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Kauffman Museum day camp to explore topic of silkworms in Kansas

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. - Kansas and silkworms? Kansas -- the silk capital of the world? While today Kansas and silk don’t seem as compatible as Kansas and wheat, more than a century ago the state showed promise of becoming the silk capital of the world. A summer day camp at Kauffman Museum in July will introduce children, ages nine to 12, to silk worms and the part they played in the 1870s in Kansas.

Karen Kreider Yoder will present the camp from 9 a.m. to noon, July 7 to 11 on "Reeling in the Past: Kansas Pioneers and Silk." The camp, which will include scientific inquiry, silk crafts, short hikes, research and a field trip, is part of the Uncle Carl’s Camps at the museum during June and July.

Kansas once promised to be the silk capital of the world, according to Yoder, who has raised silkworms for 15 years in California and Japan. She is a fifth grade teacher at Wildwood Elementary School, Piedmont, Calif.

In the late 1800s, the town of Peabody in central Kansas was a thriving silk producing town with 10-acre silk production site where mulberry trees grew and a silk station processed silk into thread.

At the time a New York silk firm, Belding Brothers, reported that the Peabody silk was "of a very superior quality."

Silk production began when Mennonites living in Russia during the late 1700s and early 1800s were encouraged to increase their arts, crafts and manufacturing trades and began raising silkworms for silk to trade. Silk production, well-suited to the region, became a lucrative cottage industry. The Mennonites produced the silk thread from the cocoon of the moth, and young girls spent many hours spinning the fine thread into yarn. The mulberry trees, on whose leaves the caterpillar of the silk moth fed, were planted on each Mennonite plot of land.

When Russian Mennonites settled in south central Kansas in the 1870s, they were delighted to find this region also well-suited to silk production. Families raised the silkworms in their homes and took the cocoons to the Peabody Silk Station for processing.

The Peabody Silk Station’s state funding ended after a dozen years, and the Kansas silk experiment was over, but mulberry trees are still prospering, evidence of what could have been a thriving silk industry.

Kauffman Museum offers five other camps during June and July for children from ages four to 14. The cost of $60 for each camper ($50 for museum members) includes a t-shirt. For more information or a camp brochure, contact Andi Schmidt Andres at asa@bethelks.edu or (316) 283-1612.

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