Photo courtesy of Ron McNany.
Some call it memory lane, but we call it Douglas. Downtown Wichita’s Douglas Avenue was a place where, for decades, teens and young adults would go to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights. On any given weekend between the 1950’s and the early 1990’s, this street was filled with young people who would come from all over the Wichita area to hang out.
Traffic was bumper-to-bumper, and sometimes it could take up to two hours to complete a circuit, but that didn’t matter. These kids were having the time of their lives. Instead of being “stuck in traffic,” they were “dragging Douglas;” participating in a Wichita tradition that saw poodle skirts, pinch-rolled jeans, 90’s grunge, and everything in between.
What a Drag: A Typical Night on Douglas
Many Wichitans fondly recall time spent on Douglas, showing off their cars, blasting loud music and hanging out windows talking to friends in other cars.
There were Chinese fire drills, where all the passengers would get out of the car, run around it, and jump back in. Often, passengers would go from one car to another, meeting new people and making new friends.
Many went to Douglas to look for a cute guy or girl, and when they succeeded, they would meet up at popular hangouts like Sandy’s, a burger joint that was located at Douglas and Grove, or Griff’s, another burger joint, this one at Oliver and Harry, a ways removed from the hustle and bustle of the drag.
Other popular meet-up spots were the McDonald's at Broadway and Hardee's. Many a romance started this way, and many of these chance encounters on Douglas ended in marriages years later.
The popular event was shut down in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s due to increased violence. After that, some draggers moved to south Seneca, but it never grew to be what Douglas had been to so many.
“When it started getting dangerous on Douglas back in the late 80's is also when they started planning Old Town. The two events together were what closed down Douglas to draggers. It took too many cops to keep it in check and those who were looking to make Old Town an evening destination didn't want to deal with the traffic,” said Lisa Jacques Elam, creator of the I Used To Drag Douglas Facebook group. Elam also runs a blog where she reminisces about her time spent on Douglas, which can be found here.
You may have also seen a Dragging Douglas t-shirt or two around town. These are available at Signworks, at 6436 N. Broadway for $14. Learn more here.
Until the creation of the group in 2010, many memories lived on for decades only in the form of the occasional stories of former draggers. Elam’s Facebook group garnered a following of over 7,000 people, but was lost as a result of a Facebook update. Recreated in 2012, it has brought together over 3,800 members who frequently post photos, memories, and more in the group. Most of these posts spark conversation between group members, and they reminisce on the good times together.
Dragging: A Nostalgic Part of Wichita History
Dragging Douglas shirts, available for $14 at Signworks.
“I was inspired to create the site because I am just a nostalgic person. I love history....especially when I took part in it. Dragging Douglas was some of the best times of all of our lives. It was so much fun and it happened in a time when the world was a much safer place,” Elam said. A Douglas enthusiast herself, Elam dragged between 1979 and 1985, and frequently hung out behind Century II with friends after they’d finished dragging.
“It was just a feeling that I can't even describe, but anyone who used to drag knows exactly what I am talking about. That is why so many people are on the page and it doesn't matter whether they dragged in the 50's, 60's, etc.....they felt how special it was.”
This special feeling, for many, was lost with the tradition itself. Many former draggers have attempted to bring the event back, though Elam is not certain that the event would take off the way that it did so many years ago.
Bringing Back the Tradition
A much more modern Douglas, circa 2010. Photo via I Used To Drag Douglas Facebook group.
“If it were brought back today, I am not sure that it could ever be what it was. Today's kids I don't think would understand or appreciate the simple joy that we got out of dragging. Oh, there might be a few diehard gearhead kids that would like showing off their cars, but to enjoy sitting in a car for 2 hours, bumper to bumper just talking and listening to music, I don't think kids today would go for it,” Elam said. “I seriously don't know if Dragging Douglas like we used to do would ever be feasible again. It is a different world and kids of today would only be amused with the novelty of dragging for a short time before their desire to be entertained by something else would kick in.”
Some of Douglas’s alumni have suggested a monthly event during the summer to commemorate the time that they; their friends; and in many cases, their parents spent dragging Douglas, but city officials were not on board with this idea, according to Elam.
“In a perfect world, what I would love to see is a yearly event commemorating all the years we spent dragging Douglas. I would love to see vendors down there and have the Old Town bars get involved. I think if the event were done right, it could pull people from all over. I know other cities and states have done similar things and it draws not only those looking for the nostalgia but also those car enthusiasts who like events like that to show off their cars.”
Other former draggers share Elam’s concerns about starting a drag again.
“Nowadays I'm not sure that I would want to drag Douglas. Things were so much different 60 years ago,” said Sharon Long, who dragged during her high school years in the late 1950’s.
"Don't tell my parents!"
Photo via I Used To Drag Douglas Facebook group.
“Dragging Douglas with girlfriends was the cool thing to do on Friday and Saturday nights, especially after a football or basketball game; however, my parents didn't think it was so cool. I have to admit, I lied to them about what I was doing. Looking back, I think they probably knew by keeping track of the miles on the speedometer,” Long said.
“That's also when I tried smoking. We would puff away with all the windows rolled down and look for cute guys. And, we met quite a few. We didn't think anything about parking our car and riding with them. I met a really cute guy from Kapaun and we dated for 6 or 7 months.”
Many draggers snuck out to drag with their friends, and several were caught by receiving traffic tickets. While some parents, like Long’s, did not approve of dragging Douglas, others had no problem with letting their child take the car for a drag. Others, still, brought the kids out to Douglas themselves.
“My dad took me to drag Douglas on Friday night to teach how to drive a stick - nearly died of embarrassment,” Maggie Bourbonnais-Dresher recalls.
Did you Drag Douglas?
All in all, dragging Douglas was one on Wichita’s biggest traditions, spanning close to 40 years, and many would love to see it brought back in some fashion. Do you have memories of dragging Douglas? Share them with us in the comments!