By Randy Gonzales, Special to Hays Daily News
The historical markers in downtown Hays are getting a bath, of sorts.
About 30 plaques included in a walking brochure handed out by the Ellis County Historical Society and Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau started receiving a scrubbing on Thursday.
The difference was like night and day.
The bronze markers, previously difficult to read, were transformed into bright, shiny plaques filled with informative facts about the wild, early history of the city.
CVB director Melissa Dixon first got the idea to clean the markers in 2017 when she saw a screening of “A Quiet America,” a 1976 documentary about life in Hays. She saw a marker displayed in the film, and it was bright and easy to read. She then started checking into how to clean the plaques.
One marker was initially cleaned about a year ago as a test and to give ECHS, which owned them, an idea of what the finished product would look like.
That eventually led to Thursday morning, with Toby Flores and Danielle Robinson starting the task of cleaning the plaques. Flores, an associate professor of sculpture, and Robinson, an instructor in the art and design department at Fort Hays State University, were familiar working with bronze.
“We pour bronze all the time at the university,” Flores said. “Danielle and I have made a lot of sculptures around town.”
Flores said he hoped the plaques will now be cleaned on an annual basis. It is uncertain exactly when the plaques were first installed, likely the mid-1970s, but they had not been cleaned in about 20 years.
“It’s been a long time since they’ve done anything,” Flores said. “They’re kind of bad right now. After we get done with them this year, the yearly maintenance will hardly be anything at all. The problem comes when they’re neglected for a long time.”
The restored markers will be the centerpiece of an updated walking tour brochure that the CVB will put out, and also used by ECHS. There will be historical photos of the sites next to a diagram for the location of the plaques around downtown.
“It’s a popular brochure,” said Katie Annett, interim ECHS director. “I’m excited about it. To be able to stand in those locations and see those photos of what it looked like then is really neat.”
Willie Pfeifer said he was ECHS board president when the markers were installed. Fr. Blaine Burkey provided the information for the bronze markers, which were made in Oklahoma City.
“It’s the best thing we’ve got to sell in Hays, America — our history,” Pfeifer said. “It’s a very good tourist attraction.”
Flores said he has received a history lesson while restoring the markers.
“The history of Hays is really wild,” he said. “I’ve never taken the walking tour myself, so getting a little bit of time with the plaques and getting to read them has been pretty rewarding.”
Flores said it takes about an hour and a half to finish a plaque. The cost for restoration is $60 per marker, with funding coming out of the CVB budget.
Dixon has shown pictures of the restored markers, and the reaction has been positive.
“They’re phenomenal,” Dixon said of the new-look markers. “I showed the photos to a few people and everybody’s reaction is the same — their jaws drop.”