'Gunsmoke' star first for Trail of Fame

Sunday, May 25, 2003

— An effort to capitalize on Dodge City's western history will be set in stone when actor Dennis Weaver becomes the first inductee in the Trail of Fame.

Weaver, best-known for playing Chester in the "Gunsmoke" TV series, will be honored with a 24-inch sidewalk medallion during ceremonies today in downtown Dodge City.

The Trail of Fame is modeled after the famous Walk of Fame in Hollywood. Like those stars, Weaver will place his handprints and/or his signature on the wet concrete around his medallion.

Other celebrities who have portrayed Dodge City legends, such as the late Henry Fonda and Errol Flynn, will be included in the Trail of Fame later, said Carolyn Johnson of the Trail of Fame Committee of Downtown Dodge Inc.

The trail will eventually include such famous historical figures as Wyatt Earp, "Doc" Holliday, "Bat" Masterson and Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

"We have identified 60 people -- a lot of them historical figures -- whom we want to include in the Trail of Fame, but the sky's the limit," said Carolyn's husband, Jim Johnson, chairman of the Trail of Fame Committee.

"The crux of this is fund raising," Jim Johnson said. "It's a real challenge to get the people of Dodge City to believe in themselves and their community. The Trail of Fame is a good thing for Dodge City. We've been working on it for a year and a half."

His wife said the committee hoped to place a new medallion on the trail about every six months.

"We have had an excellent response from everyone we've contacted," she said. "We feel the people of Dodge City will be behind this Trail of Fame."

Her husband traveled to London 10 years ago, representing Dodge City for the Kansas Department of Commerce.

"I spent a week there, meeting international tourists and trade people," he said. "Those people knew more about Dodge City than I did.

"They gave me a laundry list of what they would like to see done in Dodge City. Some tourists come here and are sadly disappointed. It became obvious to me that we aren't taking advantage of the fame that Dodge City has worldwide.

The couple hopes the Trail of Fame will lure tourists to town -- and inspire them to stay in Dodge City longer.

"We have a lot to offer here," Jim Johnson said, "and we need to develop more."

More than 100,000 tourists each year visit the city's Boot Hill Museum and historic Front Street.

Dodge City, in western Kansas, is about a six-hour drive from Lawrence.