas! The tales of Johnny Kaw were originally printed in the local newspaper, The Manhattan Mercury. Filinger later published a book that was illustrated by another K-State professor, Elmer Tomasch.
Filinger's books told the tales of Johnny Kaw creating the river valley, the landscape of Kansas, inventing sunflowers, planting wheat, and even plowing the pioneer trails. Tales of Johnny Kaw also included how he would control the weather, from forming tornadoes to twisting the clouds so tight that the rain fell out of them and ended the drought. Of course, Johny Kaw had two pets, a Wildcat and a Jayhawk! His pets were known to fight and cause the dust storms in Kansas.
The statue comes in at 25 feet tall and is holding a scythe keeping watch over Manhattan City Park. The statue was constructed in 1966 and cost $7,000. In true fashion, all the materials and labor were donated by local citizens. They believed that the statue would establish Johhny Kaw's place as a local legend as well as be a fun attraction for those visiting the area.
In 1997, Filinger's work was republished by another Kansas author, Jerri Garretson. The book was illustrated by another KSU art instructor, Diane A. Dollar. Their work was republished in 2008 in the publication, Kansas Tall Tales.
For those who have not stopped by to see Johnny Kaw, he is located in the Southwest corner of Manhattan City Park near the splash park and playground. Even better, make a fun Saturday and grab breakfast at Little Batch and then walk over and enjoy breakfast or lunch at the park!