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Kansas museum honors Evel Knievel, the godfather of extreme sports

Kansas museum honors Evel Knievel, the godfather of extreme sports
The Evel Knievel Museum is adjacent to a Harley-Davidson dealership in Topeka, Kan. (Evel Knievel Museum)

Evel Knievel’s X-rays of broken bones are displayed alongside banged-up gear at a newly opened museum devoted to the daredevil on two wheels.

“Anybody can jump a motorcycle,” he famously said. “The trouble begins when you try to land it.”

The helmet

Full of scratches and dings, the helmet Evel Knievel was wearing when he crashed during his famous Las Vegas jump is on display for the first time in decades.
Full of scratches and dings, the helmet Evel Knievel was wearing when he crashed during his famous Las Vegas jump is on display for the first time in decades. (Evel Knievel Museum)

The museum, which opened earlier this summer in Topeka, Kan., makes no bones about the fact that the daredevil is known nearly as well for his failed jumps as his successful ones.

Knievel, who died in 2007 and is now regarded as the godfather of extreme sports, made his reputation in the 1960s and ’70s for his courageous — some would say crazy — attempts to soar through the air above the fountains outside Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. Both failed.

The jumps

Evel Knievel jumped the fountains outside Caesars Palace on Dec. 31, 1967, but crashed as he returned to the ground.
Evel Knievel jumped the fountains outside Caesars Palace on Dec. 31, 1967, but crashed as he returned to the ground. (Las Vegas News Bureau)

The daredevil managed to clear the fountains at Caesars on New Year’s Eve day, 1967, but crashed on landing.

Having fractured several bones, he ushered in 1968 in a Las Vegas hospital. The scratched and scored helmet that may have saved his life is displayed at the museum.

Bad luck followed Knievel to Idaho for his Sept. 8, 1974, jump at Snake River Canyon. He made it across, but the parachute of his steam-powered "Skycycle" opened prematurely, dragging him down into the canyon. He suffered minor injuries.

The wheels

The "Skycycle" that rocketed Knievel across an Idaho canyon in 1974 is prominently displayed at the museum.
The "Skycycle" that rocketed Knievel across an Idaho canyon in 1974 is prominently displayed at the museum. (Evel Knievel Museum)

Visitors can get their own adrenaline rush during the 4-D Virtual Reality Jump Experience at the museum. You put on virtual-reality goggles and straddle a jump bike as the motorcycle rumbles and the wind whooshes past. Don’t worry, a safe and soft landing is assured.

Visitors also can view clips from Knievel’s jumps in a 1970s-era movie theater.

The merch

Licensed merchandise, including toys, that were sold during the heyday of the daredevil's career can be viewed at the Topeka museum.
Licensed merchandise, including toys, that were sold during the heyday of the daredevil's career can be viewed at the Topeka museum. (Evel Knievel Museum)

The two-story museum is located in an annex to Historic Harley-Davidson. Among cyclists, the dealership is well known for its restoration of singer Jerry Lee Lewis’ 1959 Harley-Davidson Panhead.

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

Tickets cost $20 for adults, $10 for students ages 8 to 16 years old. Children 7 and under are admitted free. The virtual reality “jump” costs an additional $5.

Info: Evel Knievel Museum, (785) 234-6174

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