The Garden of Eden

What if Adam and Eve's real sin was greed?

For years, biblical literalists have debated the location of the Garden of Eden. Some say it was north of the Persian Gulf, where the Euphrates and Tigris rivers meet. Others say it was in the Sinai desert. A California-based researcher claims it was in what's now Turkey, and he says he's got satellite pictures to prove it. Alas, they're all wrong.

The Garden of Eden is actually nestled on a quiet residential street in the small town of Lucas, Kansas. And unlike the bountiful paradise described in Genesis, it's made almost entirely of cement--more than 113 tons of it. An amalgam of traditional religious imagery and homespun Americana, this bizarre backyard tourist attraction embodies the quirky personal theology of Samuel Perry Dinsmoor-Civil War vet, farmer, Populist reformer, and feisty old coot.

When he died, in 1932 at age 89, Dinsmoor instructed that he be mummified like an Egyptian, placed in a glass-topped coffin, and put on permanent display in a mausoleum next to his strawberry beds. Any visitor who paid a dollar would be ushered in to view Dinsmoor resting in peace. "If I see them dropping a dollar in the hands of the flunky," the old man wrote, "and I see the dollar, I will give them a smile."

After 70 years of moldering in an airy coffin, Dinsmoor doesn't have enough of a face left to smile with. Which is a shame, because with the collapse of Enron, reminding us all of the limitlessness of corporate greed, Dinsmoor would have plenty to smile about.

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Dinsmoor was part of a vanishing native breed, once common on the American plains, who believed that unregulated big business is by definition bad-very bad. Dinsmoor had reason to grouse. He moved to Kansas to take up farming in the 1880s, when the federal government, in the name of promoting settlement, had allotted railroad companies enormous amounts of property. The railroads had the pick of the best land and helped themselves to stretches some 200 miles wide. That left the worst of the land for homesteaders, and many soon starved or left. State laws passed by farm voters and meant to protect local planters and consumers were nullified by the federal government, which also sanctioned the railroads' price fixing that drove farmers out.

Dinsmoor wasn't afraid to express his views on all this. In his backyard, he built a series of sculptures depicting the fallen state of man from Eden to the Golden Age. The sculptures still dwarf the two-story house at Second Street and Kansas Avenue, where Dinsmoor moved after retiring from farming.

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