BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. — Southeast Kansas many not be the first place that comes to mind regarding world records, but the area does have an interesting past that’s rich in history. And where interesting things happen — there’s a good chance you’ll find someone or something worthy of a world record.
In this case, it happens to be something — and you’ll find it in the small town of Baxter Springs, where the city’s total population is less than 4,000. Despite the town’s size, it’s the home of an impressive world record creation, and one of the largest local history collections in the Four States. Taking you on a journey through the past is one of the primary jobs of the folks at the “Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum,” which includes Mary Billington, the museum’s director.
“We’re pretty proud of the fact that we can collect oddity things that hold places of record. I think it speaks to the diversity of the area, and our residents, and the fact that we don’t just sit around — we do stuff,” said Billington.
The 20,000 square foot facility is packed with two stories of historical exhibits, priceless artifacts, and unique hand-made items — like the one currently on display that was recently given a world record title.
According to the World Record Academy, the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum is home to the “World’s longest hand carved wooden chain.” The giant wooden chain was carved by the late James Porter. It was given to the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum by Porter’s family. The World Record Academy claims the wood chain measures 1,145 feet in length, or nearly a 1/4 of a mile. It’s as tall as a 95 story skyscraper, or 3-1/2 football fields.
“It’s carved from Basswood, which is kind of unique in the fact that it’s a softer wood that’s easier for carving, and it carries a beautiful color. The gentleman who carved it was a local resident. He lived here in this area his entire life, and worked for Empire District forever and a day, and this was his hobby. He carved this chain, and carved this chain, and carved this chain, and then some,” said Billington.
The giant wood chain is located on the museum’s 1st floor, and is hung vertically along a display wall. The entire chain consists of individually carved links. The World Record Academy says Porter whittled out the chain from one single log.
“From what I understand, James sat on his porch and just carved, and carved, and carved,” said Billington.
Because of its uniqueness, Porter’s wood carving is listed in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” Ripley’s did ask Porter if they could buy the chain, but he refused. Porter also made an appearance on the “Tonight Show” when it was hosted by Johnny Carson.
“He spent 22 minutes talking with Johnny Carson, which is just unheard of, you know, for one guest to spend that much time on the Tonight Show. But Johnny Carson was very enamored, not only with his hobby of wood carving, but with him. Mr. Porter was quite the character,” said Billington.
James Porter — a lifelong resident of the Galena area — passed away in 1994, at the age of 74. His chain, though, continues to live on.
“This wooden chain — this display — it’s a tribute to the heritage that this museum encompasses, and the legacies it leaves from so many of local craftsmen and areas shopkeepers. It’s a symbol of the evolution of history through Cherokee County,” said Billington.
Even though the World Record Academy gives the title of “World’s longest hand carved wooden chain” to James Porter’s creation, Guinness World Records disagrees. They claim the world record for the longest wooden chain goes to Peter Gwerder of Switzerland. Guinness says Gwerder made the chain from one single piece of wood, and measures 835 feet, 7 inches in length. The carving was completed on July 12, 2012.
According to the Guinness World Record website, Gwerder’s chain is composed of 1,506 wooden rings. The original spruce tree trunk which the chain is made of, measured just over 111 feet.”
Regardless of which chain is the true world record holder — what really matters, Billington claims, is the fact that the carving has become a special and important part of local history.
“The travelers that come through, just love it. They love how quirky, and charming, and unique it is. It reminds them of their own history, and brings back that memory of seeing someone in their family that used to carve. It just brings out the charm which is what tourism reveals,” said Billington.