Sunday, July 8, 2018
COOLIDGE, Kan. -- An innkeeper, a Swiss banker and a journalist walk into a restaurant here in Coolidge.
That's not the lead-up to some oddball joke -- that's just what happened last month in this little town near the Colorado state line.
Way out in far western Kansas -- that little sliver of the state in Mountain Time Zone -- Coolidge has become a quaint stop for westward travelers, thanks to the determination of a few locals.
Coolidge is one of those towns you can drive through in less than a minute.
Its streets are gravel, and the phone booth on its main street is filled with tumbleweeds.
It also bears the distinction of being perhaps the only town in Kansas that has an opera house but no churches.
If you're thinking you've heard of the place before, you probably have: Coolidge is the hometown of Cousin Eddie from the National Lampoon movies.
Coolidge (with fictitious mountains in the distance) makes a few appearances in the films, most notably in the original National Lampoon's Vacation.
And if you've seen the movies, you know it's not exactly the kindest portrayal of rural Kansas -- where Cousin Eddie farms for worms and cooks Hamburger Helper without the hamburger.
But Lori Lennen is on a mission to make Coolidge cool.
As the owner of the Trail City Bed and Breakfast -- one of a handful of businesses in town -- she moved back to Coolidge almost a decade ago to help settle her ailing father's affairs. The family, who had been in Coolidge since the 1800s, owned multiple historic buildings in town that were slated for demolition.
But Lennen decided she wanted to stay in Coolidge and preserve the town -- which was proclaimed a "ghost town" by the Hutchinson News years ago.
"I didn't think I would ever come back, but I just ended up falling in love with being home, the area, the big sky," she said. "It's just wonderful."
Now she owns a good bit of real estate in town -- including a building right off the highway (U.S. 50) dubbed Cousin Eddie's Visitor Center.
If Cousin Eddie's embraces the "Hicksville, U.S.A." persona the movie portrays, Lennen's Trail City Bed and Breakfast (trailcitybb.com) should do the opposite.
Lennen in May finished construction on two posh log cabins as the latest addition to her four-room B&B. They have all-new kitchen appliances, a 55-inch flat-screen TV as well as a California king bed on the ground floor and a queen bed in the loft bedroom.
On a recent stay -- during what Lennen described as a "slow" month -- a Wichita Eagle reporter shared company with a few businessmen doing work in the area as well as a Swiss banker about to set off on a rural American vacation.
There are currently 99 souls living in Coolidge, according to Lennen.
The log cabins themselves are the nicest lodging in town -- likely the nicest within miles -- and Lennen said she got the idea from Airbnb, which claims log cabins are among the most popular lodging options on its service.
The best part: There's little to no traffic after dark, and stargazers can sit on a rocking chair or patio table and count the constellations.
Travel on 07/08/2018
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