Fort Hays Prisoner of War Camp

Did you know that the Fort Hays Experiment Station, located south of Hays, was once used as a German prisoner of war camp? Farmers in the area were facing a serious farm labor shortage around August 1943 due to many of Ellis County’s young men being at war. Arrangements were made to contract for labor using prisoners of war at the Concordia camp beginning in September 1943. Before the men could be brought to the Experiment Station, modifications to the buildings had to be made. A large feed barn was converted into barracks and a meeting house was made into a mess hall. The two buildings were enclosed in a 6 foot high fence with floodlights around the area.

A farm labor association was set up to assist the farmers in getting men from the camp to do labor. L. C. Aicher, who was superintendent of the Experiment Station, was named chairman of the association. The Experiment Station was also needing labor for the work around its grounds.

Guards from the military and the prisoners arrived on September 11. The men began working on September 13, and farmers were charged $3.25 a day for each man. The cost to the association was $2.82, and the extra monies went to help pay for the modifications and transportation costs. Most labor was used by farmers, but there were some businesses and schools that also had the prisoners work for them. Fort Hays Kansas State Teachers College was among the schools which hired the prisoners to do labor.

Two German prisoners working with a college employee on removing trees south of Picken Hall in the autumn of 1943.
Picture from the University Archives – Wooster Photo Collection.

The German prisoners of war were used as laborers in Ellis County up to the end of the war in 1945. The camp closed in November 1945.

The Special Collections and University Archives received a collection of pictures that were taken by L. C. Aicher during the fall of 1943. The collection of 17 photos was donated to us by Tom Osswald, whose father served as a military guard at the camp in September-November 1943. These photos are donated in memory of Lawrence E. Osswald (Corporal US Army 480th MPEG Company, Ft. Hays, Kansas, September-November 1943) by his son and family. Corporal Osswald was from Wilmington, Delaware.

The photos have been added to the library’s digital collection and you may view them at

Much of the historical information in this blog was found in “At Home in Ellis County, Kansas 1867-1992 Volume 1.”



Fort Hays Traditions – Concerts

I was asked to speak at an event sponsored by the student alumni group, Tigers4Ever, last evening at the Robbins Center. The panel discussion was on the traditions of Fort Hays State, and one tradition that was talked about was the concerts. After Gross Memorial Coliseum was opened in 1973, the Memorial Union Activities Board sponsored a number of concerts which featured big name rock stars and country stars, as well as comedians.

Mac Davis was featured in the opening concert on October 18, 1973, and Henry Mancini followed two days later. Comedians Bob Hope and Lily Tomlin were here in 1974 and 1976, respectively. David Brenner appeared as the opening act to Barry Manilow on October 18, 1975. The top five concerts in attendance were as follows:

  1. John Cougar (October 16, 1982) – 7200 – this was the only sell-out of all the concerts and was during the time his album “American Fool” with hit singles “Hurts So Good” and “Jack and Diane” were at the top of the charts.
  2. J. Geils Band (April 17, 1982) – 7070 – this was just after their “Freeze Frame” album with the single “Centerfold” had gone to the top of the charts in early 1982.
  3. Pat Benatar (November 13, 1982) – 6990 – in August 1981, her video for “You Better Run” was the second clip ever aired by MTV.
  4. Chicago (March 7, 1975) – 6989 – they came here right before their 8th album, “Chicago VIII” was released on March 24.
  5. Alabama (April 6, 1986) – 6558 – this was the first of two concerts they did here in the coliseum, and Alabama had released their first “Greatest Hits” album in January. The second time they were here was two years later on April 15, 1988 with an attendance of only 2800.


The last concerts from 1991-1996 featured all country artists including Sawyer Brown who were here three different times with opening acts Chris LeDoux, Diamond Rio, and Toby Keith. Clay Walker was the last concert played in the Gross Memorial Coliseum on April 13, 1996. The Memorial Union has hung the concert posters along the hallway next to Mondos and the Cody Commons in their basement. The complete list of the concerts is available in the University Archives.


John Cougar pulled FHSU student Mary Beth Bechard onto the stage with him – from the 1983 Reveille



University Archives Tidbits – Picken Hall before the columns


This is a photo of Picken Hall in 1908 shortly after the two wings were added. This is looking at it from the southwest. Martin Allen Hall, which was the gymnasium at the time, is seen in the background. 

An auditorium was in the south wing of the Academic or Administration Building, as it was called at that time. The library had been in the north wing for a short amount of time before moving over to the gymnasium after Sheridan Coliseum was built. The Administration Building was named Picken Hall in 1909 after faculty voted to recommend the name change to the Board of Regents. The Board approved and on May 28, 1909, a bronze plaque with the new name and date was placed in a corridor of the first floor. 

Information from “A History of Fort Hays Kansas State College 1902-1961” written by Lyman Dwight Wooster, President Emeritus.


Welcome (Back) Our New Library Director

August 11, 2014 marks a new beginning for Forsyth Library with Mrs. Deborah Ludwig becoming our new director. Her title is Dean of Forsyth Library and she will report to the Provost, as well as serve on the President’s Cabinet. The library staff is very pleased to have her here, and we are looking forward to working with her.

While this may be a new position for Deb, she has a familiarity with Forsyth Library and FHSU because of her job here in 1988-1990. She was hired as a Catalog Librarian for a grant-funded project to finish up the implementation for NOTIS. Locally, the system was called TOPCAT, and it was the first automated online catalog system in the library. When she left FHSU, she went to work at the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library where they were implementing a similar automation project. A few years later, she worked at Johnson County Community College, and then went to the University of Kansas where she worked for over 12 years. The following is from a news release from KU Libraries dated Friday, July 18: Lorraine J. Haricombe, dean of KU Libraries – “During her tenure, Deb exhibited strong leadership and vision, launching the Center for Digital Scholarship and blazing a trail that ensured our strong position in this area today. She was instrumental in establishing the Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities, an ever-evolving partnership with KU’s Hall Center for the Humanities and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.” The last year Deb was at KU, she was the Assistant Dean of Innovation & Strategy.

Libraries are evolving to include more physical study spaces and provide opportunities to create virtual spaces. As Dean of Forsyth Library, Deb is wanting to explore what we can do to help students and faculty be successful throughout their time here at FHSU. She wants the library to be a space that is inviting and makes you want to stay awhile as you use its facilities for research and study.

When asked what kind of changes she has seen here at FHSU since 1990, Deb stated that the expansion of the Virtual College was one of the biggest changes. Another change is obviously the technology that FHSU has instituted through the years within the classrooms, meeting spaces, and the library.

The job of Catalog Librarian at FHSU was Deb’s first job after receiving her Master’s Degree in Library Science. She says that she feels like she has come back home and that her career has come full circle. Welcome back, Mrs. Ludwig!




D-Day – June 6, 1944

The Cecil B. and Laura G. Currey Archive of Military History, located in the Special Collections, has many interesting files, records, memorabilia, photographs and uniforms. Among the items is a pebble from the beaches of Normandy, Utah Beach, France. It was given to Dr. Currey by Robert Fernandez on April 22, 1997. The note with the pebble says “scene of D-Day”, so this probably was not picked up from the beach that day.

The National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford, Virginia.

Thank you to the brave men who stormed the beaches seventy years ago and may we always remember the ultimate sacrifice of 9,000+ Allied soldiers.


160 Years Ago

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by the U.S. Congress on May 30, 1854. The act repealed the Missouri Compromise which had created an imaginary line across the former Louisiana Territory that established a boundary of free and slave regions. The Kansas-Nebraska Act made it possible for settlers of a territory to decide whether to have slavery or not have slavery within the borders of a new state. As a result of this act, conflicts between pro-slavery settlers and anti-slavery settlers contributed to a violent period of time called Bleeding Kansas in the Kansas Territory and its neighboring state of Missouri. This led to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861.

The following page of a letter is from the Historical Kansas Collection within the Special Collections. It was written by Henry Shaw to his cousin Thomas Shaw on November 22, 1857. Henry was a resident of Lawrence, Kansas and Thomas lived in Norwich, New York. Most of the letter gives details about living in Kansas because Henry was trying to get his cousin to come here to farm. There is mention on one of the pages about Lawrence and how it had burned once. It appears that Henry was a free stater.

“Lawrence is a nice town for one so young & so much to contend with being burned once & trouble the most of the time for here has been the centre of all their black damning deeds if I may be allowed the expression. But it is peaceable times here now & we or free state men carried the election without trouble & she is bound to be free or the soil of Kansas will drink the blood of thousands of free men for the majority will hardly submit to a minority so trivial as this Terr. presents. You can buy at the stores here all the comforts that you could in Norw. I belive there is four churches & over than twenty stores & filled to the roof (More at the top of the page)- Now you don’t put off writing & never answer this. My best regards to your wife and the best wishes of your cousin Henry B. Shaw.”