Before moving out into the “village,” we spent a fair amount of time wandering amid the wonders of the sprawling, indoor museum. One can watch the progression of technology over more than 100 years, in fields as disparate as art, transportation, farming, and food preparation. It’s truly a remarkable collection. There are wagons and coaches, more than 350 antique cars, more than a dozen airplanes, and 100 antique tractors, plus toys, sculpture, and machines for every possible task. Fabulous.
One fact I found fascinating was the extent of operations for moving freight. Before Henry and Clem Studebaker made cars, they made huge Freight Wagons, and these wagons moved a tremendous amount of goods (from trade goods to simply people moving households) along the Oregon Trail. The operation of one freight company alone — Bussell, Major, and Waddell — required 6,000 wagons and 75,000 oxen to move freight over the trail. Remarkable. And not the sort of thing one ever sees in schoolbooks.
There was a sign that explained that the buckboard wagon paralleled today’s station wagon or mini van. It could accommodate a family, but the seats could be removed to make room for grain bags or other supplies.
Having already done enough research on popcorn to know that C.C. Cretors would be a major part of my chapter on popcorn, I was delighted to see one of the early Cretors popcorn machines/wagons, with the little Tosty Rosty Man looking a bit the worse for wear, but still at his station, ready to turn the crank if the steam got turned on again.
Early Cretors Popcorn wagon
Driving about 50 miles east from Arapahoe, through an alternating landscape of fields and small towns, we came to the small town of Minden, Nebraska. Like all other small towns in this region, it is marked by grain elevators and railroad tracks. However Minden is also home to Pioneer Village, an indoor-outdoor museum that has been named “Best Pioneer History Collection” for several years running.
If you couldn’t tell from my lengthy description of the Living History Farms in Iowa, I love places like this. That said, I love anywhere that allows me to interact with life, past or present, from a working farm to a historic home to a Revolutionary War reenactment. So I was delighted with this place.
Pioneer Village represents the vision and life work of Harold Warp. It claims to be the largest private collection of Americana—and I have no reason to doubt that. The complex is home to 50,000 artifacts that cover the full spectrum of the region’s settlement and development, all lovingly restored and carefully grouped by function and era. There is also a splendid art gallery. All this is housed in more than two dozen buildings, many of which are, themselves, historic artifacts. It offered a splendid opportunity to see things I’d only read about or seen in photographs – and the next few posts will show more details.
Don’t know if you’re planning a trip across Nebraska, but if you are, I’d recommend this as a way to get “up close and personal” with a lot of the history of the Great Plains. http://www.pioneervillage.org/
Leaving the museum, I headed across town to the Nebraska State Capitol. Designed in 1920 by New York Architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, the present building is the third to be erected on this site. It was the first statehouse in the country to adopt a design that dramatically departed from the prototypical form of the nation’s Capitol and to use an office tower.
The building is suitably imposing, making it clear that it is a center of government. The decorations, inside and out, do a good job of capturing the eras, ideals, and aspects of Nebraska history, with a wealth of statues, bas-reliefs, murals, inscriptions, and decorative fixtures.
Agriculture is highlighted everywhere. The statue that caps the tower is titled The Sower. This brass light fixture is another example, with its spray of wheat and ear of corn.
Across the open plains and into Lincoln, Nebraska. Arrived in time for dinner with friend Jane, who suggested we dine at her favorite Greek restaurant. Lovely evening talking about corn and farming. (Jane’s dad was a farmer, and her mom still lives on the family farm.)
Next morning, I headed off for a day of exploring. Jane had contacted the Nebraska History Museum to arrange for a docent/guide for me, and the wonderful Jack Chaffin was waiting for me when I arrived.
Jack guided me through the excellent displays, which cover 10,000 years of Nebraska history. I won’t even try to share everything I learned, but here are a few highlights:
- Of the many Native American groups that were here when Europeans arrived (Pawnee, Omaha, Ponca, Oto, Ioway, Sac, Winnebago, Cheyenne, and Arapaho), about half were moved to other states and about half adapted and are still living in Nebraska today.
- Pawnee were one of the largest groups in the area, and the Skidi Pawnee was the largest Pawnee group. The Skidi brought Aztec astronomy with them when they moved north from Mexico. They grew four different colors of corn: red, blue, yellow, and white.
- Ft. Atkinson, north of Omaha, had the first bowling alley in Nebraska.
- Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte, an Omaha, was the first Native American to become a doctor, graduating, in 1889, at the top of her class from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, one of the first medical schools to accept women.
- Because Nebraska is 1500 miles from both East and West Coasts, it was popular during World War II for military plants. Forty percent of all ammo used during WW II was made here, as were bombers and depth charges.
- During World War II, camps for German and Italian POWs were located here. Many of the POWs happily worked on local farms, in place of the farmers who had gone off to war.
That is just a fraction of what I learned, but I hope it is enough to make you want to visit and learn more.
This wonderful museum is being renovated in 2015, so you may have to wait to see it, but it is well worth a trip to Lincoln. Here’s their website, so you can check and make sure it’s open before you plan your trip: Nebraska History Museum http://www.nebraskahistory.org/sites/mnh/index.htm