Lincoln, NE Thursday March 2
Who knew that camels originated in Nebraska? You doubt me? Well, the University of Nebraska State Museum in Morrill Hall at the campus says so and has a large display discussing how camels originated here and migrated elsewhere. Nebraska is evidently a major, major location for fossils. “Three floors of exhibits focus on the cultural diversity, biodiversity and paleontology of Nebraska. The museum houses one of the world’s best collections of elephant fossils, including one of the world’s largest mammoth skeletons.” (Per the AAA description)
We had a blast at the museum. Actually it was the culmination of a very interesting day. We started out at the Nebraska History Museum. We only spent about 60-90 minutes here, but they were enjoyable. A new exhibit just opened up today. Over the last five years, the artist Todd Williams (from Nebraska) has painted 123 works of art, representing scenes from all 93 counties in Nebraska. The art includes portraits, landscapes, buildings, animals, etc. that cover the entire modern history of Nebraska. All scenes were realistic and, to my eye, extremely well done.
The second floor had an exhibit featuring items from their collection telling a story about a piece of Nebraska history. It might be a Kawasaki motorcycle since the first U.S.made Kawasaki was made in Nebraska. It might be a packet of Kool Aid since that product originated in Nebraska. It might be a Ku Klux Klan robe with the story of how the guy who wore it began a local Klan around 1990 and began harassing Jews. One Jewish family he called responded with kindness and compassion. Over a few years, the Klan member renounced the Klan, converted to Judaism, became ill and the Jewish family acted as his hospice service. It might have been a story about a Latino girl who picked sugar beets out in western Nebraska. The exhibits gave you a personal feel for the history of Nebraska and its people, not just a rote telling along a timeline.
After the Nebraska History Museum, we had lunch. Our Evergreen hosts had invited us to share with them lunch at Southeast Community College where the culinary students were preparing and serving the luncheon. Faith was our server, hoping to graduate this fall and to go into a bakery career. For the first course you chose between navy bean and ham soup or smoked duck salad. The main course options were carpet bagger steak, herbed salmon or bangers and mash. Dessert was your choice of milk chocolate pots de crime, dried fruit bread pudding, or white chocolate mousse. None of us had the bangers and mash but everything else was chosen and rated excellent. For $12 including tax and gratuity, it was a grand meal that fed us for the entire day.
As we left the college, we talked with another couple who gave us tips for other places to see and eat at between Lincoln and Grand Island NE, our next lodging location.
Next stop: Nebraska State Capitol. For a state capitol, the Nebraska capitol is a grand and pleasing surprise. Nebraska’s population is a little less than two million with over one half of that in the metro areas of Omaha and Lincoln. Nebraska has the only unicameral (one house) legislature in the United States, dating back to the 1937. The capitol building was built between 1922 and 1932 so there are two legislative chambers, but one is never used now. The state built the capitol on a pay as you go basis so it was completed and paid for at the same time. The building is also one of only four (I believe) that are shaped as a tower; Florida, Louisiana and North Dakota are the other three.
The capitol tower does have a small dome with a statue of “The Sower” on top. There are four rectangular low-rise office wings with their own courtyard surrounding the tower. Each wing extending out from the rotunda area has its own unique feel. For instance, the Supreme Court wing is dark and gloomy. The north wing has numerous murals, friezes, and tile works that amaze and delight the person walking down the hall. We were the only people on the 2 PM tour so we were also able to get into the locked Supreme Court chambers and the locked unused legislative chambers. Both were filled with symbolism of Nebraska and ancient philosophers and, while well-done, did not “Wow” us.
We made a quick stop at a small museum. The American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. This museum is sponsored by a group of people intent on maintaining their heritage. During the time of Catherine the Great and Alexander I of Russia, about 1760 to 1820, these two Russian leaders invited foreigners to settle in Russia to fill in population voids. Foreigners were guaranteed the ability to run their own communities in their own languages and to not be drafted to serve in the Russian army.
Tens of thousands of Germans took up the offer. Lousy economic conditions, forced military service-frequently for other countries (think of the Hessians fighting with the British in our Revolutionary War), religious intolerance, shortage of land, etc all contributed to this movement. But around 1870, Alexander II revoked those promises. Migration to the United States and South America followed with most of those emigrating to the US settling in North Dakota, Nebraska and other Plains states. This museum is dedicated to telling their story and preserving the records of who came over and when. It was pleasant, a new bit of history but not necessarily the highlight of the day.
The day’s highlight was Morrill Hall. If the name sounds familiar to Americans, it is because there are a dozen Morrill Halls on college campuses. They are named after Justin Morrill, a U.S. Representative from Vermont who sponsored the Morrill Land Grand College Act that gave land to the states to pay for establishing universities.
Morrill Hall has wonderful, but dated stylistically, exhibits on the unique and numerous role of fossils in this state. If I remember the exhibits correctly, Nebraska has more fossil finds than any other state in the US. Nebraska works extensively with road building projects and any fossils found become a cooperative effort between the contractor and archaeologists to extract the fossils without slowing down the road construction.
So camels are but one fossil find. In fact, there are over 100 camel fossil sites in Nebraska. Woolly mammoths and other prehistoric fossils and recreated extinct animals are the major focus of many exhibit halls. Some of the exhibits are unique and found nowhere else in the world.
Another display showcases the National Geographic PhotoArk. This is an effort to photograph biodiversity by showcasing all species on earth. A stupendous effort. One exhibit hall is dedicated to photos of hundreds of animals with an emphasis on the species close to extinction.
2017 is the sesquicentennial of Nebraska’s statehood and the Museum was sponsoring several events tonight. We could have done yoga-we did not. There was story time we skipped. And we almost skipped free pizza because we were just suspicious about why free pizza. Well, there was a catch. We were invited in to be creative and make some art work as part of the process. We probably could have passed and still eaten the pizza but Chris was a good sport and gave it a go. Let’s just say the final product will not be hanging on anybody’s wall.
So, a long day filled with some unique activities. Tomorrow we finish up in Lincoln and head out to Grand Island and Kearney NE.
Ed and Chris. March 2