Hidden History: Incognito contest winner shines perpetual spotlight on Overbrook

Mindy Allen, Scott City, Kan., recently completed a new painting of the “Don’t Overlook Overbrook” mural.

“Don’t Overlook Overbrook.” More than a hundred years ago, this memorable slogan was created, but even today will spark strangers to recognition when the town’s name is mentioned.

In 1911, the village of Overbrook was joining a nationwide trend of growth across the country during this period. “Boosters” sought to boost their communities by increasing the visibility and appeal, acquiring utilities to improve the living conditions in their towns, and bring commerce and new citizens. Of course, not everyone was happy with prospects for change, folks content with the status quo and speaking out against any change were dubbed “knockers.”

Overbrook’s booster group was called the Overbrook Commercial Club. This club put out a call for a slogan. Topeka had decided on a slogan “Topeka can, Topeka will.” Overbrook was quick to follow the example, and added an incentive of $5 paid to the person who supplied the chosen phrase.

The winning submission was made by Lewis Coffman, a West Virginia resident who had two brothers in Overbrook. He sent the motto to the Commercial Club under the pseudonym “Mary”, since he lived outside of the 20-mile radius required for submissions. However, the club was so pleased with the line that they gave Coffman not only the $5 award, but voted that he receive a lifetime membership to the club.

Coffman accepted, stating it was “impossible to overlook Overbrook anyway. It was too good of a town.”

The slogan was a handy promotion that gained the attention of the Los Angeles Times the following year, when the newspaper sent a car across the United States as a part of a growing campaign in America to establish good roads.

In Kansas, the Times car held meetings in every town of importance along the old Santa Fe Trail. Though Overbrook had only 500 citizens at the time, was not yet incorporated, and had no city running water or electrical services, the Times was so impressed by its potential that it dubbed it a “model city.” The newspaper sent “Don’t Overlook Overbrook” across the news wires and to every town touched by the Times car.

The man responsible for this unforgettable slogan, Lewis Coffman, is at his final rest in Arlington Cemetery. He succumbed in 1916 to heart disease contracted during service to his country in the Spanish American War.

Coffman remained an advocate of the town he gave renown to, and contributed poems such as this one at annual meetings of the commercial club for many years:

Don’t Overlook Overbrook
(Overbrook Citizen, June 18, 1914)

Out here this way you sure will look,
For Overbrook is fine-
Commercial Club of Overbrook
Is where to grab a line.

The line is in the center of
The Garden of the West;
The people in this land do shove
To always do their best.

In Kansas land is where we are,
The Eden of the new,
They travel here by train and car,
This country for to view.

One view they take and then unpack,
For then with us they stay;
No country then can get them back,
For they won’t move away.

This land out here will sure grow then,
Fine cattle, hogs and corn,
The cackle of the Kansas hen
Is heard from morn to morn.

At our fine boys and girls you look,
While you come on your way;
Don’t overlook our Overbrook,
Just stop with us and stay.

The slogan continues to catch the attention of passersby on U.S. Highway 56 as they travel through Overbrook, as it is prominently featured on a mural on a city building on the south side of the road. An original mural was painted in 1978 by Gladys Ziegler. A newer edition was painted by Julie Gibbs in 2001. Most recently, Mindy Allen of Scott City, Kan., completed her rendition of the “Don’t overlook Overbrook” mural.

Photo of original Don’t Overlook Overbrook mural as published in the 1990 Santa Fe Trail High School yearbook.

The mural as it looked until recently; 2012 photo by Diana Staresinic-Deane.

Mindy Allen recently completed her “Don’t overlook Overbrook” mural. Photo by Wayne White.


wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She lived in Osage County for 20 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.


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