8 Wonders of Kansas people

An 8 Wonder of Kansas People

Buster Keaton, Piqua

Address: 302 S. Hill Street, Piqua, KS 66761
Phone: 620.468.2385
Website: busterkeatonmuseum.happywebsite.biz/bkm-coll.htm

Buster Keaton's trademark was physical comedy with a deadpan expression earning him the nickname "The Great Stone Face."  He was considered one of the greatest silent film comic actors and filmmakers.  1895-1966.

Photo courtesy Buster Keaton Museum, Piqua

Joseph Francis "Buster" Keaton was born in Piqua, KS in 1895 when his family was performing in the area with magician Harry Houdini.

When, in 1917, his father's drinking broke up the family act, Keaton moved to Hollywood, where a chance meeting brought him into contact with another vaudevillian. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, one of the most famous of the comic actors of the time, took Keaton on and showed him the ropes of the movie industry. For the rest of his life, Keaton would acknowledge Arbuckle as one of his closest friends and his greatest influence.

The bulk of Keaton's major work was done during the 1920s. Writing, directing, and staring in these films, Keaton created a world unlike the other comic stars of the times. Keaton was an observer, a traveler caught up in his surroundings.

In films such as The Navigator (1924), The General (1926), and The Cameraman (1928), Keaton portrayed characters whose physical abilities seemed completely contingent on their surroundings. Considered one of the greatest acrobatic actors, Keaton could step on or off a moving train with the smoothness of getting out of bed. Often at odds with the physical world, his ability to naively adapt brought a melancholy sweetness to the films. The subtlety of the work, however, left Keaton behind the more popular Chaplin and Lloyd.

Buster Keaton Birthplace Plaque, Piqua. Photo courtesy Shelia Lampe

He began drinking and through the 1940s did very little work of serious interest. It was not until 1953, and his appearance in Chaplin's Limelight that the public revival of Keaton's work began. More than simply a nostalgia for the old days, this new interest encouraged Keaton to revive his career with frequent appearances on television. The sheer ability of his acrobatics astounded audiences who had become used to less sophisticated physical comedy, and by the 1960s, his films were returning to the theaters and he was being hailed as the greatest actor of the silent era.

Keaton garnered two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - one for silent films and one for television. His work as a performer and director is widely regarded to be some of the most innovative and important work in the history of cinema.

Actors such as Dick Van Dyke give credit to Buster for his slap stick falls that he also became famous for.  Van Dyke gave the eulogy at Keaton's funeral.

Poster display at the Buster Keaton Museum. Photo courtesy
Shelia Lampe
Buster Keaton died at the age of sixty-nine. His widow visited Piqua and the Buster Keaton Museum many times and donated memorabilia.

Note of interest:  A couple of years before he died, Keaton performed at the Kansas State Fair.

Sources:  www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/buster-keaton/about-buster-keaton/644/ and Shelia Lampe's nomination.

See more Buster Keaton clips



  • Buster Keaton Museum is in the Rural Water District Office, 302 S. Hill.  Open Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-1 p.m.  See Keaton artifacts, pictures, promotional materials, more.  
  • Keaton Celebration, Bowlus Fine Arts Center, 205 E. Madison, Iola, KS.  620.365.4766.  September 24 & 25, 2010.  Get more details.