News Flash

City of Manhattan News

Posted on: September 28, 2020

Donor plaques installed at Johnny Kaw Plaza

photo of Johnny Kaw statue in City Park

(MANHATTAN, KS – September 28, 2020) Local legend and midwestern superhero Johnny Kaw received the final pieces of his plaza renovation last week. On Friday, September 25, two new donor plaques were installed at the base of the legendary statue in Manhattan’s City Park. The plaques pay homage to the founding team of contributors and recognize the monetary, labor, and materials donors whose generous contributions made the 2019 plaza construction possible.    

The plaza, designed by Bruce McMillan AIA Architects, P.A., was dedicated in September 2019. Friends of Johnny Kaw led a fundraising campaign raising enough money to cover the nearly $300,000 project. The 2019 upgrade was the first of its kind since the original construction in 1966. The restoration project included Repairs to the statue's body, installation of limestone steps and new railing, and the addition of a concrete viewing plaza featuring a sunflower design.

In 1955, the Legend of Johnny Kaw was born in the imagination of Kansas State professor Dr. George Filinger to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Manhattan’s founding. The 24-foot tall icon was bought to life by sketches from Mr. Elmer Tomasch, and the stories were published in the Manhattan Mercury. Emily (Haefeker) O’Neill was the original sculptor of a five-foot model that was displayed on the lawn of the Riley County Courthouse. The final model, designed by J. Cranston Heintzelman, was constructed for $7,000 out of concrete and steel to withstand the harsh Kansas winds.

According to folklore, the larger-than-life legend is said to have created the Kansas landscape. He dug out the Kansas River, subdued tornados, summoned drought-ending rains, cultivated the lands with wheat, and invented the sunflower. His pets were the mascots for Kansas State and Kansas University – a wildcat and a Jayhawk – whose constant rivalry was said to have caused the Dust Bowl.

Johnny Kaw is located in City Park at the corner of Poyntz Avenue and 11th Street. To learn more, visit the Manhattan Parks and Recreation website, or visit the Friends of Johnny Kaw Facebook page.

The mission of Manhattan Parks & Rec is to build a healthy community through people, parks, and programs. More information is available at, or by calling the Parks & Recreation office at 785-587-2757 during regular business hours. Follow Manhattan Parks & Rec on Facebook at ManhattanParksandRec or on Twitter, @ManhattanPRD.

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