By Rocky DeSantis, The Circuit.
According to the Wizard of Oz, brick roads and the state of Kansas go hand and hand. At one point in time, the streets of Atchison were completely paved in bricks. Now only a few bricks remain as a reminder of an Atchison man who laid the groundwork of what the town is now.
William “Deafy” Boular was born Sept. 9, 1869, in a small town south of Atchison, KS.
He was diagnosed with Spinal Meningitis at the age of four. As a result of the disease, Boular lost his hearing. At the age of ten, Boular was involved in a train accident that resulted in the loss both of his legs. Instead of wearing special prosthetic legs, Boular wore a pair of custom made boots on his knees.
Boular was already known around Atchison due to his unique disfiguration, but he gained his immortalizing fame years later when he was tasked to replace the wooden streets of Atchison with brick.
Chris Taylor, Executive Director of the Atchison County Historical Society, explained how slick the roads would get on the wooden blocks. The town decided to pave the roads with bricks to make traveling more convenient.
“Deafy was literally laying the foundation of the community,” Taylor said.
Featured in the Jan. 7 1933, edition of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Boular supposedly laid 46,000 bricks within an 8-hour workday.
“It was a vital job that he was doing, and as someone who had all those problems already in their life it was a very incredible,” Taylor said.
Although most of the streets are paved with asphalt now, Taylor states that the original bricks are still underneath.
“Helen Keller is the person held up for overcoming adversity, but Deafy Boular probably had more adversity in his life than anyone else,” Taylor said.
Boular’s story was almost forgotten for over 50 years until a contest within the state of Kansas voted him as one of the most fascinating people in the state’s history.
Marie Schneider, a third-generation resident of Atchison, remembers her elementary school field trips along the brick roads.
“They told the story of how a man with no legs laid all of the bricks,” Schneider said. “At the time, we just laughed because it was funny to us. We did not know how incredible of a feat it was.”
In a town primarily known for its famous female flyer, historical figures such as Boular built Atchison; in his case quite literally.
For more information on William “Deafy” Boular, as well as the town itself, visit the Atchison County Historical Society on 10th just south of Main Street.