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Chanute, Kansas: Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum

Martin and Osa made silent-movie adventure travelogues, and came home with trophies such as a can made from an elephant's leg.

111 N. Lincoln Ave., Chanute, KS
Downtown, at the intersection of E. Hwy 39/Elm St. and Lincoln Ave.
M-F 9 am - 4 pm, Sa-Su 12-4pm. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
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Visitor Tips and News About Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum

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Johnson Safari Museum

Pros and cons. We found this museum via the signs, which look new. The town itself is not bad (lots of animal statues around) and the museum looked huge when we parked, but it is mainly just a fraction of the second floor, as the building houses the city library and some of the museum is just rooms, offices, and a movie-viewing area. Very good if you like African masks and items, also South Seas objects.

We picked up some info and read more online after we left, and were surprised to see that the Johnsons, at least early on, were financed by an institution that was big into eugenics. Also, many of Mr. Johnson's claims were exaggerated: they weren't the first whites in that Pacific area, there were no escapes from wild cannibals, gentle gorillas were portrayed as bloodthirsty beasts, etc. The poaching for the sake of a good shot disturbed us. Osa Johnson gladly gave her name to a lion-hunting television series. I would say, visit if you like foreign/exotic objects and other cultures, but take the claims with a big dose of salt.

As for the films: they do show locales which have vastly changed, but for "exciting adventure films" they are dull. Seeing Mrs. Johnson's obvious love of wearing animal skins might freak out some kids. The museum is trying to expand in the form of projects about hiking and winter sports, so maybe the Johnson tales are wearing thin.

[Brian Templeton, 09/12/2015]

Blood brother drinking cup.

Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum

People are being a little hard on the museum here. It isn't perhaps as large as a person from a larger city might expect. but for a child growing up in Chanute in the early '60s it was interesting and, perhaps more importantly, gave me a lifelong love of museums that I might not have discovered otherwise.

[Janet, 05/28/2010]

Good point -- and there may be life-changing nuggets awaiting discovery in the Safari Museum. For example, the Blood Brother Drinking Cup, a gift from the Tsou Peoples of Formosa!

Safari camp replica.

Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum

We had to travel to Ft Leavenworth for a conference and thought we'd stop at this museum dedicated to silent film era travelogue makers Martin and Osa Johnson. It wasn't too bad -- we thought it would have been much larger. The website ( makes it look as if it's the National Archives of Adventure, but the Museum has to share the depot with the city library.

Be warned, they love adding the prefix "Safari" onto things.

There are some African masks to look at, and an almost-lifesize Safari-replica of Mr and Mrs Johnson at a camp, but we actually enjoyed the gift shop more than the museum! They carry some nice jewelry and African style animal items.

What did get under our Safari-skin was their newsletter, something with the odd name of WaitaBit News. I assume it's an inside Safari-joke. Apparently the curator of this museum went to Malaysia to help another museum, and the article written by our Safari-curator was pretty offensive. She repeatedly referred to tourists as "dumb" and "stupid."

The gift shop person was nice, though. They will show some free movies made by the Johnsons if you ask. It was an interesting diversion off the road to K.C. Plus it's apparently open seven Safari-days a week. They tell invite you to (no kidding here) "Safari on in" for a visit. Geez...

[Bob Amberson, 07/02/2005]
Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum

The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum is a very cool travel destination in a very neat old timey railroad town. I don't understand how anyone could visit it and not be inspired by the two explorers celebrated within it's walls. Yes, today the films are certainly not politically correct, but in their time they must have been amazing -- and I would say quite shocking in their approach to other peoples. Martin and Osa recorded the very first sound film in Africa; imagine, before TV, before most Americans ever ventured beyond our own shores, to sit in a movie theater and hear a gorilla beat its chest, the roar of the lion, the songs of the indigenous peoples. That alone must have inspired generations of ethnographers and zoologists and fostered a global awareness in countless others. The Johnsons did in fact have to shoot some animals; no doubt provoked when, not armed with telephoto lenses, they ventured in too close to film. But in the greater scheme of things it should be remembered the Johnsons were the very FIRST wildlife filmmakers and are credited for inventing the film genre most people adore: the wildlife documentary. The work the Johnsons did to promote environmental awareness and the acceptance of other cultures should be heralded and it's a real shame these pioneering naturalists are not given their fair credit in the history books.

[J Barnette, 12/28/2004]
Johnson Safari Museum

I saw your descriptions and hate to tell you, the museum has the dreaded, tacky Elephant Leg Can after all! Disappointing in a way. Museum displays them with pilots' helmets ready to fly off to another adventure, yet, though they had licenses, they never actually flew their planes.

Hailed as conservationists, yet angered animals to shoot them and make them appear dangerous to audiences, stuck flares in the fire of "savages" to scare them off to get photos, and actually tear-gassed some apes out of their habitat to film them. Filmed Osa shooting animals, "saving Martin's life at the last second," but a gunman was actually behind her doing the shooting.

Chanute goes Johnson Nuts every year, I was there one year, and all I could think was, "I guess a nowhere town like this has to do SOMETHING to justify its existence." Films they show are silly at best, white supremacist at worst. If shooting animals for the sake of a film is your idea of fun, don't miss it. Otherwise save your bucks for the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson.

[L Galbreath, 05/21/2004]

May 2007: Conrad Froehlich of the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum responds to L. Galbreath's comments about the Johnsons: 1) Yes, Martin and Osa as well as others did pilot their two Sikorsky amphibious planes and 2) no, they did not tear-gas gorillas. It was the need to film at close range (lacking zoom lenses in the 1920s and 30s) and high animal densities in that era that led to a few dangerous animal encounters. For protection of human life there was certainly a need to have more than one person with a rifle but Osa was indeed an exceptional marksman. And, I suppose this seems obvious, the Johnsons' movies were not made according to modern P.C. standards."

Nearby Offbeat Places

Graves of InterestGraves of Interest, Iola, KS - 17 mi.
Erie Dinosaur ParkErie Dinosaur Park, Erie, KS - 14 mi.
Norman No.1 Oil Well and MuseumNorman No.1 Oil Well and Museum, Neodesha, KS - 22 mi.
In the region:
Dalton Death Sidewalk, Coffeyville, KS - 46 mi.

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