The Telegraph Arrives in Brownville

A Pony Express rider saluting the telegraph builders (who would soon put the Pony Express out of business) was a popular motif in illustrations of the period. NSHS RG24090-144

A Pony Express rider saluting the telegraph builders (who would soon put the Pony Express out of business) was a popular motif in illustrations of the period. NSHS RG24090-144

The most thrilling event of the summer of 1860 for the residents of Brownville, Nebraska Territory, was the completion of a telegraph line from St. Joseph, Missouri, to their town and the transmission of the first telegrams over the wires. On August 28 the Stebbins telegraph line was linked to Brownville, with a grand celebration planned for the following day.

The first telegram sent by the citizens of Brownville from Nebraska Territory on August 29, 1860, went to the Associated Press and was entitled “Nebraska Sends Greetings to the States.” The first telegram received in Nebraska Territory also came into Brownville that day. The St. Joseph Gazette in neighboring Missouri returned the greeting sent by Robert W. Furnas, then editor of the Nebraska Advertiser.

Robert W. Furnas. NSHS RG4389-9

Robert W. Furnas. NSHS RG4389-9

A large celebration was held that evening in Brownville, complete with bonfires, music, speeches, and toasts. Rounds of ammunition were fired, one for each of the states, one for Nebraska Territory, and one for the telegraph line. A parade led by the Brownville brass band ended the official celebration, but it was rumored that a barrel of wine was carried up to the telegraph office in an upstairs room of the Hoadley Building, where an unofficial celebration continued.

For an account of Nebraska Territory’s role in the building of the first transcontinental telegraph, see First Telegraph Line across the Continent: Charles Brown’s 1861 Diary, edited by Dennis N. Mihelich and James E. Potter, and published by the Nebraska State Historical Society in 2011. Read the book’s prologue here. Brown’s lively narrative is the only known extensive source written about the daily construction of one segment of the first transcontinental line, and is filled with period detail. The book is available from the NSHS Landmark Stores. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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Pawnees in Sweden – the Long Journey of White Fox

From Nebraska History magazine. White Fox is shown seated in about 1874 in a photo courtesy of Göteborgs Etnografiska Museum

Why would three Pawnee men travel to Sweden in the 1870s? And why, when one of the men died, was his body not returned to his family?

In the Summer 2014 issue of Nebraska History, Dan Jibréus of the Karolinska Institute of Stockholm, Sweden, tells the story of the first Native Americans to visit Scandinavia in 1874.

That summer three Pawnee men traveled from Nebraska to perform their native dances and customs for the public. One of the three, White Fox, became ill and died in Sweden, and his body was claimed by a Swedish scientist who had White Fox’s head and torso taxidermied and mounted. Continue reading

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Mr. Bryan’s Place in the Sun

Bryan accepting the nomination for the presidency on August 12, 1908. NSHS RG3198-41-10

Bryan accepting the nomination for the presidency on August 12, 1908. NSHS RG3198-41-10

August 12, 1908, dawned clear in Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan’s hometown. Flags and bunting draped the buildings, and crowds soon filled the streets. It was Notification Day, and Bryan would receive official confirmation that, for the third time, he was the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States. The event was a political formality. Well before the party’s July convention in Denver, Bryan had enough pledged delegates to insure his nomination. The Lincoln ceremony would launch his final campaign for the White House.

The notification took place on the north side of the capitol building. As the August sun blazed down, Bryan gave a two-hour acceptance speech, his balding dome partially shaded by Democratic Party Chairman Norman Mack’s umbrella. Vice presidential nominee John Kern of Indiana (seated behind Mack) appears to be wiping the sweat from his brow. Perhaps the most uncomfortable person on the platform, and not just because of the heat, was Nebraska Governor George L. Sheldon, seated at the far left. Although protocol required Sheldon’s presence, the Lincoln Nebraska State Journal reported that the Republican governor “listened without a smile” to Bryan’s arraignment of his party.

More information on Bryan and the campaign of 1908 is online at the Nebraska State Historical Society’s website, along with other articles from past issues of Nebraska History magazine. Other resources on Bryan are also available at the NSHS. – James E. Potter, Senior Research Historian / Publications

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The NSHS gives back

As we are all painfully aware, a number of communities across Nebraska were devastated this season by catastrophic tornadoes, most notably Pilger and Beaver Crossing. In the aftermath of these terrible misfortunes, Nebraskans joined together in order to provide support – emotional, physical, and financial – to these areas. As these towns and their citizens continued the rebuild, the Nebraska History Museum worked to find a way to lend their support during this time of need.

Quilts, made by volunteer Karen Heiser, and tied by area schoolchildren, will be donated to the Pilger and Beaver Crossing communities

Quilts, made by volunteer Karen Heiser, and tied by area schoolchildren, will be donated to the Pilger and Beaver Crossing communities

And then they found the perfect idea: Quilts!

Through the generosity of NHM volunteer Karen Heiser, who stitched dozens of quilts for the museum’s educational purposes, and the handiwork of hundreds of school children, the museum is now able to donate a bounty of beautiful, handmade quilts to the children and families of Pilger and Beaver Crossing. The quilts were delivered last Friday.

The Nebraska History Museum's quilting station

The Nebraska History Museum’s quilting station

Since 2012, school-aged children, either visiting with their families or with school tours, have been tying quilts on display in the Museum. Following a popular exhibit on depression-era quilts from 2010-12, all children visiting the NHM have had the opportunity to interact with the museum’s quilt cart and quilting station. Tying quilts gives them an understanding of the labor that goes into creating such essential household items.

The educational programs that the NHM provides, overseen by the amazing Judy Keetle, are an essential piece of the museum’s mission. This is why, as the museum prepares to close its doors in anticipation of significant renovations, Judy and her team are already making plans to host offsite educational events.

While the Nebraska History Museum is closed, educational presentations will be given for school groups at the Nebraska State Historical Society HQ (located at 15th and R Streets in Lincoln) – part of Nebraska History “Museum on the Move” programming.

Padraig Fargen, age 5, and Finley Fargen, age 3, do their part by tying a quilt that will later be donated to a family in need.

Padraig Fargen, age 5, and Finley Fargen, age 3, do their part by tying a quilt that will later be donated to a family in need

And there will be plenty more quilting! During the “Pioneers” presentation, for example, kids will be tying quilts, as pioneers did at quilting bees, so we anticipate that NSHS will have many more quilts to donate to families in crisis throughout Nebraska in the future.

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Thayer County’s Fair at Deshler Began in 1913

Thayer County Fair on main street of Deshler in 1913. NSHS RG2719-7-6

Thayer County Fair on main street of Deshler in 1913. NSHS RG2719-7-6

“The Thayer County Agricultural society was organized in Deshler last week,” said the Omaha Bee on August 11, 1913, “and the necessary papers filed with the county clerk.” The first county fair sponsored by the society was planned for September 10-12, with an impressive list of exhibits and lineup of speakers. Nebraska Lieutenant Governor Samuel McKelvie accepted an invitation to speak on the opening day.

The Thayer County Fair since at least 1886 had been held at Hebron, the county seat, but due to problems with flooding, was discontinued by about 1900. In 1912, E. J. Mitchell, editor and publisher of the Deshler Rustler, began a push to reactivate the fair, this time in his hometown of Deshler.

Thayer County Fair at Deshler, 1915. NSHS RG2719-8-38

Thayer County Fair at Deshler, 1915. NSHS RG2719-8-38

The first county fair held in Deshler in 1913 featured several novelties. The local high school housed “agricultural, horticultural, fancy work and the educational exhibit,” according to the Rustler on September 18, 1913. Fairgoers especially appreciated the high school’s restroom facilities, and exhibitors took advantage of electric lights and city water on the grounds. No admission to the fair was charged, and winners of premiums received a check for their winnings immediately after the award was made.

Of course, not everything relating to a county fair was suitable for the high school building. Livestock and poultry exhibits were located in temporary quarters nearby. Stands for refreshments, souvenirs, entertainment, and games lined Deshler’s main street. A merry-go-round from the Nebraska State Fair was engaged to entertain fairgoers and their children. By 1915 the fair had its own fairgrounds south of Deshler with an exhibition hall and other structures and ample space for parking.

More information on Nebraska’s history is available in Nebraska History magazine, a benefit of membership in the Nebraska State Historical Society. Both full members and subscription-only members receive four issues yearly. Selected articles from past issues are posted online at the NSHS website. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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Abbott and Costello Honored for War Bond Sales

Nebraska Governor Dwight Griswold (left) presented comedians Bud Abbot and Lou Costello with souvenir ears of corn during ceremonies at the Nebraska State Capitol on July 31, 1942. NSHS RG2183-1942-731-4

Nebraska Governor Dwight Griswold (left) presented comedians Bud Abbot and Lou Costello with souvenir ears of corn during ceremonies at the Nebraska State Capitol on July 31, 1942. NSHS RG2183-1942-731-4

July 31, 1942, marked the final day of Lancaster County’s month-long campaign for war bond sales. Conducted as a part of the World War II “Retailers for Victory” campaign, the drive sought to use the nation’s merchants and their employees to raise money for the war effort. Highlighting the closing day’s festivities was the appearance of “Hollywood’s good humor boys–‘Bud’ Abbott and ‘Lou’ Costello. The screen and radio comedians were met at Boys Town early this afternoon and whisked here with a state police escort,” said the July 31 Lincoln Star.

Abbott and Costello were among the most popular and highly paid entertainers in the world during World War II. At the peak of the team’s popularity, they made two nationwide tours selling war bonds. They raised an estimated $85 million for the U.S. government. Their July 1942 stop in Omaha was followed by a quick trip to Lincoln, where they were received by Nebraska Governor Dwight Griswold at the State Capitol.

Ears of corn presented to Abbott and Costello. NSHS RG2183-1942-731-5

Ears of corn presented to Abbott and Costello. NSHS RG2183-1942-731-5

Later that evening the comedy team attended and performed at a “Victory Dinner” at the Cornhusker Hotel and then saw a variety show at the Lincoln Air Base. Nebraska provided its two guests with several souvenirs: an ear of corn for each labeled “From Nebraska, the Cornhusker State,” and certificates designating them as admirals in the mythical Nebraska Navy.

More information and photographs of Nebraska activities on the home front during World War II are online at the Nebraska State Historical Society’s website, along with other articles from past issues of Nebraska History magazine. Receive current copies of the magazine as a benefit of membership in the NSHS. Both full members and subscription-only members receive four issues yearly.– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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Getting to know county history books

Are you a genealogist or historical researcher? Recently the Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society) posted a helpful article, “Getting to Know County History Books” (PDF, see p. 6).

Of course, Ohio histories are several decades older than the first published histories that appeared in Nebraska, but much of the article’s advice is also applicable to Nebraska sources.

Here are a few article highlights and other notes to improve your use of Nebraska county histories:

  • Check surrounding counties for information regarding ancestors and events that occurred before the present county was formally established.
  • Always verify a county’s founding date. If you are researching an event before the county was founded it might be recorded in the original county records.
  • As in Ohio, early Nebraska biographical books were sold by subscription and can be a good source of information.
  • Indexes in county histories may be incomplete or unavailable. At some point if the local history has been converted to a fully searchable digitized document the history will be easier to use. The NSHS does not have any local histories scanned or available on our website. Other individuals and organizations have posted various Nebraska local histories online; however, I estimate that 90-95 percent of the Nebraska local histories in our Nebraska history library have not been digitized.
  • The amount of local history material in our library varies from county to county, but we have something from all 93 counties. Check our online library catalog for availability of titles. We do not interlibrary loan any original library titles from our library. If you have questions about searching for material in our catalog, please contact me.

Cindy S. Drake, Library Curator

cindy.drake@nebraska.gov

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Jenner’s Park Once a Popular Summer Attraction

Children on the ocean wave, an amusement ride in Jenner’s Park, in 1920. NSHS RG2543-4-11

Children on the ocean wave, an amusement ride in Jenner’s Park, in 1920. NSHS RG2543-4-11

From about 1900 to the early 1940s Jenner’s Zoological, Educational and Amusement Park in Loup City was a place for central Nebraska to gather, play, and learn. Brothers Henry and Robert Jenner, the founders of what was usually referred to as Jenner’s Park, were natives of England. Henry Jenner’s home at Loup City was a seven-acre section of land forming a horseshoe-shaped depression along Dead Horse Creek. Eventually the area was improved and opened to the public as a park “for picnics and private parties.”

Henry Jenner wanted his park to provide not only recreation but education for families. Admission price for the day during the early years of the park was ten cents for adults, with some games and amusement rides inside requiring separate tickets. A pavilion was constructed for dancing and to house the acquisitions of the Jenner brothers, who were tireless travelers and collectors. The Mummy House, constructed in 1909, reflected the brothers’ interest in Egyptology. The park theater, added in 1912 for the Fourth of July celebration, hosted vaudeville acts, many by local talent. When electricity came to Loup City, Jenner’s Park was one of the first places wired.

Jenner’s Park, July 20, 1926. NSHS RG2543-4-24

Jenner’s Park, July 20, 1926. NSHS RG2543-4-24

From the beginning Jenner’s Park housed a zoo. Included were such exotic species as leopards, alligators, monkeys, bears, and a large collection of birds. Many of the cages were works of art, with the monkey cage, built in 1924, a small replica of a Chinese pagoda. The park also included some specialized botanical features, including a fernery built of rocks. Shade trees served to cool the park, important before the days of air conditioning.

Jenner’s Park also offered its visitors rides and games. The ocean wave or circle swing, added in 1906, could seat forty people as it revolved and dipped. The athletic grounds contained a giant’s stride, horizontal bars, croquet grounds, a box-ball alley, and shooting galleries. During the colder months amusements were disassembled and stored, and animals housed in winter quarters.

Between 1905 and the early 1930s the park was a growing, vital segment of the life of the Loup City area. It was an important summer attraction in central Nebraska. However, by the time of Robert Jenner’s death in 1940, the park business had declined, due primarily to the inability of the brothers to continue the operation as they aged. It was closed in 1942.

More information on Jenner’s Park is available in an online article from Nebraska History magazine, a benefit of membership in the Nebraska State Historical Society. Both full members and subscription-only members receive four issues yearly. Selected articles from past issues are posted online at the NSHS website. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

 

 

 

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How is this varnish can tied to the founding of Lincoln?

varnish can from Western Glass & Paint

This early twentieth century varnish can was recently donated to the NSHS. Click to enlarge.

The NSHS recently acquired this artifact for its collections. It is an Autograph brand pure oil can from Western Glass and Paint Company, circa 1910. Western Glass was organized in 1890 by Thomas P. Kennard, one of the founders of Lincoln and among its most influential early citizens.

Western Glass became a very successful Lincoln business. The company address on the can is 12th and M Streets, location of the second plant Kennard built for the company in 1899. Sadly, the building was destroyed by fire just days before Kennard’s death in 1920. But Kennard never knew. Not wanting to upset him, family and friends didn’t tell him about the fire.

The paint can was collected by Larry Kruse who gave it to Kenny Lightman (both men are from Lincoln), who then passed it along to Mike Romberg at Lincoln Glass Company. Romberg donated it to the NSHS after reading the article about Thomas Kennard in the Spring issue of Nebraska History.

Kennard is often remembered as “the father of Lincoln,” and for the grand home he built when the town barely existed. Today the Thomas P. Kennard House and Nebraska Statehood Memorial is a historic site maintained by the NSHS.

—Thomas R. Buecker, NSHS Curator

Kennard's house on the cover of the Summer 2014 issue of Nebraska History. The photo was shot from the tower of the old state capitol in 1872, looking southeast. Sixteenth Street is in the foreground; the house itself is on H Street.

Kennard’s house on the cover of the Summer 2014 issue of Nebraska History. The photo was shot from the tower of the old state capitol in 1872, looking southeast. Sixteenth Street is in the foreground; the house itself is on H Street. State auditor John Gillespie’s house is to the right. Kennard was Nebraska’s secretary of state at the time, and he, Gillespie, and Governor David Butler agreed to build fine homes to promote local development and convince people that the frontier capital would become a real city.

 

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We can’t win all fights

Clarinda Apartments

The Clarinda, 2014, courtesy of Ruben Acosta.

It is a sad truth: not every historic building can be saved. This was made evident on July 1st as the Omaha City Council voted unanimously to remove the Clarinda-Page apartment buildings’ local landmark designation, which had been granted in 1981. Mutual of Omaha now has the go-ahead to demolish the historic buildings within its current redevelopment project.

The Clarinda and Page Apartments were built in 1909 and 1914 by contractor William W. Welch; the buildings were each named for Welch’s home town and home county in Iowa. The architecture is a simple and graceful example of the Georgian Revival style, which was prominent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

The apartments also have the distinction of representing a departure from previous apartment buildings in Omaha. They were among the city’s earliest luxury apartments, aimed at higher-income renters who did not require proximity to a streetcar line. They were prominently placed near Turner Park, part of Omaha’s Parks and Boulevards system, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Today these buildings stand as a reminder of historic Omaha. Soon, they will be gone.

Though many historic structures have been and will be demolished, the efforts of local and state preservation organizations attempt to seek alternatives. It is obviously preferable – from a preservation standpoint, and often, an economic standpoint – to keep and enhance historic buildings as “living” parts of our communities. Just look at all the Omaha buildings that have found new and functional uses, providing housing and revitalization of neighborhoods and the Omaha commercial center.

Now more than ever, we can see how important preservation is to communities across the state of Nebraska; don’t hesitate to get involved! Find a local neighborhood association, preservation group, or even contact the State Historic Preservation Office to see how you can help protect Nebraska’s built heritage.

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