WICHITA, KAN. -- Everybody knows a real-life Dennis the Menace.
But did you know that the real Dennis the Menace lives on Elm Street right here in Wichita?
Cartoonist Hank Ketcham, in his new autobiography, "The Merchant of Dennis," has revealed that the Mitchell family -- Henry, Alice and "five-ana-half"-year-old Dennis -- live in a "quiet residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Wichita, Kansas."
But while Dennis and the gruff Mr. Wilson have lived in Wichita throughout the nearly 40 years of the cartoon strip, Ketcham said he only recently figured out just where that was.
"I had been postponing naming any specific city as to Dennis's address because I wanted everyone in America to feel that he lived next door to him," Ketcham said recently from his studio in Monterey, Calif.
He could have left Dennis somewhere in Middle America forever, except for the development of a musical comedy based on Dennis.
"In that kind of presentation, you have to identify exactly where you are," Ketcham said.
West Coast friends who originally came from Wichita provided the ideal setting for Ketcham, who has never been to Wichita.
"I've heard so much about Wichita," Ketcham said. "I investigated and discovered, by George, this fits Dennis to a T."
The detailed biographies of the entire "Dennis the Menace" cast provide more details about the city. Dennis's father, Henry Mitchell, works for an aeronautical engineering firm, makes $40,000 a year and a small Christmas bonus, has his own office and shares a secretary with a colleague.
Alice Mitchell is a full-time homemaker and mother to the exasperating Dennis. She and Henry met when she was a teller at First National Bank; he was making a payment on his MG.
The family lives in a three-bedroom, two-story fixer-upper on Elm Street. Sketches of the neighborhood depict a neighborhood similar to the stretch of Elm between Hillside and Oliver, but Ketcham mistakenly locates the neighborhood on the outskirts of town.
"Well, it used to be on the outskirts," Ketcham said in self-defense.
The childless Wilsons, who live next door, have been in the neighborhood long enough to own their house free and clear.
Ketcham said choosing Wichita as the setting fulfilled many of the ideals he wanted in a city. The aircraft industry offers a strong job market. The Midwest offers Dennis "cowboys and Indians" to intrigue a boy's imagination. And the weather divides itself into four distinct seasons.
The 70-year-old artist said he based his images of Dennis's neighborhood on what friends had told him and his own imagination.
"It's my world, and if I don't like it, I erase it," he said.
On the real Elm Street, near Sleepy Hollow, Merrily Mueller said Friday she was surprised to hear about her street's distinction, but has no doubts that she has a couple of Dennises living under her roof.
"This is a Dennis the Menace neighborhood. The boys keep the neighborhood entertained," she said of her sons, Matt, 12, and Jeff, 10, who sometimes get in jams by playing football in the neighbor's petunias.
Then there's a real-life George Wilson who lives at 2410 W. Graber. He said he's always gotten "the razz" about being associated with Dennis the Menace, and he expects a renewed bit of chortling about his name now that Ketcham has revealed Mr. Wilson's hometown.
"That's how people remember my name," he said. At 53, Wilson said the little Dennises who romped through his house are grown. "My kids have been ornery like Dennis," he said.