Visiting the Westboro Baptist Church and the Rainbow House across the street

rainbow-house-topeka

If you really wanted to stick it to the Westboro Baptist Church – you know, the Fred Phelps-led small but loud group of hateful people who picket funerals and other high-profile events around the country as retaliation for America’s acceptance of gays and abortion and a bunch of other things they don’t agree with – what’s the most creative thing you could do?

I can’t think of a better idea than buying a house right across the street from the church and painting it in the rainbow colors of the pride flag. That’s what Aaron Jackson did, and now those who are turned off by Westboro’s message have a new reason to be hopeful. The Equality House aims to spread a message of love and peace.

Jackson and a friend moved into the new house in January but just painted the house with the help of volunteers last week. They didn’t publicize their plans in advance, so WBC members were most likely shocked when they noticed the new paint job.

I had been considering making an ironic visit to the Westboro Baptist Church already, so when I heard about this new rainbow house, I knew I had to see it myself. I set off for Topeka, Kansas to take a look.

planting-peace-house

My visit to Westboro and the Rainbow House

I arrived at the same time as the postman. It was weird to watch him deliver mail to the rainbow house, then cross the street and deliver mail to Westboro. It suddenly dawned on me how bizarre his daily routine is. Imagine if your everyday job was to deliver mundane junk mail and supermarket circulars to such a notorious institution as the WBC. That would mess with my mind. “Gotta make sure Fred Phelps knows what’s on sale at the Pic ‘n’ Save this week!

When I stopped by nobody seemed to be home at Westboro. I thought I saw Michelle Shocked peeking out one of the windows, but perhaps that was just my imagination.

westboro-baptist-church

Here’s a pic of WBC’s trash can on the street. I’ll leave it up to you whether you’d like to take this opportunity to construct a metaphor involving “Westboro Baptist Church” and “garbage,” or take the high road in the name of peace and love.

westboro-baptist-church-garbage

As for the Equality House, it stood loud and proud. I noticed it from a few blocks away, well before I saw WBC, thanks to the tall rainbow and American flags flying above. On this particular day, a snowstorm had created the opportunity for some icy artwork.

Snowpeople for equality!

snowpeople-for-equality

Things to know about the Westboro Baptist Church’s location

For some reason I had imagined that Westboro would be situated in a rural location, but it turns out that WBC is smack in the middle of a friendly, walkable suburban neighborhood just a couple miles from downtown Topeka. There are sidewalks on the block and free street parking as well, so you can get as close as you like.

Wave to the surveillance cameras!

westboro security cameras

The area surrounding WBC is actually just like any other American suburb. This is what the block looks like in winter.

westboro-neighborhood-street

The shopping mall down the street has tattoo parlors and liquor stores. There’s so much sin surrounding Westboro!

watkins liquor topeka

I include these photos to point out that WBC’s homebase is not some neighborhood full of loonies who all believe what Fred Phelps preaches. It’s an incredibly normal American town. Westboro is just one building on a block of seemingly regular families going about their business, so don’t get the impression that Topeka itself is a bad place because of the WBC.

westboro-god-hates-america

It’s the kind of neighborhood where you can walk two blocks from the Westboro Church and rainbow house to the Arby’s on the corner, where you can still see the rainbow colors out the window as you scarf down your roast beef sandwich.

Visiting the Westboro Baptist Church and Equality House

The residents of the rainbow house welcome visitors to walk on their property to take pics. Go right up on their lawn and snap away, and share your images with the world. You can read more about their mission at http://plantingpeace.org.

Street parking is free and readily available. Just be respectful of the other neighbors, who are probably annoyed by all the attention their street is getting.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

16 comments on “Visiting the Westboro Baptist Church and the Rainbow House across the street

  1. If I lived anywhere in the midwest, this would be a must-go trip. Thanks for letting me take it vicariously through you. Probably the best tourist attraction in Topeka for 2013!

    • It was super timely since I was going to be in Kansas anyway! It would have been nice to talk to the owners but I get the sense they have been doing one interview after another so I decided not to push things.

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