In the spotlight: 10 times Topeka made the national news

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April 1, 2010 – Google Renames Itself ‘Topeka’

As an April Fool’s prank, the popular online search engine “Google” jokingly changed its name to “Topeka” for a day. Google responded after then-Mayor Bill Bunten signed a proclamation unofficially changing Topeka’s name to “Google” for the month of March 2010. Bunten made the move as the city of Topeka’s was among more than 1,100 municipalities that sought to convince Google they were the best place to launch its planned effort to build and test new high-speed broadband networks in one or more locations. The name change stunt didn’t work. Google chose Kansas City, Kan., the following year as the first city to receive Google Fiber.

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May 17, 2004 — Brown Historic Site Dedication

On the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, President George W. Bush spoke at a ceremony held to dedicate the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in the former Monroe School building at 1515 S.E. Monroe. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was also among speakers for the ceremony, where those on hand included the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, who was running against Bush, appeared at a separate event in Topeka the same day.

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Aug. 27, 1998 — Pokemon Invades Topeka

Video game giant Nintendo picked Topeka to be the site of the U.S. launch of its Pokemon video game series, which had been wildly popular in Japan. Pokemon is short for “pocket monster.” The event included an airdrop in a field of 750 plush Pikachu toys, complete with parachutes. Children then rushed out and picked them up. The festivities included then-Mayor Joan Wagnon’s reading of a proclamation changing Topeka’s name for one day to “Topikachu.” The move recognized the game’s most popular Pokemon creature, Pikachu (pronounced “PEEK-uh-chew”).

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Aug. 5, 1993 — Federal Building Attack

Gary McKnight, heavily armed with guns and pipe bombs, attacked Topeka’s Frank Carlson Federal Building, killing a court security officer and wounding five other people before committing suicide. McKnight, a 37-year-old Meriden man who had quit his job in the Santa Fe Railway’s accounting department and was about to be sentenced on federal drug charges, drove to the building, detonated a car bomb outside and went to the fourth floor where he fired a pistol and lobbed bombs as he walked through a hallway to a court clerk’s office. One bomb struck something in the office, bounced toward McKnight and exploded, mangling him. He then shot himself to death.

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July 18, 1990 — Death of Dr. Karl

Dr. Karl Menninger, often known as the “Dean of American Psychiatry,” died four days short of his 97th birthday in Topeka. He had abdominal cancer. Menninger had teamed up with his father, Dr. Charles F. Menninger, and brother, Dr. William Menninger, to found Menninger, the internationally known psychiatric center that had been based in Topeka since 1925. The clinic moved in 2003 from Topeka to its current location in Houston.

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Sept. 6, 1987 — Reagan Visits Landon

Former Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, who’d been the unsuccessful Republican candidate for president in 1936, got a visit at his Topeka home three days before his 100th birthday from 76-year-old President Ronald Reagan, a fellow Republican. The two men sat and talked quietly on Landon’s front porch. The also took part in a ceremony in which Reagan’s wife, Nancy Reagan, presented Landon with a birthday cake bearing one candle and he quickly blew it out. Reagan said he’d told Landon years earlier that he’d like to meet him on Landon’s 100th birthday and Landon had replied: “You seem to be in pretty good shape. I think maybe you can make it.”

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June 8, 1966 — Topeka Tornado

A monster tornado tore diagonally through Topeka, killing 16 people, injuring an estimated 450 and doing more than $100 million damage in 1966 dollars. The twister struck just after 7 p.m. as WIBW-TV Channel 13 newscaster Bill Kurtis warned local viewers, “For God’s sake, take cover.” It swept over Burnett’s Mound, moving from southwest to northeast. The tornado grew to a half-mile wide at times, staying on the ground for 27 minutes and traveling northeast for 22 miles. It cut directly across the Washburn University campus, destroying nine buildings and 600 trees but no one on campus was killed.

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July 2, 1965 — Melan Bridge Collapse

Part of Topeka’s 67-year-old Melan Bridge collapsed as two of its spans, totaling about 300 feet, quickly crumbled. The accident killed one person, 53-year-old Kenneth Allen, whose car plunged 60 feet into the river and landed on its roof atop some rubble, pinning him in the driver’s seat. Multiple witnesses said they saw a second car fall in, but no other victims or vehicles were found. Seven people, including three Topeka police officers, received hospital treatment for injuries suffered during the collapse or while dealing with it.

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May 17, 1954 — Brown v. Board

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision banning racial segration in schools in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. Thirteen Topeka parents had filed the case on behalf of 20 children they were attempting to enroll in schools where attendance was not open to African-American children. The 1954 ruling overturned the Supreme Court’s 1896 ruling in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson that established the doctirne of “separate but equal” treatment of African-Americans in the U.S.

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July 12, 1951 — The Flood

The Kansas River broke through the battered dike protecting North Topeka, causing water to rush into its business district, then burst over the dikes on the river’s south side later that day, pouring water into the Oakland neighobrhood and East Topeka. The capital city was among 186 cities and towns in Kansas and Missouri damaged by the 1951 flood, which cost 40 Kansans their lives. The flood did $34 million damage in Topeka in 1951 dollars, striking 6,950 homes and 530 businesses. At least 17,000 Topekans were evacuated from their homes. About 4,000 refugees were given food and shelter downtown at Topeka’s Municipal Auditorium, the disaster relief headquarters.


The eyes of the nation have been upon Topeka many times. Here are 10 occasions in which the capital city made the national news.


Read the full special section commemorating the 160th anniversary of Topeka becoming a city here.

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