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"Flatland" Road Trip: America's Heartland

A fortnight trip to the American heartland – self-titled the flatlands, but really a broad expanse of the central United States that is more rolling hills covered with cornfields on one side, and fields of beans on the other, with stands of trees and distant farms. A rental Nissan Versa covered 3,088 miles at 41.4 mpg, the starting and ending point was MCI, the Kansas City International Airport. Visits to 45 cathedrals to capture the outsides, with about half

being open for interior photographs. I drove in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota (first time!), Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Preparing mentally for writing this narrative, I had two approaches: to report on the cathedrals by state, or to write a chronological trip report. Since the format of the Cathedrals to the Glory of God is the former, and historically I’ve presented my musings with the latter approach, with the sections of my report being copies to and shared on my blog, I decided against change and will write this as a day-to-day “expedition”. (After all, some of my journey followed the trail of Lewis and Clark, while I also toured along the Chisholm Trail, the old Route 66, the Mormon Trail, and even the Lincoln Highway that was used in my grade school geography text to teach transcontinental locations.)

Deciding to chance Delta Airlines, and having enough frequent flyer miles to get a coach round trip, I booked flights at the start of Memorial Day weekend to fly out on Independence Day from the local Sarasota airport through Atlanta to Kansas City. Three days later, Delta advised that my midday return flight had been cancelled and I’d have an earlier start to my return to Florida. Three weeks after that, they announced another cancellation, this time the connecting outbound leg to MCI with a rebooked flight three hours later. This all did not bode well, particularly since I was unable to get a seat assignment on this new booking.

Still, I was up, packed and ready to go for my 7:05 flight from Sarasota-Bradenton, where my former neighbor and driver extraordinaire Nancy delivered me well ahead of time. In Atlanta with a four-hour layover, at an hour before departure the board announced that the flight had been cancelled. Checking the website, I found I’d been booked on two new flights – first to JFK in New York, and then continuing on a second flight to Kansas City, arriving at 8pm Central, only 5 hours later. But when I got to New York, the concluding flight had been delayed until the next morning at 7am. I queued up and got room and meal vouchers, and joined up with a KC-based couple Roderick and Alethia to Uber to the Five Towns Inn in Lawrence, NY. After settling in, we walked across and down the Rockaway Highway out front to the local Applebee’s where I had a chicken and shrimp grill. The restaurant wasn’t able to use the $15 meal voucher (surprise!)

Tuesday morning the 5am shuttles were loaded up and delivered us to the airport where we collected boarding passes, passed through a slow, crowded TSA and had a very long walk to the gate. On my way I used that meal voucher at Peet’s to get a banana, coffee and a bottle of water. Our flight was about one third capacity, so the crew moved us all up to Comfort. At least this leg wasn’t a horror. The prior evening I’d had to contact both the prepaid hotel in KC and the prepaid car rental to ensure that I would be arriving and intended to use them. Because I’d booked this through my timeshare travel agency (Vida Lifestyles), I also had to get them involved. With my luggage in hand, first I collected a Nissan Versa and drove to the Rodeway Inn, dropping my gear.

Finally, I was able to start my quest. Per my research, I had 4 locations to visit. Heading first towards downtown, I aimed at the Catholic cathedral, but encountered Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral first. Pulling into their parking lot, my immediate impression was that with the trees and the placement over the much lower West 14th Street, an exterior shot to include the tower would be a challenge. Plus, bright clear midday skies revealed a brilliant sun.

Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City, MO

A crew was cleaning rugs in the parish hall, and the rest of the campus seemed to be locked. I was fortunate that Canon Ryan Wiksell was preparing his sermon, and allowed me to enter and get my photographs after a bit of a tour. He sat off to the side on his phone while I wandered. First impression, I really liked the fact that the inner walls were stone, rather than plaster. The vault in the nave showed exposed wooden beams, all dark, with hanging lights as well as down spots lighting the pews. At the west entry, a magnificent pipe organ filled half the choir loft, including (my favorite) “trumpet” pipes. Stained-glass filled the arched windows with what looked like Tiffany Studio style designs, but, per the Walking Tour brochure of the eighteen windows, came from many locations, both domestic and overseas.

Also catching my eye was the rood screen above the altar rail and entry into the chancel. From the back of the church and against the dark space over the altar table, it looked like an array of stars. A Tiffany Studio design, this metalwork pulls the eye to the three-panel carved and gilded reredos sitting behind the open altar table. Outside and to the north of the sanctuary is a beautiful carving of the Last Supper, backing the baptismal font. A small chapel sits opposite.

Elated by the beauty and serenity of this mid-sized cathedral, I was sent out with the suggestion to walk back to my car (which I was allowed to leave in the lot) across a plaza, as the Roman Catholic cathedral was two blocks to the north. Walking Washington Street, I passed a sizeable garage and came to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Kansas City, MO

I’d seen the gold-topped dome from Grace, but decided to enter before attempting outside shots. With a stunningly blue vault, the carved sandstone altar sits at the south end of the space on a raised circular predella of polished marble. Soft white fluted Corinthian columns with gold-touched capitals run from the loft to the entry into a modern chapel. The baptismal font is designed to allow for full immersion, and sits to the west. A brilliant fireball of a rose window rises above the sanctuary, best seen from the choir loft.

An element which recalled my visit to St Jude’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Florida was the Adoration chapel. Here sits a large gold tabernacle for the reserved sacrament, a space for quiet contemplation. A grillwork with a circular opening permits a view from the nave. There are some beautiful stained-glass windows lining the auditorium, but the intense purple of the windows in this space I found unique. After sitting and reading the guide, I was encouraged to stay for midday Mass, which was offered in the south chapel. A modern space of blond wood, the Mass was brief with about a dozen attending. Before leaving, I returned to a side chapel where what I thought was a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe turned out to be a 3-dimensional sculpture “Mother of the Universe”. Outside shots were easy, but including the north main entrance with the sun in its noon position and mature trees had me moving on and off the street.

As I returned to the car, I spotted the four pylons that are beyond the Bartle Hall Convention Center, which I took to be an old reused train depot. As I walked the plaza as earlier suggested, the rail car used by President Harry Truman sat on tracks under cover. Downtown Kansas City, Missouri impressed me with its cleanliness and attention to its heritage.

My next two stops were outside town and in opposite directions. I needed to head north to Liberty to see St James the Greater Anglican Cathedral, a red-brick, single spire church in a suburban neighborhood. The red doors typical of the Episcopal churches were locked, and I was limited to external shots. The leaded glass in the entry windows announced this the seat of the Diocese of the Holy Trinity and Great Plains. The two websites show that this is a church of C.S. Lewis, and a member of the Anglican Rite Catholic Church.

St James the Greater Anglican Cathedral, Liberty, MO

Barker Memorial Cathedral of Praise, Kansas City, MO

Onward, I headed south to Barker Memorial Cathedral of Praise, well outside the urban boundary, I found the campus along a tree-lined road of rolling hills and homes on acreage, set back behind a chain-link fence. The single-story brick building is one of several structures. As I approached from my parked car, a gentleman asked from his car as to my purpose. He allowed me a few minutes to take my photos before following me out and locking the gate. A multi-passenger van indicated this cathedral is a member of COGIC, the Church of God in Christ. I suspect both St James and Barker Memorial are black-oriented churches.

Having accomplished my “rounds”, I headed back to the hotel. I put my feet up and plowed through email, including a dialog with my friend Marianna, who might join me in December for a quick 4-day cruise. I had received an inbound phone message from a Mexican number (no message), and realized that I’d not forwarded the phone associated with the book to the phone I was carrying. A lengthy call to T-mobile rectified that. My stomach then rumbled, and I checked “Dining for Miles” and headed to Gates Bar-B-Que. Ordering sausage and cheese chili fries with a beer, I found the sausage cool and tough, but the fries were sinfully good. This establishment appears to be black owned and run, and did brisk take-away business.

Back to the hotel, I backed up my photos. (Yes, I’ve learned to do this daily: after replacing 3 cameras and losing all the photos, I have copies in two other places.) WiFi at the hotel was weak, so after finishing email, I read on the reader and crashed for the night.

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Stunning photographs as always! Do you have any hope of smoother flight connections in the future?

KB Cook
KB Cook
Jul 21, 2022
Replying to

Susan, I will always expect and hope that the transportation industry will improve its services. In the meantime, I will just have to roll with whatever they throw at me.

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