International Pancake Day Hall of Fame
Liberal claims to be "Pancake Hub of the Universe." But it's not the deliciousness of its hotcakes that make them hub-worthy -- and its International Pancake Day Hall of Fame isn't really about pancakes. It's about Pancake Day.
Pancake Day arrives every Shrove Tuesday (Mardis Gras). Women in Liberal don skirts and scarves, grab skillets, and race against each other through town, flipping flapjacks as they run. It's part of an international competition with the town of Olney in Buckinghamshire, England, whose women have been running with pancakes since the late Middle Ages.
Pancake racing went global in 1950 when members of the Liberal Junior Chamber of Commerce saw a photo of the Olney race in Look magazine. "The Jaycees were all men, and they told England that their wives would be happy to run a pancake foot race against them," said Jo Ann Combs, executive secretary of the museum. "A lot of those men had to eat baloney sandwiches for many nights after that."
You'd think that an idea like a Pancake Day race would fall flat as a you-know-what. Yet the women of Liberal grew to embrace it. Jo Ann said that the race attracts between 10 and 16 competitors each year ("It depends on the weather.") and all of them have to be Liberal citizens -- no ringers from Kenya. The two towns call each other after the race to see whose winner had the best time. Over the years Liberal has built a significant lead.
Jo Ann pulled out one of many large scrapbooks in the Hall of Fame and flipped it open. "The Amazing Story of Pancake Day" was hand-written on its first page, along with signatures of the original Jaycees and a clipping of the Look magazine article that started it all. "There's a lot of history here," said Jo Ann, and indeed it seems like it would take a scholar years to sift through all of the material.
The Hall displays saucy and amusing pancake-cheesecake shots of young women in bathing suits, and photos of 1960s celebrities such as Jose Jimenez and Staff Sgt Barry Sadler ("Ballad of the Green Berets") who made pilgrimages to Pancake Day.
Exhibits include a dress made for the 1955 winner, a "History of Pancake Day" vinyl record, souvenir buttons and programs, and the apron and engraved skillet from the very first champion on February 21, 1950, along with her prize, a pressure cooker.
A large stack of fake pancakes, used to mark the starting point of the race, is chained to the museum's front steps for safe-keeping.
We asked Jo Ann if she had ever run the pancake gauntlet herself and she laughed, saying that her health had kept her on the sidelines. But it's clear that hundreds of Liberal women have risen to the challenge, documented in Hall of Fame photos of chilly-looking girls in head scarves, aprons, and sensible shoes, skillets at the ready; and of ladies at full throttle crossing the finish line while perplexed state troopers keep the cheering crowds at bay.