Monday, April 6, 2020

What Wasn't In The Obituary?

Courtesy of Crown Realty
Share your Local House Histories
(Even Contemporary House Histories are Fascinating)

In a time when the world seems to be at a standstill, historical research has boomed. And since I research historical topics as a family and forensic genealogist and contemporary subjects as a Private Investigator the chance to delve into some quirky Kansas happenings was a breath of fresh air. Especially when that fresh air housed man-made scuba diving tunnels.

In the month of March, the a3Gen team has unearthed house and land histories in Johnson County Kansas, Dodge County Kansas, and Jackson County Missouri for clients but most aren't this picturesque. So below I put eight tips to ferreting out house histories:

8 Tips to Start House History Research
  1. Obituaries
  2. Newspapers
  3. Who were the architecture and the builders
  4. Trade Magazines
  5. Land Deeds / Court Recorder Office be sure to pull contractor permits
  6. Zoning Records
  7. County and National Historical Record Applications (if applicable)
  8. Present and Past owners (if applicable)
The Spirit of Avalon
Yes, one of the houses we researched, was noted for its scuba diving tunnels. Yes, in Kansas! Thanks to Dennis Langley, the founder and CEO of the Kansas Pipeline Operating Company, a 17,755 square foot castle-of-a-house, that I believe is still on the market, was built. Langley's life story is well known in the Washington, DC and Kansas circles. His rise from Hutchinson Kansas Community College (the same community college my mother attended) to Senator Joe Biden's "Chief Speechwriter," to his political influence especially in the state of Kansas to his CEO position is all outlined in his 2017 obituary. Read his obituary here.

Actually, as a Kansas know-it-all, I knew quite a lot about Langley so the only real surprising bit was the family's suggestion of memorial donations to be made to the United Aid Foundation to help orphaned children in Romania. This tie needs to be researched a bit more. But what was most surprising was what was not in the obituary.

What Wasn't In The Obituary
When you are researching the man who built the most lavish and unique castle-like home in your home state, you really don't know what you will find. (Yes, I live in Kansas City, MO now, but my family roots since 1880's is in central/western Kansas). But it's what I didn't find in Langley's obituary that was a bit surprising.

"The Spirit of Avalon," (think King Arthur) the name given to his home, was mentioned only once in his obituary. This legendary home built in 1993 and completed with tunnels in 2000 is estimated to have cost about $30 million. Yet, it was slightly mentioned in the obituary as the future location of "a celebration of his life and friendships." Langley's estate was also mentioned when referring to his favorite past-time which was apparently "pruning his [own] trees." Unfortunately, Langley succumbed to complications from a fatal fall while pruning.

The issue is, we know, or maybe just suspected, that this man had an even bigger passion. The one not mentioned in his obituary. Scuba diving! At minimum he was a well known scuba diving enthusiast.

Sure, you can overlook the size of the house, the requisite tower as every respectable castle should have, or the 15 bronze statues. You can even downplay the hand carved dragon doors, where the dragons have different colored eyes. But the scuba diving tunnels? That's how I learned of Langley years back. Why wasn't his dedication to scuba mentioned?

Scuba-diving grotto
The main residence and guesthouse were originally built in 1993 by Dennis Langley, who worked in the natural gas business and was a scuba enthusiast. Over a three-year period, he added a series of water-filled tunnels that extended below the house, into the mountain, and around the property, accessed by a series of pop-up holes and grottoes so that divers could enter and exit at various points. (Article: New Haven Register)

Visit this Kansas home here: Dive Into This $11.8M Kansas Megamansion With Subterranean Scuba Tunnels. Note: Be sure to ignore the reference of a mountain. We do not have mountains in Kansas. Well, it may meet a layman's (or Kansan's) use of the word mountain, but falls short of the geologists' classification as a "landform that rises 1000 ft." But I digress...

While we have a bit of a slow period, why not share a special part of your home state? I was honored to be commissioned to do a special project on Langley and the Spirit of Avalon. House histories, even contemporary house histories, are fascinating and fun.

Kathleen Brandt

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