NEBRASKA TOURIST INFORMATION: (800) 228-4307
In 1867 the city of Lancaster changed its name to Lincoln in honor of the slain "Great Emancipator," President Abraham Lincoln. Despite its population of only 30 residents it was chosen as the state capital in a bitter debate between North Platte River residents and South. Today, with the double anchors of the towering 400-foot State Capitol and the University of Nebraska campus, Lincoln's 200,000 residents enjoy a cultural city of shops, galleries, and museums amid a friendly, small town atmosphere.
Statehouse (402) 471- 0448
"The Capitol of a state is the outward sign of the character of its people."
--Thomas Rogers Kimball
Advisor to Nebraska Capitol Commission
This 400-foot, four-tiered white tower is the first state capitol ever designed in a combination style of Art Deco skyscraper/gold-crowned dome. It's ranked by the American Institute of Architects as the fourth modern architectural wonder, along with India's Taj Mahal and England's Parliament building.The base of the gold dome is rimmed in mosaic tiles of blue and gold, on top of the gold dome stands "The Sower," a 19 foot, David-like statue of a man sowing seeds. One of the most unusual facts about this capitol is its economy and efficiency. Nebraskans never incurred any debt to construct this, their third capitol. Furthermore, they built around the old capitol in stages over a 10 year period, thus minimally disrupting state business. The interior of this capitol is a blend of castle/cathedral,with thick stone walls, vaulted ceilings, and mosaic tiled floors and ceilings depicting gods and goddesses of soil, vegetation and animal life.
Tip: The Observation Deck on the 14th floor is closed for four years while the building undergoes restoration work; however Memorial Hall, also on the 14th floor, remains open to the public. The ride to the 14th floor in the old, wood paneled elevator is a thrill as is the destination. The Memorial Chamber's magnificent mural-covered circular room, depicting human ideals, such as Health, Freedom, Self-Determination, and Prosperity, basks in a golden light that comes in from the ceiling, giving the room a sense of being Heaven blessed.
Check it out . . . For its first 68 years, Nebraska legislature operated like any other state, with both a Senate and a House of Representatives. But today Nebraska is the only state in the nation with a single house. In 1934 Nebraskans voted to eliminate one half of its house and become the first and, to this day, the only unicameral legislature. This decision came two years after the new capitol was completed, so the Senate chamber is now used as a meeting room, which is not open to the public. But the closed double doors to the Senate room is its most interesting feature anyway, with colorful images of Native American designs and symbols.
Nebraska State History Museum (402) 472- 2642
Exhibits recreate scenes of Nebraska history, from prehistory to the Plains Indians to the pioneers' taming of prairie land into farmland, and all the tools, crafts and clothing associated with life in early Nebraska.
Nebraska State Fair
By sheer luck, we happened to arrive in Lincoln during their annual State Fair. Instantly we were immersed in everything Nebraska. This year's Fair offers demonstrations of antique farm machinery, weaving and quilting as well as daily pig races, a zoo, a Nebraska wildflower and wildlife exhibit, and competitions for the best Jams, Jellies, Cakes, Candies, Breads Pickles, Wine and Beer. An old log cabin built in 1863, also on the fairgrounds, is hosted by a "pioneer" in homespun clothing standing outside the door serving free, homemade chili and bread made right on the open fire, the way homesteaders would have made it. The bread had and excellent bacon flavor, and the chili, a rich reddish brown concoction was the best we've ever tasted . . .(and we spent four months in Texas!) "You can make anything in a Dutch oven" the pioneer said. "Pies, cakes, soups. Anything."
Historic Haymarket Farmer's Market
Every Saturday local farmers and crafters bring their produce and their homemade wares to the historic Haymarket, an area of old warehouses converted into restaurants, shops and cafes. Here is a horn of plenty filled with local honey, Nebraskan corn, fresh farm eggs, and fresh baked breads and pastries. Samples of fresh produce and deliciously cooked meats abound on every corner. This week we had a cup of homemade root beer that was not too bitter, not too sweet, but just right, and packed with flavor.
HOMESTEAD NATIONAL MONUMENT OF AMERICA, Beatrice (402) 223- 3514
On New Year's Day in 1863 Daniel Freeman walked into the Land Office and became the first man to take up the Federal Government's offer for free land. He filed his claim to 160 acres on Cub Creek, one of the finest pieces of land in Nebraska, because of the readily available water. Most other pioneers weren't so lucky and had to dig wells, sometimes 100 feet deep, and build windmills to power the water pump. Today the Freeman's 160 acres of land is preserved as a Homestead National Monument to show the land conditions a pioneer had faced. Exhibits in the museum tell the story of the 1862 Homestead Act's offer for free land. It also shows the tools and machinery farmers used to tame the wild prairie. An authentic pioneer log cabin shows the interior conditions of life . . . for the lucky ones. Others who moved farther west, where timber was nonexistent, lived in sod houses, where sheets had to be hung on the ceiling to catch the falling insects, and a woman's kitchen garden outside her door competed with the wildflower garden growing on her roof. But even more intriguing than the museum and the log cabin is the 2-1/2 mile trail across the 160 acres. If there is such a thing as heaven on Earth, this is it. The National Park Service has restored the native wildflowers and wild prairie grasses that grow about 10 feet high. A beautiful, peaceful trail meanders through towering wildflowers of bright yellow sunflowers, spiky purple thistles, gentle blue sage, delicate pink flowers, Osage Orange trees and dozens of different prairie grasses. One feels childlike, a bit like Alice in Wonderland, strolling through these grasses and flowers towering overhead, or draping across the trail. It's a Willa Cather novel come to life. Oh Pioneers!
Tip: Arrive in early morning or late afternoon to catch this beautiful landscape in a mellow light. Mid-day sun is too white and the heat to unbearable to fully enjoy the subtle colors and hushed sounds.
Check it out . . . Mr. and Mrs Freeman are buried here. The trail leads past their tombstone. As we stop to pay our respects, we can't help but note that this is a wonderful way to be remembered.
PONY EXPRESS STATION, Gothenburg (800) 482-5520
This building was used as a station for the famous Pony Express Riders of 1860-1861. The time-pressed riders would speed in, get a fresh horse, and rush back to the road, in rain, sleet, hail, or dark of night to get the "express" mail to its ultimate destination in record time. The small, humble log cabin seems a bit lackluster but inside is a toy chest of old Pony Express paraphernalia, and modern Pony Express toys that will delight adults as well as children. (We played in here for hours; took home a sackful of toys.)
BOYS TOWN, Omaha (402) 498-1140 or (800) 625-1400
Boys Town was founded by Father Edward Flanagan, a young Irish priest who, right after his ordination, came to Omaha to help men less fortunate than himself. At first Father. Flanagan visited bars and saloons trying to help fallen men, but soon realized they were too tightly trapped in their lifelong habits, so he turned to helping boys who had been orphaned, or abandoned to the streets, who had not yet hardened their souls. In 1917, working from a borrowed sum of $90, he rented a large house, and began his lifelong work of providing home, shelter, education, vocational training and spiritual guidance to boys of the street, turning would-be criminals into productive citizens.Today the site, which spans 900 acres of rolling hills, trees and gardens, as well as a working farm, is home to over 500 troubled boys and girls.Visit the Hall of History and see a timeline of the incredible achievements of Father Flanagan, depicted through life-sized exhibits of daily events. Get a close-up look at "Oscar," the Academy Award given to Spencer Tracy for his leading role as Father Flanagan in the 1938 hit movie, "Boys Town." Tracy relinquished his award to Father Flanagan where it is now on display to the public. Take a walk through the peaceful, inspirational Bible Garden and Father Flanagan's American Rose Garden. See the famous "Two Brothers" statue of a strong boy carrying a weaker boy on his back, with the famous line, "He ain't heavy . . .he's my brother."
Tip: Both the Protestant and Catholic Gothic chapels are open to the public for Sunday morning services. Seated in a pew next to some of today's residents of Boys Town, listening to an inspirational sermon is a wonderful way to begin the day here. All exhibits are open on Sunday but the cafeteria is not, so pack a lunch.
Check it out . . . Boys Town is self-governed by a student mayor, elected by the students. It even has its own U.S. Post Office
OUR CAMPSITE FOR THE WEEK:
Camp-A-Way, Lincoln (402) 476-2282
Fell in love with this campground the minute we saw it. Maybe it's because it reminds us of New England with its eastern trees, flowers and shrubs. After being away from such greenery for so long, it felt like we were among old friends. We were pleasantly surprised to find a swimming pool and a modem hookup. The grounds are beautiful and the lots are staggered so that each site seems especially private -- no RV blocks another. The sites are large enough to park the truck right beside the trailer and still have plenty of "patio" space with a picnic area along a small stream. Right next door is a city park, providing a lovely walking/jogging trail. We feel very much at home here. It actually feels like a home with a small yard. And all the facilities are very well-maintained.