How a coat once buried in a German backyard made it to Nebraska

Today is National Holocaust Remembrance Day.

While the Holocaust might seem many decades and thousands of miles from 2016 Nebraska, we preserve objects and memories so people in the present will not forget the horror and injustice of the past.

This is the story of a coat and the families who wore it, saved it, buried it, cleaned it, wore it again, and, most importantly, preserved it along with the history attached to its black wool whorls.

Rosenbergs with toddler hanna

Left to right: Hedwig Rosenberg, Hanna in the arms of Benno Rosenberg, and Ilse Speier Rosenberg (Hanna’s mother). This is one of a series of photos taken in Bad Kissingen, Germany, on 8 August 1937, the last time Hanna saw her paternal grandparents. Hanna left Germany later in August 1937 with her parents. This image is from the collection of Hanna and David Gradwohl.

Life was good for Hedwig and Bernhard “Benno” Rosenberg of Frankfurt, Germany, in the early 1930s. Their department store was a popular shopping destination and they enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle with their son Ludwig, his wife Ilsa, and their baby granddaughter Hanna.

Hedwig (Speyer) Rosenberg was born on August 20, 1874, in Völkershausen, Thüringen. For many years, she co-owned the fashion department store S. Speyer KG in Sonneberg, Germany. After she and Benno married, they had two sons, Fritz and Ludwig Ernst.

The Nazi party came to power in 1933, making Adolf Hitler the new Chancellor of Germany. Hitler called for a boycott of Jewish owned shops and businesses. The Rosenbergs’ finances suffered, but they remained optimistic and hoped for the best.

Ludwig Rosenberg’s father-in-law, Alfred Speier, was also a Jewish business owner (he owned the upscale “Speier’s” fabric store in Halberstadt). Speier lamented the boycotts to a Nebraska cousin with whom he had corresponded with since childhood. Sometime in the mid-1930s, Alfred met his cousin in Switzerland. After reading uncensored newspapers, he began to realize the danger his family was in.

In a 1996 interview, Alfred Speier’s youngest daughter, Eva, explained that most Jewish people living in Germany in the 1930s were unaware of the danger. “The papers were censored, we had no idea and of course when you lived in Germany, you thought you lived in a civilized country with these great philosophers.”

Alfred’s cousin offered to help the Speiers escape to the United States. Alfred sold his fabric store and in December 1936, moved with his wife, Kate, and 16-year-old daughter Eva to Lincoln, Nebraska, where they settled in a house at 16th & B Streets. Eva attended University High School. Later in her life, she recalled the challenges of being a new immigrant. In addition to her struggle to learn English, her winter coat caused other teens to stare. The coat, lined with hamster pelts, had been an expensive and fashionable item back home, but was one of many things that made her feel like she didn’t fit in.

For the first half of 1937, the Speiers waited nervously for their daughter Ilsa, her husband Ludwig, and their daughter Hanna to join them in Nebraska. Conditions for Jews in Germany had deteriorated and anti-Semitic laws and sentiment resulted in violence towards Jewish citizens. Eva remembered that “it was a very difficult month waiting whether they would get out.”

Finally in August 1937, Ilse, Ludwig, Ilsa, and Hanna arrived in Lincoln and moved in with the Speiers. Ludwig got a job working at Gold’s Department store as a buyer.

Hedwig and Benno, Ludwig’s parents, remained in Frankfurt. Despite frantic efforts to help them escape via Cuba, Hedwig and Benno Rosenberg did not make it out. They continued living in Frankfurt until September 2, 1942.


The photo shows Hedwig’s husband, Bernhard “Benno” Rosenberg (right) and her brother Julius Speyer (left) and Hedwig (seated). The three lived together in Sonneberg and later in Frankfurt, where they were living when the Nazis deported them to Theresienstadt. This image is from the collection of Hanna and David Gradwohl.

On that autumn morning, Hedwig arrived at the doorstep of a trusted non-Jewish neighbor’s house carrying several of her treasured possessions. She may have known that she was about to be taken away from her home and had perhaps watched as the Nazis looted the possessions of other Jewish families. One of the things she carried that day was her black Persian lamb coat. The full-length coat was at the height of 1930s fashion and would have kept her warm all winter. The neighbor, fearful of the looting and violence in Frankfurt, buried the coat in her backyard for safekeeping.

The Nazis came for the Rosenbergs and Hedwig’s brother Julius Speyer, who was also part of their household, later that day. They were put on a train headed to the Theresienstadt Jewish ghetto located in what is now the Czech Republic. From there, they were taken to Treblinka extermination camp in Poland. On September 29, 1942, the Nazis murdered Hedwig and Benno. The Nazis murdered Julius on November 28, 1942. Before the war ended, 850,000 men, women, and children were killed at Treblinka.

One day, after the end of World War II, a large package arrived at the house on 16th & B Streets. The package contained the Persian lamb coat. The Rosenbergs’ neighbor had unearthed Hedwig’s beloved coat from her yard and mailed it to Lincoln. Ilsa had her mother-in-law’s coat cleaned and repaired at Mack Pachman’s Furrier in downtown Lincoln. She remembered Hedwig every time she wore the coat. Eventually she donated it to the Nebraska State Historical Society, along with a collection of household items the Speier and Rosenberg families brought with them when they escaped Germany.

Rosenbergs with coat

Siblings Hanna (Rosenberg) Gradwohl and John Rosenberg stand next to their grandmother Hedwig Speyer Rosenberg’s Persian lamb coat at the Nebraska History Museum. Hanna traveled from Ames, Iowa, and John traveled from Madison, Wisconsin, to attend the museum’s grand re-opening.

Hedwig’s granddaughter Hanna (Rosenberg) Grandwohl now lives in Ames, Iowa, with her husband David. The Gradwohls made a special trip to visit the museum and see the coat on exhibit during the Nebraska History Museum’s opening weekend. They wrote the following:

Hanna and I thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in Lincoln for the re-opening of the NSHS Museum…I would also like to say how much Hanna and I enjoyed the presentations on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  It was gratifying and instructive to see the celebration of the diversity of Nebraskans in terms of national origin, race, and ethnicity – – especially in the face of the xenophobia and hate being expressed in some quarters of our nation.

Again, our thanks to you and all the NSHS staff for the wonderful new exhibits and the fine schedule of events over the weekend.


David & Hanna Gradwohl

The items in the Rosenberg/Speier collection help tell the story of two families who immigrated to Nebraska under horrific circumstances and started new lives.

But Hedwig Rosenberg’s Persian lamb coat is also a reminder of a life – and over six million other lives – cut short.

 — Tina Koeppe, Exhibit Curator and Coordinator and Kylie Kinley, Assistant Editor


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Marker Monday: The Watson Ranch

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers. If you’d like to see a specific marker featured, send an email to

Nebraska’s farmers are busy in the fields, so this week we remember a historic farm and ranch in Buffalo County.



6411-6467 Lincoln Hwy, Kearney, Buffalo County, Nebraska; 40.699488, -99.16328

Marker Text:

In 1888, H. D. Watson established the historic Watson Ranch, at one time containing 8,000 acres, reaching from the fertile Platte Valley on the south to the rolling hills on the north and from downtown Kearney to a point five miles west. During its existence, the ranching operations were devoted to grains, poultry, vegetables, and a 250-acre fruit orchard primarily of cherry, plum, and apple trees. Watson planted thousands of other trees of numerous varieties.

Resembling a huge experiment station, the ranch included such crops as wheat, rye, barley, corn, potatoes, sugar beets, squash, and asparagus. In the 1890’s, Watson introduced alfalfa into the Platte Valley. In part to demonstrate the value of alfalfa as a feed, Watson constructed a dairy barn in 1900. Standing 650 feet northwest of this sign, it measured 500 feet long, 100 feet wide, and 56 feet high. Attached to an immense silo, it contained stanchions for 400 cows, huge hay lofts, and wagon and machinery storage. Because it was located 1,733 miles from both Boston and San Francisco, it later became known as the “1733 Ranch,” and the huge barn remained a landmark until it was torn down in 1935.

Bibliography / Read On:

Bauer, John T.1,733 Miles from Where? Kearney, Nebraska’s 1733 Identity.” Nebraska History. Summer 2015.

“Cherry Day at the Watson Ranch”

Search results for “Watson Ranch” from

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Flashback Friday: Would J. Sterling Morton have sacrificed his grandmother for political gain?

In honor of Arbor Day, Nebraska History associate editor Jim Potter examines part of  the political career of Arbor Day founder J. Sterling Morton.

Some dramatic anti-J. Sterling Morton sentiments appeared in the May 23 issue of the Republican Nebraska Herald, published in Plattsmouth. Under the headline “Not Ashamed of It,” the article reported Morton’s recent speech in Plattsmouth when he had asserted that he was unashamed of his political record. The Herald noted that this was because “there is no shame in him.” The paper recalled that Morton had once stated that if Confederate States President Jefferson Davis deserved hanging, “Abraham [Lincoln] should be hung on the same tree, and that he would bear the same relation to Davis that the thieves did to Christ.” The Herald went on to say that Morton felt no shame for “having used his pen, his brain, and all his energies during the late struggle for national existence [the Civil War] against the government that protects him and under which he is now seeking office.” The article concluded that “loyal” Cass County Democrats “heartily despise the man [Morton] who would sacrifice their interests, the Nation, and, if necessary, his grandmother for his own political ends.”

J sterling morton 09 - RG1013-8 SFN44537_2

J. Sterling Morton in 1870. NSHS RG1013.PH1-8

Whether or not Morton actually made the statement about Jeff Davis and Lincoln as the paper claimed, he had made his position clear on how he opposed giving the right to vote to African Americans. Nebraskans today most often remember J. Sterling Morton as the father of Arbor Day, a holiday he originated. Before and after that admirable undertaking, Morton was also one of Nebraska’s most partisan and polarizing politicians, particularly during the Civil War and the postwar years leading to statehood on March 1, 1867. Not only was he a fiery debater imbued with the principles that his Democratic Party had long held dear, his editorship of the Nebraska City News from 1865 to 1870 gave him a platform from which to express his views.

“Politics in a democracy like this is a very dirty and unpleasant profession.” While this comment by Joseph Barker, Jr. of Omaha in a letter to his parents in England could well describe the 2016 presidential campaign, he was actually referring to Nebraska territorial politics in 1866. As Nebraska historian James C. Olson put it, “The press of each side struck out at each other in a fury of frenzied partisanship. The opposing candidates denounced each other with unbridled license.”

While the nastiness associated with political campaigning doesn’t seem to have changed much over the last 150 years, the way politicians interact with the electorate or with each other certainly has. Lacking the option of “going negative” with advertisements or sound bites to be aired on television, candidates for office in 1866 attacked one another mostly through the newspapers. Instead of gathering at a central location to argue about issues for mass television audiences, candidates traveled around Nebraska Territory, sometimes in the same carriage, debating day after day in front of audiences in town halls or theaters. One other major difference is the length of the campaign season; in 1866 the debates, party rallies, and newspaper commentary about election issues began barely a month before the election.

There were several key elections in 1866. The first was held June 2 to choose state officers and members of a state legislature to take office when Congress approved Nebraska’s admission as a state. Also before voters that day was the approval of a constitution for the pending state.

Although Morton and most northern Democrats opposed secession and supported the preservation of the Union through force of arms, they became highly critical of many measures the Lincoln administration invoked to help defeat the Confederacy. Foremost among them was the Emancipation Proclamation and the enlistment of African American soldiers in the Union army. The Democratic Party had long held that slavery was a matter that the U.S. Constitution left to the states, and with which the federal government had no authority to interfere through war or other means. Morton shared his party’s stance that the Civil War was being fought only to preserve “the Union as it was, and the Constitution as it is.”

While Morton did not believe that ending slavery should be connected to the goal of putting down the rebellion and restoring the Union, the Confederacy’s fall brought that result. The ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 abolished slavery forever. Faced with this reality, Morton continued to resist granting political rights to the freedmen, specifically the right to vote and otherwise to participate in the political restoration to the Union of the former rebel states. These issues helped inflame the partisan battles in 1866-67 over the Nebraska statehood question in which Morton was a principal contestant as the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor of the new state.

The Republicans (then going by the name of the “Union” Party) nominated David Butler for governor. The choice would be made at the June 2, 1866, election, although the winner would not take office unless the state constitution was also approved by the voters and then accepted by Congress and the President. During the month prior to the June election, attacks against Morton filled the columns of Nebraska’s Republican press and he responded in kind.

In a May 21, 1866, letter to his Republican opponent David Butler, Morton stated his firm opposition to a bill recently passed in the U.S. House to prohibit federal territories such as Nebraska from denying the vote on the basis of race or color. He expressed this view more forcefully in a May 26 Nebraska City News editorial on the eve of the election: “The prominent issue now between the Republican and Democratic parties of Nebraska is Negro suffrage. This question has been hurled into the canvass by a radical Congress. Mr. Butler, the nominee for governor on the Republican ticket, endorses Congress fully. . . . Every vote for Butler . . . every vote for that ticket, is a vote for Negro suffrage in Nebraska . . . . A vote against the Democratic ticket is a vote in favor of Negro suffrage and for Negro equality.”

The outcome of the June 2 election narrowly favored the Republicans, making Butler the state governor-elect, while the state constitution was adopted by a margin of only a hundred votes. Despite his loss in the governor’s race, Morton stood as a candidate for one of the U.S. Senate seats to be filled by the state legislature-elect when it convened for that purpose on July 4, 1866. Because the Republicans had also gained a legislative majority in the June 2 election, Morton’s goal of being tabbed a senator was doomed. Two Republicans were named as U.S. Senators-elect.

Hopes for the prompt admission of Nebraska as a state, now that officers had been elected and a constitution approved, were soon dashed by President Andrew Johnson’s pocket veto of the admission bill. Congress would have to start over with a new Nebraska statehood bill when the next session convened in December. This time the clause


Before admitting Nebraska as a state, Congress insisted that the Nebraska Legislature nullify the State Constitution’s provision that permitted only white men to vote. NSHS 8769-6-(1)

in the Nebraska Constitution that limited voting to white men would not go un-noticed, sparking Congressional resistance that would further delay statehood until the Nebraska legislature nullified the restriction in February 1867. During debates over this contentious issue, Morton did not waver in his opposition to granting black men in Nebraska the right to vote. In the end Nebraska lawmakers voided the “whites only” language in the constitution, whereupon Congress passed the statehood bill over the president’s veto and Nebraska was proclaimed a state on March 1, 1867. On April 1, 1867, James Walker of Plattsmouth became the first known African American to cast a ballot in Nebraska when he voted in the city election.

Sterling Morton was also the Democratic candidate for governor of Nebraska in 1882, 1884, and 1892, with the same result as in 1866. His long affiliation with the Democratic Party and his outspoken stance on slavery, race, and the Lincoln administration’s wartime policies limited his vote-getting ability in an electorate that included many former Union soldiers. He later served as Secretary of Agriculture by President Cleveland from 1893–1897, and is remembered today as the founder of Arbor Day and promoter of modern agricultural techniques.

But whether or not Morton would have sacrificed his grandmother for his own political ends, his legacy of racism and polarizing politics is just as important to remember as his positive influences on the state.

— Jim Potter, Associate Editor of Nebraska History

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Marker Monday: Chadron State Park

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers. If you’d like to see a specific marker featured, send an email to

Today is Chadron State Park’s 95th birthday! Read on for their Marker Monday story.



Camp Norwesca Rd, Nebraska National Forest, Chadron, Dawes County, Nebraska; 42.708256, -103.0085.

Marker Text:

In 1921 the Nebraska State Legislature created a State Park Board within the Department of Public Works. In 1923, the law was amended by attaching the Board to the Department of Horticulture of the University of Nebraska. The Legislature of 1929 replaced the State Park Board and the Bureau of Game and Fish with a new agency, the Game, Forestation and Parks Commission. In 1967, it was designated by the Legislature as the State Game and Parks Commission. Chadron State Park was established by a legislative act approved April 25, 1921 and introduced by Senator James Good and Representative George Snow, both of Chadron. This act set aside a section of school land as the first Nebraska State Park. Fifty years later, in 1971, the Parks System had expanded to 93 areas. The Chadron area was once the scene of bitter warfare between the fierce migratory plains Indians and the whites. Later the region was the center of disputes between ranchers and homesteaders who competed for the land from which the Indians had been dispossessed. Today, Chadron, along with other State Parks, provides excellent scenic and recreational areas for the visitor.

Bibliography / Read On:

Search results for “Chadron State Park” on

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Flashback Friday: Why Cowboy Gun Battles Were Often Shots in the Dark

Sidney, Nebraska, circa late 1870s. NSHS RG3315-40

Sidney, Nebraska, circa late 1870s. NSHS RG3315-40

Associate Editor and black powder enthusiast Jim Potter wrote this blog post.

One staple of TV or movie “Westerns” is a shoot-out in a saloon. Such confrontations are often portrayed as stemming from a volatile mix of drinking, gambling, testosterone, and readily available weaponry, which has a factual basis in the historical record. What the filmmakers can’t accurately portray, for obvious reasons, is that some of this gunplay took place in utter darkness.

In the days when indoor lighting depended upon “open flame” lamps fueled by kerosene, manufactured gas, or even candles, the concussion produced by the discharge of handguns in confined spaces sometimes “snuffed” the lamps. This phenomenon became apparent from newspaper accounts of saloon shootings in western Nebraska during the 1870s and 1880s.

At Sidney on April 22, 1879, blacksmith George Calkins and bullwhacker William Kane got into an argument after an all-day drinking binge. Calkins’s friend William May intervened, “but it did not leave Kane and May very good friends.” Later that evening in the Miner’s Hotel, the two exchanged words and a fight broke out. While Kane was pummeling May in the face, the latter shot Kane in the left arm. Fisticuffs continued as the two grappled on the floor. According to the Sidney newspaper, “This was all done in a dark room, as the lights were put out by the first report of the revolver.”

When large-caliber handguns, such as this .44 cal. single-action Colt revolver, were fired in a confined space, the concussion could extinguish open-flame lamps. This one takes the .44/40 cartridge, also used in many rifles and carbines of that era. That way an individual did not have to carry two types of ammunition. NSHS 8241-266

When large-caliber handguns, such as this .44 cal. single-action Colt revolver, were fired in a confined space, the concussion could extinguish open-flame lamps. This one takes the .44/40 cartridge, also used in many rifles and carbines of that era. That way an individual did not have to carry two types of ammunition. NSHS 8241-266

Little more than a year later, on May 29, 1880, “Patsy” Walters dropped by Doran and Tobin’s saloon in Sidney to find several men “having a jovial time drinking, joking, and singing.” One of them was a man named Smith, with whom Walters got into an argument and then called him “a damned thief. “Without further talk whatever Smith fired two shots, one ball taking effect in [Walters’] abdomen . . . . These two shots put all the lamps out save one over the bar. Before Smith fired the third shot Walters had got his six-shooter . . . . Smith ran behind the billiard table and witnesses of the affair claim that they fired almost simultaneously, Smith’s third shot and Walters first; that put out the remaining light.”

Whether or not the room where the gunfire took place was frame, brick, or even canvas did not seem to matter, as long as it was a relatively confined space. Later that year, a soldier was mortally wounded in a tent saloon near the Camp Sheridan military post after gunfire blew out the lights. Once darkness had thus descended, additional shots were fired, some of them striking the soldier rather than the person for whom they were intended. The soldier died the next day after his leg was amputated.

A fourth example of lamps being snuffed by gunfire also came from Sidney, this time on November 26, 1881. Two cowboys named James Jameson and Henry Coian had been drinking and got into what was thought to be a friendly wrestling match. Coian, however, struck Jameson over the head with his revolver causing an ugly gash. After Jameson had his head sewed up, he threatened to shoot Coian on sight and went to the O. K. Saloon for

Harry Coian’s Nebraska State Penitentiary mug shot. At his March 27, 1882, trial in Sidney, he was convicted of second degree murder for killing Jameson and sentenced to life in prison. NSHS RG2418.PH0-641

Harry Coian’s Nebraska State Penitentiary mug shot. At his March 27, 1882, trial in Sidney, he was convicted of second degree murder for killing Jameson and sentenced to life in prison. NSHS RG2418.PH0-641

a drink. Coian spotted him there, burst through the doorway, and “without saying a word, drew his revolver and immediately began firing at Jameson, the concussion of the pistol extinguishing all the lights in the saloon. Coyne [sic] at this time ran out of the saloon, when the lights were re-lit and Jameson was found lying on the floor mortally wounded.” If darkness were not enough of a handicap, the firearms of that time used black gunpowder that produced clouds of smoke to linger in the room even after the lamps had been restored.

Some years ago I decided to try snuffing open-flame lamps with gunfire to verify whether the historical accounts held up. I did the experiment in a small clubhouse owned by a shooting club, which had kerosene-fueled lamps for nighttime gatherings. They were the kind with glass chimneys. I had permission to shoot a black powder revolver in the clubhouse as long as I discharged the bullet through an open window. Putting a bullet hole in the wall seemed to be carrying the quest for authenticity a bit too far. The result of this experiment confirmed the historical accounts. Even with an open window that probably dissipated some of the concussion from the revolver’s discharge, the shot instantly snuffed out the lamps.

More details about the nineteenth-century shootouts and my modern attempt to replicate their effect on open-flame lamps are in my article, “Shots in the Dark,” which appeared in the February 2001 issue of Roundup Magazine published by the Western Writers of America. After the article came out, a reader noted that the concussion phenomenon I identified may help explain a stanza in the Robert Service poem, The Shooting of Dan McGrew:

“Then I ducked my head and the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark,

And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark.”

— Jim Potter, Associate Editor of Nebraska History

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Brown Bag Lecture: The Job of an Archivist: Meeting a Fascinating Nebraskan, Frank Shoemaker

AprBrownBag16The Nebraska State Historical Society’s Brown Bag History Forum returns to the Nebraska History Museum, Centennial Mall at P Street, this Thursday, April 21 at 12 noon. University of Nebraska-Lincoln archivist Mary Ellen Ducey will present, “Meeting Frank Shoemaker,” her account of a fascinating Nebraskan she uncovered doing archival research. This self-made naturalist and photographer’s natural curiosity led him to focus his life’s work on investigating, observing, and recording birds, landscapes, beetles, and all types of natural flora and fauna. His documentation of Nebraska landscapes in the Panhandle, the Sandhills, and in the once-rural areas of the Lincoln and Omaha metropolitan regions is a vital record of how the state has changed.

The free lecture is open to the public free of charge. It returns to the museum after almost 18 months at the Lincoln City County Building. Recording of the presentation for later broadcast on government access cable systems and posting on YouTube is courtesy the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation. More information at 402-471-4782 or

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Do you have a Dodds “Pattern Book” House in Your Neighborhood?


The front cover of the Dodds Homes catalogue


Want to explore history in your community?

May is National Historic Preservation Month, and there’s a contest encouraging people to build community and learn history that Lincoln and Omaha residents shouldn’t miss!

Restoration Exchange Omaha and the Preservation Association of Lincoln are sponsoring a search for early twentieth-century houses advertised in a plan book by Omaha architect Everett Dodds.  Examples have been found in both Omaha and Lincoln and more are out there.  Search your neighborhood!


2856 Vane Omaha2

A Dodds “Argyle”-style house in Omaha

Omaha architect Everett S. Dodds was one of Nebraska’s most prolific home designers. His area of expertise was residential house plans which he offered as “stock” plans to prospective homeowners and homebuilders. These building plans were featured weekly in the Omaha Bee and the Omaha Sunday World-Herald under the headline, “Some New Home Suggestions.” In approximately 1914, Dodds released a plan book of house designs ranging from affordable bungalows to more elaborate homes, which he stated could be modified at a small cost to suit individual preferences. He described himself as a “Specialist in Up-to-Date Residences and Bungalows of the Better Class.”

Dodds termed some of his architectural styles as “a bungalow of the California type,” “Colonial in design,” “cottage,” “Dutch colonial,” “of dainty English lines,” and “Tudor.”

DoddsLudlow (2)(1)

A Dodds “Ludlow”-style house in Lincoln

Trade journals commented on the affordability of his work, listing a large number of houses in the planning and bidding stages of construction. Most ranged in price from $3,000-$5,000, with the occasional higher-end home. Although most of his work centered in Omaha, plans were designed for locations as far away as Odebolt, Iowa and Kearney, Nebraska.


In his plan book he wrote:

“The beauty of the house is order, The blessing of the house is contentment, The glory of the house is hospitality.”

To date, a number of the designs from his plan book have been identified in Lincoln and Omaha.


Please join us as we search for additional examples of his work. Click here for a copy of the Dodds plan book: BuildaDoddsHomeBookletColor.

When you think you have an example, please send a thumbnail photo of the home, its model name from Dodds’ book, and its full address to Jennifer Honebrink at

Honebrink will collect the findings and results will be posted in early June on the Preservation Association of Lincoln, Restoration Exchange Omaha, and Nebraska State Historical Society web sites.

Watch for the results in June!


Preservation Association of Lincoln web page –

“Like” the Preservation Association of Lincoln on Facebook here.

Restoration Exchange Omaha web page –

“Like” Restoration Exchange Omaha on Facebook here.

NSHS State Historic Preservation Office


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Marker Monday: Central High School

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers. If you’d like to see a specific marker featured, send an email to This marker was suggested by a reader, so I’m not kidding – you ask, I listen.

Our reader suggested this marker because Omaha Central High School “used to be the  state capitol. And with the legislature adjourning this week and because it’s an election year, I thought it would be appropriate.”

Central High School


2014-2232 Dodge St, Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska; 41.259929, -95.94407

Marker Text:

The first session of Omaha High School, now Central High School, was held on November 10, 1859, in Nebraska’s territorial capitol on Ninth Street between Douglas and Farnam. Following the removal of the territorial government from Omaha, Nebraska’s last territorial capitol at Twentieth and Dodge Streets was donated to the city by the state in 1869 for educational use. The old building, declared unsafe, was razed in 1870 and replaced by a red-brick, four-story structure in 1872. The first class of Omaha’s first public high school was graduated in 1876. The new building, housing both the high school and Central grade school, soon was unable to accommodate its growing enrollment, and by 1900 the cornerstone of another building had been laid. Construction encircled the old school, which was dismantled and removed before the final north wing was completed in 1912. A new gymnasium and auditorium were added in 1930. From this vantage point on the old Capitol Square, Central High School has witnessed many changes in the community, the nation, and the world. Now in its second century, it remains dedicated to high scholarship and the principle that all children deserve equal educational opportunities.

Bibliography / Read On:

Check out the December 1859 Omaha Central newspaper called The Free School Advocate in our new “Nebraska Unwrapped Exhibit” at the Nebraska History Museum.

It is the earliest known example of school journalism in Nebraska. The paper published editorials, essays, verse, fiction, and news—all the work of students at the school.

Search results for “Central High School” on

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Flashback Friday: Why Small-town Rodeos are One of Nebraska’s Greatest Treasures

I have ridden a horse maybe three times in my life. I don’t know how to throw a rope. I have been head-butted, stepped on, tail-whipped, chased around, and dragged by cattle, but never felt the desire to wrestle or ride them.

But I love the sport of rodeo.

Barrel racers and their horses, whether paints or roans or buckskins, merge into one speeding being as they round the third barrel. Calf ropers’ hands blur tying three hooves together while their fellow athlete—their horse—keeps the rope taut. Pick-up men circle the arena with their long, fringed legs and their skilled saving of men from beasts’ backs. Rodeo queens race the lengthening summer shadows with rhinestones and sequins and snapping banners. Bull riders wrap their hands in their ropes and wait to explode into the arena on 1,500 pounds of muscle, snot, and anger.

Rodeo Nebraska by Mark Harris

Rodeo Nebraska by Mark Harris, published by the NSHS last fall, allows enthusiasts and casual rodeo fans to keep the thrill of rodeo long after the final bucking chute empties. This book is also a great gift to people who know nothing about rodeo. The book’s foreword explains the sport’s deep roots in American history and Nebraska history in particular, and the photos and stories of the adults, children, and animals showcase exactly what non-fans have been missing.

Rodeo’s innate connection to history adds weight to events that last only seconds. Famous bulls with storied pedigrees. Old buckles etched with the names of champions. Family traditions of working cattle during the week and cutting loose with some rodeoing on the weekends. The history of muscle memories in the horses and humans who have spent hours in the dirt and mud of practice arenas. The century-plus traditions of county fair boards and small-town festivals, from mutton busting to 4-H shows to locally-raised barbecue roasted to perfection in the deep dirt of The Good Life.

Harris Amazon1

Oakland – Vengeful bulls have multiple weapons and are experienced in their use.

McCook native Mark Harris photographed eighty-two Nebraska rodeo events in sixty-two separate locations and artistically captured the competition, the rural crowds, and all things connected with rodeo. He also visited ranches that breed broncs, bulls, and speed horses, and he spoke to hundreds of competitors.

With chapter titles like “Sandhills Speedsters: Speed-Event Horses,” “Lonely Roads and Where They Lead,” “Animal Welfare,” and “Tuck Your Chin and Brace for Hell: Bronc Riding,” you can be sure that Harris has covered the sport itself and the people, animals, and places in Nebraska where rodeo flourishes.

The photos here are driven by questions. What brings people to the sport? What is it like to compete in rodeo? How do the winners get so good? Harris gives us action shots, to be sure—bone-crushing falls and majestic rides. But he also turns his camera on the people: the communities that host rodeos and those who participate.

The book’s ability to celebrate the small-town community is one of its strongest assets. It’s the reason a person like me—with no horse knowledge and with her only rodeo-participation experience coming from growing up on a cow-calf operation and helping out when the heifers got a little wild—attends at least five rodeos a year.

I attend rodeos because they envelope me with a sense of community. What I feel in the place where my family has lived for three generations is also available at any rodeo I attend. I’ve felt this at no other sporting event, not even in the hallowed bleachers of Memorial Stadium.

Harris Amazon2

Fort Robinson State Park wranglers and other staff provide weekly rodeo entertainment for park visitors. Women compete with men in team roping.

Rodeo offers some of the grittiest, fiercest competition of any sport, but this competition fosters a camaraderie that no other sport can match. Plus, you’re not attending with 85,000 of your “closest friends” plus a television audience. You are attending with maybe one to two thousand other people, which may be five times the town’s regular population and most of the people in your county. And they truly are your closest friends – and your family and your banker and your seed dealer.

The event probably isn’t being filmed. You will watch this event, and then it will be gone. No auto-tune. Never overproduced. There will be no hours-long analysis on ESPN or columns in the newspaper about how the coach behaved or which players messed up or which receiver had the worst play of the game. The rodeo announcer will remind you that animals are athletes, too, and all athletes can have a bad day, and you respectfully applaud the cowboys and cowgirls with empty ropes as they exit the arena.

With rodeo, you have the luxury of being your own bulldogging analyst. Creating your own instant replay of a wreck or of an incredible eight-second ride. Discussing play-by-play action in a beer tent while a country cover band plays “Ring of Fire.”

Rodeo is both private and public. Intimate and collective.

In my entire life I have missed only three nights of my hometown rodeo in Webster County. I have a lot of rodeo-related emotions and memories, but one in particular illustrates the importance of rodeo in a small town.

Easy Money 1913 postcard_web

This 1913 photo from Thedford, Nebraska, is labeled, “Easy Money! Want to Try Him?”

I started working for my local paper when I was sixteen, and whenever I interviewed people who knew me (which is nearly everyone when you live in a small town), they would often patronize me. Our rodeo superintendent was one of the first people who broke this trend. Even though our family and his family farmed next to each other and I had played with his children countless times, he treated me like I was a professional when I interviewed him. It was the first time I felt like a real reporter, and though it was a small act, I am still grateful to him for that.

About a decade later, he was diagnosed with cancer. I heard updates about his illness from my parents, from posts on Facebook, and from seeing him in person if I happened to be home and ran into him.

But it wasn’t real to me until they put him, his wife, and his five kids into a pickup and drove them around the arena to thank them for their service to our rodeo. We all stood up and clapped, and I had to look at the dirt or the fence or the barrels. Because I knew if I looked into the faces of my family, friends, neighbors, and people who just loved rodeo and loved this rodeo because he took such good care of it, I would lose it.

He passed away the next winter.

Just a few months after his death, I attended the funeral of my greatest mentor and true Nebraskan force of nature John Carter, whose chair I sit in as I write this blog. And as soon as it was over, I knew I could only do one thing.

A trick-riding young lady flies by her audience at the Omaha Legion Rodeo, 1924. NSHS RG2478-15

I went to a rodeo. And I watched races and rope tying and thought about the conversations John and I had shared about cowboys, country music, ranching in Bassett, livestock, rural humor, frontier triumph and tragedy, modern Nebraska dramas, and even Buddhism. Mostly, I used that rodeo as a foundation to lay my grief and build something good out of it.

And it worked.

Because rodeo isn’t just about the horses, bulls, wild cows, cowboys, cowgirls, clowns, and spectators. Rodeo is greater than the sum of its parts.

Harris captures this in Rodeo Nebraska. This eight-year labor of love celebrates the grit, adventure, emotion, tradition, and action of rodeo.

If you want to experience that action, attend a Nebraska rodeo this summer (see the schedule here at

And until the next “Star Spangled Banner” is sung to a flag flying from a pole lodged in a horse’s stirrup in the middle of a dirt arena, buy and read Rodeo Nebraska by Mark Harris.

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Four Nebraskans and the 1915 Henry Ford Peace Ship Expedition

We’re pursuing a nautical theme today with the blog. Read our earlier post about the Titanic’s Nebraska connections here.

We love it when readers help us deepen our understanding of Nebraska history. Here reader Dr. Frank Edler of Elkhorn, NE adds to a previously published Timeline column about the 1915 Henry Ford Peace Expedition

Oscar II, 1915

The ship Oscar II became known as Henry Ford’s “Peace Ship” in 1915

In November of 1915 four Nebraskans were invited to take part in what became known as the Henry Ford peace expedition which lasted from December 4, 1915 to the end of January, 1916. The following are the four Nebraskans who went on the trip: Arthur L. Weatherly, minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Lincoln and secretary of the Nebraska Peace Society; Christian Abraham Sorensen, a University of Nebraska law student and assistant secretary of the Nebraska Peace Society; Walter A. Hixenbaugh, a University of Nebraska student and friend of Sorensen; and Will F. Noble, a University of Nebraska student who was invited to participate by Samuel Avery, Chancellor of the University of Nebraska.

Weatherly was invited as a delegate because of his position in the Nebraska Peace Society which was the state branch of the American Peace Society; he also was active in the Fourth American Peace Congress in St. Louis in 1913. Sorensen and Hixenbaugh were invited by Louis P. Lochner, who was Ford’s secretary on the peace expedition and notably Jane Addams’s secretary earlier at the International Congress of Women at The Hague. Both Sorensen and Hixenbaugh were active in the World Polity Club at the University of Nebraska which was established in February of 1915, and both attended the Cornell University Summer School of International Polity in June of 1915 modeled on Norman Angell’s university seminars in Great Britain.

The decision by Henry Ford in November of 1915 to reserve most of the cabins on two Scandinavian American steamships (the Oscar II and the Frederick VIII) for students, peace delegates, and journalists in order to sail to the neutral counties of Europe in an attempt to end the war makes sense only if we understand what happened earlier at the International Congress of Women. This congress that met at The Hague at end of April 1915 laid the groundwork for a plan to organize a conference of neutral European nations to engage the warring nations in a process of mediation to end the war. Indeed at the urging of Hungarian suffragist and peace activist Rosika Schwimmer, the congress decided to appoint a number of their own members to deliver their call for mediation by hand to the heads of state of the belligerent nations. The problem was that by the end of the summer of 1915, the women had no funding to carry their project any further in terms of actually establishing a mediation conference for neutral nations.

Over the late summer and early fall of 1915, Ford and his wife Clara had become increasingly concerned about the war and how to end it. When Rebecca Shelly, a young feisty pacifist, managed to get Ford to sit down for an interview with Rosika Schwimmer, a Hungarian suffragist and anti-war activist, and Louis Lochner, who was Jana Addams’ secretary at the International Congress of Women, Ford decided by November to back the idea of the neutral conference plan proposed by the International Congress of Women and to finance all the costs involved for establishing such a conference. Some popular accounts miss this point and tend to focus on the peace expedition as a publicity stunt.

For example, the Wikipedia entry under the heading “Peace Ship” claims that “He [Ford] hoped to create enough publicity to prompt the belligerent nations to convene a peace conference and mediate an end to the war.” Of course, Ford wanted the publicity to help his peace effort, but he knew full well that publicity alone would not prompt the belligerent nations to convene a peace conference. The real work was the establishment of a mediation conference among neutral nations to begin engaging the belligerent nations in a process of dialogue. To the credit of the peace expedition, this conference with members from the neutral nations of Norway, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, and the United States was indeed established. As Jane Addams remarked in her book Peace and Bread in Time of War, “Such a conference sitting continuously would take up one possibility after another for beginning peace negotiations.” [Jane Addams, Peace and Bread in Time of War with a new introductory essay by John Dewy (New York and Morningside Heights: King’s Crown Press, 1945), 30.] The problem was timing. When one side feels like it’s winning, it probably will not want to mediate and vice versa. The trick was to find a time when both sides felt such a sense of desperation that they were at the end of their rope and might agree to begin mediation.

A fair number of people who were invited did not go for various reasons. For example, Jane Addams wanted to go but came down with a kidney infection and was taken to a hospital. Emily Greene Balch declined because she felt she could not leave her classes at Wellesley College again as she had done seven months earlier to attend the International Congress of Women (Kraft, Peace Ship, 83, 90). William Jennings Bryan wanted to go, but he felt he was of greater use at home fighting the preparedness battle against Theodore Roosevelt.

The Ford peace expedition was the last unified effort undertaken by Americans independent of the government to bring the Great War to an end prior to America’s declaration of war in April of 1917. Concerned that the United States was not making enough of an effort to end the war, Ford went to the White House to discuss the peace mission with President Wilson and even invited a shocked president to go along with him, but as with so many other requests asking him to lead the neutral nations in an attempt to mediate, Wilson dithered and found excuses for not participating in any official capacity. His usual reason was that if he committed himself to this plan, he wouldn’t be able to change to another one if a better plan were proposed (Kraft, The Peace Ship, 66). Wilson did not officially support Ford’s peace mission nor did he support the establishment of a neutral conference [“…Wilson reaffirmed his disinclination to have anything to do with a multinational conference whose decisions he could not control, nor would he officially sanction their enterprise” (Kraft, Peace Ship, 66)].

The remarkable thing about the expedition, ridiculed widely by the press, is that it achieved its purpose. Unfortunately, it received a minimal amount of press after the main group of delegates had returned to the United States at the end of January of 1916. Those who remained in Europe and did the hard work of establishing the mediation conference received little public attention. Even before they set off to Europe, Ford blurted out at the first press conference on November 24 that he would have the boys home from the trenches by Christmas. This, of course, was an absurd task to achieve. The crossing alone would take two weeks including the search of the ship by the British Navy. Theodore Roosevelt condemned it as a “ridiculous and mischievous jitney peace junket!” (“Roosevelt Urges Unity In Defense,” The New York Times, Dec. 6, 1915, p. 3). Nevertheless, it was one of those endeavors that inspires audacity by its boldness.

C.A. Sorensen. Sorensen later became Nebraska's attorney general. NSHS RG2411-52229

C.A. Sorensen. Sorensen later became Nebraska’s attorney general. NSHS RG2411-52229

Although none of the Nebraskans stayed in Europe to be part of the actual neutral conference committee, Weatherly and Sorensen, both absolute pacifists, were energized as well as disappointed by the trip.

They were energized by what they were able to accomplish and by the reception they received in the neutral countries despite the fact that the United States was a supplier of munitions and credit to the Allies. They were disappointed by President Wilson’s call for a buildup of military and naval forces shortly after the Oscar II left for Norway and by Ford’s return to the United States due to illness after they reached Norway. They also discovered when they returned home by early February, 1916, that very few Americans knew about the details of the trip and the attempt to establish a conference composed of delegates from neutral nations.

—- Dr. Frank Edler, professor of philosophy at Metro Community College in Omaha

Sources/Further Reading:

Kraft, Barbara S. Peace Ship: Henry Ford’s Pacifist Adventure in the First World War. New York: MacMillan, 1979. Print.

“Peace Ship.” Wikipedia. 28 Dec. 2015. Last accessed 14 April 2016. Web.

Sorensen, Juliet. “Plains Crusader: C. A. Sorensen’s Assault on Organized Crime and the Political Machine in Omaha.” Nebraska History. Fall 2015




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