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Lifelong fascination with history feeds Bill Gonzalez and his photo archival work at Durham Museum

December 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Lifelong fascination with history feeds Bill Gonzalez and his photo archival work at Durham Museum

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico (el-perico.com)

A glass plate portrait loaded with family secrets and a chance exposure to a noted photographic collection foreshadowed the photo activist work Bill Gonzalez does today at Durham Museum.

He grew up in South Omaha the oldest of eight children of Mexican immigrant parents. An old image of his grandparents in Mexico intrigued him enough as a boy to ask questions. He discovered his maternal grandfather was a wealthy rancher who married multiple times to younger women. Then there was the tale of a great aunt in the family’s ancestral village who was hidden from marauding bandits in the lawless post-Mexican Revolution years.

“I found all that about my heritage really interesting,” he said. “The stories I heard provided me with a connection to that part of my family I never knew.”

A 1967 slideshow at South High School showing select photos of early Omaha from the Bostwick-Frohardt Collection motivated him to learn about the stories behind the people, places and events of his hometown.

“Those pictures made such a deep impression on me. Something that happened so far back led to something a lot greater in my life.”

Studying historical photos, he said, “is like looking through a window into the past.”

“You can see people as they were doing what they were doing at a certain period in time. You can’t travel into the past but you can look into it. That’s kind of neat.”

Gonzalez was always inquisitive and an avid reader.

“I mean, how many 11-year-olds do you know that read ‘The Illiad’? I was a nerdy kid. I wasn’t into playing baseball and things like that. I spent a lot of time in the South Omaha library.”

He’s the product of tough love.

“When I found out other kids got an allowance, I broached the subject with my dad. I said, ‘Popi, don’t you think I should get an allowance?’ He said, ‘Hijo, I allow you to live.’ So I started hustling – running errands for neighbors, cutting grass, shoveling snow. I got my social security card at 12. I’ve done everything – you name it.”

Nothing was as satisfying as his current Durham gig.

“The best part of my job is helping people find pictures they have personal connections to, like the neighborhood church, school, movie theater or park they used to go to. When I can find a picture that means something special to somebody, that is the best high I can get.

“Anytime I find pictures of South Omaha, they evoke memories in me, I know that part of town. South Omaha in its own right is very historic. It’s such an eclectic mixture of ethnic groups and nationalities. It’s contributed heavily to the prosperity of this town. Thousands upon thousands of people are living here today because an ancestor came to South Omaha to work in the packinghouses.”

He takes seriously the role the archive serves.

“We’re the keepers of the past. I really think what we have here and what we do here is very important. It provides a continuity of memory. Museums and archives really are the storehouses of memories of humanity.”

In searching for pictures in the Durham collections, he said, “it helps if you’re a native Omahan.”

“I know about places that used to be, things that happened. Not just pieces of memories, but history. I’ve got a mind like a black suit that picks up white lint or in this case little pieces of information. I am not an expert, but I know a little bit about a lot of things, and it’s all useful.”

Experience helps, too. “I’ve been here 13 years-plus, so by now I have a fairly good idea of what we have in the collections that might be pertinent. Sometimes I have to piece together information to figure out what I’m looking for and where to find it .Where to find it is the trick because we have so many collections. Usually I can narrow it down to one collection.”

 

From the Bostwick-Frohardt Collection, this 1911 image was taken on top of the Union Pacific Railroad Building at 14th & Dodge streets looking east.

 

He compares the searches he makes to a hunt.

“I go out and hunt pictures down for people. It’s a lot easier now than when I started because we didn’t have any of this stuff digitized in a searchable data base. There’s still a lot of hit and miss searching. I strike out a lot. I wish I could have a picture for everything everybody wants, but I don’t. But now you can go online and search for this stuff by keywords. It makes it more accessible to more people more of the time.”

He conducts searches for “a wide range of people with a wide range of interests from personal to professional.”

Educators, historians, journalists, students, laborers, and folks from other walks of life request his help.

He works with highly educated interns and staff but feels he has something to contribute they cannot.

“Here I am a high school graduate and yet I can sit and talk to them about things they don’t have any background on.”

Gonzalez might never have done this work if not for an injury on his previous job that forced early retirement.

“I was sitting at home trying to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life when this came along. It pulled me back into the world.”

He began as a volunteer before joining the paid staff.

“I couldn’t have found a better position for someone of my bent who enjoys history and loves the history of his town. I don’t really think of it as a job.”

He’s discovered “there’s a whole world of people out there that have the same interest” he does in history.

The Durham photo archive is a resource for the whole community, he emphasizes.

“It belongs to everybody.  It’s available for the public to use.”

For Gonzalez, there’s nothing better than sharing his passion with others.

“I love showing my pictures to people, telling them what they’re looking at.”

He’s grown a following for his Flashback Friday posts on the Durham’s Facebook page.

He makes occasional public presentations.

“I’d like to do more of that because that’s what got me hooked on this. I’d love to go out and talk to a group of kids and maybe have one of those kids study history or get involved with the museum because of what they saw. That would be a neat thing.

“It would be full circle.”

Contact the museum’s photo archive department at photoarchive@durhammuseum.org or by phone at 402-444-5071.

The archive can be searched online anytime at durhammuseum.contentdm.oclc.org.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.


Image may contain: one or more people, tree and outdoor
No automatic alt text available.

Stereoscopic photo of 3rd Nebraska Volunteers in parade after their return from the Spamish-American War and the

viewfinder used to see this and other early 3D images.

Image may contain: 1 person, crowd, wedding and outdoor
From the John Savage Collection. When Omaaha’s downtown sidewalks teemeed with people.
This is from circa 1967 outside J.L. Brandeis & Sons Department Store.

Life Itself XII: Omaha History Stories


Life Itself XII:

Omaha History Stories

Cathy Hughes proves you can come home again

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Coming home is sweet for media giant Cathy Hughes

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North Omaha rupture at center of PlayFest drama

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John Knicely: A Broadcast Journalism Career Five Decades Strong

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Dundee Theater: Return engagement for the ages

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The Urban League movement lives strong in Omaha

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Native Omaha Days: A Homecoming Like No Other

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Brenda Council: A public servant’s life

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South Omaha Museum: A melting pot magic city gets its own museum

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Mural project celebrates mosaic of South Omaha culture

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One Hundred Years Strong: Bryant-Fisher Family Reunion

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Baseball and Soul Food at Omaha Rockets Kanteen

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In their own words – The Greatest Generation on World War II

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The tail-gunner’s grandson: Ben Drickey revisits World War II experiences on foot and film

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Love affair with Afghanistan and international studies affords Tom Gouttierre world view like few others

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Father Ken Vavrina: Crossing Bridges

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Omaha Children’s Museum all grown up at 40: Celebrating four decades of letting children’s imagination run free

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Eighty years and counting:

History in the making at the Durham Museum

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Durham Museum to celebrate 40-and-40: Forty years as train station and four decades as museum

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IMG_3842

 

“Nebraska Methodist College at 125: Scaling New Heights”

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Omaha history salvager Frank Horejsi:

Dream calls for warehouse to become a museum

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North’s Star: Gene Haynes builds legacy as education leader with Omaha Public Schools and North High School

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Alone or together, Omaha power couple Vic Gutman and Roberta Wilhelm give back to the community

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Creative couple: Bob and Connie Spittler and their shared creative life 60 years in the making

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David Corbin and Josie Metal-Corbin: Moving Right Along

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Ben and Freddie Gray: North Omaha Power Couple

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Omaha’s old lion of philanthropy Dick Holland slowing down but still roaring and challenging the status quo

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Ed Poindexter and David Rice in 1970, North Omaha, Nebraska

 

Crime and punishment questions still surround 1970 killing that sent Omaha Two to life in prison

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North Omaha: Voices and Visions for Change

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Two Part Series:

After Decades of Walking Behind to Freedom, Omaha’s African-American Community Tries Picking Up the Pace Through Self-Empowered Networking

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Mike Green and Dick Davis: Lifetime Friends, Former Backfield Mates, Now Entrepreneurs

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Two families suffer Omaha’s segregation and waken the conscience of a nation

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When New Horizons Dawned for African-Americans Seeking Homes in Omaha

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South Omaha stories on tap for free PlayFest show; Great Plains Theatre Conference’s Neighborhood Tapestries returns to south side

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Image result for omaha community playhouse

 

Celebrating 90 years, the Omaha Community Playhouse takes seriously its community theater mission

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Playwright turned history detective Max Sparber turns identity search inward

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Jim Trebbien: Lifelong love affair with food led to distinguished culinary arts education career at Metropolitan Community College

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The Artist in the Mill: Linda Meigs brings agriculture, history and art together at Florence Mill

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Patrick Drickey: Golf Shots

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Nancy Kirk: Fabric and Faith

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Edith Buis: A Life Immersed in Art

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Life comes full circle for singer Carol Rogers

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Goin’ down the Lincoln Highway with Omaha music guru Nils Anders Erickson

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Omaha’s Old Market: 

History, stories, places, personalities, characters

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The X-Men Weigh-In on Designing a New Omaha

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Designing Woman: Connie Spellman Helps Shape a New Omaha Through Omaha By Design

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Play considers Northside black history through eyes of Omaha Star publisher Mildred Bown

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Mike Saklar: Whatsoever You Do to the Least of My Brothers

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Teela Mickles: Nurturing One Lost Soul at a Time

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Kent Bellows: Soul in Motion

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Kent Bellows legacy lives on

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Young artist steps out of the shadows of towering presence in his life

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Exhibit by photographer Jim Krantz and his artist grandfather, the late David Bialac engages in art conversation through the generations

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Book explores University of Nebraska at Omaha’s rich history

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A brief history of Omaha’s civil rights struggle distilled in black and white by photographer Rudy Smith

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Rich music history long untold revealed and celebrated by Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame

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The History Man, Gary Kastrick, and his Project OMAHA lose home base

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Omahans recall historic 1963 march on Washington

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Great Migration Stories: For African Americans who left the South for Omaha, the specter of down home is never far away

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THE GREAT MIGRATION: WHEREVER PEOPLE MOVE, HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

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CIVIL RIGHTS: STANDING UP FOR WHAT’S RIGHT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

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The Omaha Star | by National Register

 

The Omaha Star celebrates 75 years of black woman legacy

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Marguerita Washington:

The woman behind the Star that never sets

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Omaha World-Herald columnist Mike Kelly:

A storyteller for all seasons

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Bob Hoig’s unintended entree into journalism leads to career six decades strong

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Omaha Fashion Past

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Theater-Fashion Maven Elaine Jabenis

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Timeless Fashion Illustrator Mary Mitchell: Her Work Illustrating Three Decades of Style Now Subject of New Book and Exhibition

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/07/timeless-fashion…k-and-exhibition

 

From the Archives: Warren Francke – A passion for journalism, teaching and life

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Documentary considers Omaha’s changing face since World War II

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Omaha Community Foundation project assesses the Omaha landscape with the goal of affecting needed change

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Omaha Community Foundation:

A Giving Connection Serving Those Who Serve

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Everything old newly restored again at historic Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/15/everything-old-i…-church-in-omaha

photo

Remembering Omaha Old Market original, fruit and vegetable peddler Joe Vitale

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From the Archives: Ode to the Omaha Stockyards

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Last days and halcyon times of the Omaha Stockyards remembered

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“Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores, Omaha, Lincoln, Greater Nebraska and Southwest Iowa”

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Retired Omaha World-Herald military affairs newsman Howard Silber: War veteran, reporter, raconteur, bon vi vant, globetrotter

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/06/retired-omaha-wo…nt-globe-trotter

From the Archives: Former Omaha television photojournalist Don Chapman’s adventures in imagemaking keep him on the move

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Omaha’s KVNO 90.7 FM turns 40: Commercial-free public radio station serves the community all classical music and local news

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/11/omahas-kvno-90-7…ent-set-it-apart

Nancy Bounds, Timeless Arbiter of Fashion Beauty, Glamour, Poise

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Charles Jones: Looking Homeward

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Back in the Day:

Native Omaha Days is reunion, homecoming, heritage celebration and party all in one

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Native Omaha Days: A Black is Beautiful celebration, now, and all the days gone by

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/04/native-omaha-day…the-days-gone-by

The Ties that Bind:

One family’s celebration of Native Omaha Days

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/11/the-ties-that-bi…ative-omaha-days

photo

photo by Cyclops-Optic (Jack David Hubbell)

My Brother’s Keeper, The competitive drive MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson’s older brother, Josh, instilled in him (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

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Luigi’s Legacy, The Late Omaha Jazz Artist Luigi Waites Fondly Remembered

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Carole Woods Harris Makes a Habit of Breaking Barriers for Black Women in Business and Politics

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By land, by sea, by air, Omaha Jewish veterans performed far-flung wartime duties

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Omaha’s Tuskegee Airmen

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Donovan Ketzler: Last of the Rough Riders

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AppleMark

Warren Buffett, left, and Stan Lipsey at the Omaha Sun in the 1970s.

 

An Omaha legacy ends, Wesley House Community Center shutters after 139 years — New use for site unknown

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Sun reflection: Revisiting the Omaha Sun’s Pulitzer Prize-winning expose of Boys Town

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Burden of Dreams:

The trials of Omaha’s Black Museum

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Long and winding saga of Great Plains Black History Museum takes new turn

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Coloring History:

A long, hard road for UNO Black Studies

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Omaha’s Monty Ross talks about making history with Spike Lee

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Radio One queen Cathy Hughes rules by keeping it real: Native Omahan created Urban Radio format

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Show goes on at Omaha Community Playhouse, where Henry Fonda and Dorothy McGuire got their start

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Omaha’s Grand Old Lady, The Orpheum Theater

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Magical mystery tour of Omaha’s Magic Theatre, a Megan Terry and Jo Ann Schmidman production

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Nancy Duncan: Her final story

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From the Archives: Nancy Duncan’s journey to storytelling took circuitous route

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Bertha’s Battle: Bertha Calloway, the Grand Lady of Lake Street, struggles to keep the Great Plains Black History Museum afloat

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Requiem for a Heavyweight, the Ron Stander Story

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This version of Simon Says positions Omaha Steaks as food service juggernaut

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Bedrock values at core of four-generation All Makes Office Furniture Company

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Customer-first philosophy makes family-owned Kohll’s Pharmacy and Homecare stand out from the crowd

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Altman on Altman: A look at the late American auteur Robert Altman through the eyes of his grandson, indie Omaha filmmaker Dana Altman, and other cinephiles

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A Contrary Path to Social Justice: The De Porres Club and the fight for equality in Omaha

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University of Nebraska at Omaha Wrestling dynasty built on tide of social change

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Academy Award-nominated documentary “A Time for Burning” captured church and community struggle with racism

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When Omaha’s North 24th Street brought together Jews and Blacks in a melting pot marketplace

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Filmmaker Alexander Payne and his father George remember the family’s Virginia Cafe

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Cover of

Billy Melton served with Omaha’s “Sweet Sixteen” in the all black 530th Quartermaster Battalion

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In her 101 years, ex-vaudeville dancer Maude Wangberg has lived a whirl of splendor

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The Brandeis Story:

Great Plains family-owned department store empire

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In Memoriam: George Eisenberg

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Charles Hall’s Fair Deal Cafe

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Deadeye Marcus “Mac” McGee still a straight shooter at 100

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The series and the stadium: CWS and Rosenblatt are home to the Boys of Summer

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A Rosenblatt Tribute

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El Puente: Attempting to bridge divide between grassroots community and the system

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/22/el-puente-attemp…y-and-the-system/

Rabbi Azriel: Legacy as social progressive and interfaith champion secure

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Nebraska’s Changing Face; UNO’s Changing Face

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Good Shepherds of North Omaha:

Ministers and Churches Making a Difference in Area of Great Need

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/04/the-shepherds-of…ea-of-great-need

When Rosenblatt was Municipal Stadium. At the first game, from left: Steve Rosenblatt; Rex Barney; Bob Hall, owner of the Omaha Cardinals; Duce Belford, Brooklyn Dodgers scout and Creighton athletic director; Richie Ashburn, a native of Tilden, Neb.; Johnny Rosenblatt; and Johnny Hopp of Hastings, Neb.:

©Omaha World-Herald

When Rosenblatt was Municipal Stadium. At the first game, from left: Steve Rosenblatt; Rex Barney; Bob Hall, owner of the Omaha Cardinals; Duce Belford, Brooklyn Dodgers scout and Creighton athletic director; Richie Ashburn, a native of Tilden, Neb.; Johnny Rosenblatt; and Johnny Hopp of Hastings, Neb.

 

Art imitates life for “Having Our Say” stars, sisters

Camille Metoyer Moten and Lanette Metoyer Moore, and their brother Ray Metoyer

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/05/art-imitates-lif…ther-ray-metoyer

Brenda Allen’s real life ccuntry music drama took her from Nebraska to Vietnam to Vegas

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/06/01/brenda-allens-re…vietnam-to-vegas

Ex-reporter Eileen Wirth pens book on Nebraska women in journalism and their leap from society page to front page

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/03/22/ex-reporter-eile…ge-to-front-page

Documentary shines light on civil rights powerbroker Whitney Young: Producer Bonnie Boswell to discuss film and Young

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/03/21/documentary-shin…e-film-and-young/

Free Radical Ernie Chambers subject of new biography by author Tekla Agbala Ali Johnson

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/12/05/free-radical-ern…bala-ali-johnson

Creighton College of Business anchored in pioneering entrepreneurial spirit and Jesuit philosophy

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/19/creighton-colleg…esuit-philosophy

Gender equity in sports has come a long way, baby; Title IX activists-advocates who fought for change see much progress and the need for more

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/11/gender-equity-in…he-need-for-more/

One Helluva Broad: Mary Galligan Cornett

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/09/one-helluva-broa…galligan-cornett

When a building isn’t just a building:

LaFern Willams South YMCA facelift reinvigorates community

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/03/when-a-building-…-just-a-buildin

 

 

Carolina Quezada leading rebound of Latino Center of the Midlands

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/05/03/carolina-quezada…-of-the-midlands

Allan Noddle’s food industry adventures show him the world

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/28/allan-noddles-ad…ow-him-the-world

Devotees hold fast to the Latin rite

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/15/devotees-hold-fa…o-the-latin-rite/ 

 

Steve Rosenblatt: A legacy of community service, political ambition and baseball adoration

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/27/steve-rosenblatt…seball-adoration

From the Archives:

Peony Park not just an amusement playground, but a multi-use events facility

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/08/from-the-archive…-events-facility

Making the case for a Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/27/making-the-case-…rts-hall-of-fame

El Museo Latino opened as Midwest’s first Latino art and history museum-cultural center

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/14/el-museo-latino-…r-in-the-midwest/

The Garcia Girls

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/06/the-garcia-girls

South Omaha’s Jim Ramirez: A Man of the People

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/01/jim-ramirez-a-man-of-the-people

Community-builders Jose and Linda Garcia Devote Themselves to a Life Promoting Latino Art, Culture, History

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/09/30/community-builde…-culture-history/

Jose and Linda Garcia find new outlet for their magnificent obsession in the Mexican American Historical Society of the Midlands

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/25/jose-and-linda-g…-of-the-midlands/

Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002. (Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002. (©Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson)

Afghan women arrived in Omaha under the sponsorship of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Saleemah, a teacher from Kabul and wearing a scarf is hugged by Masuma Basheer, an employee of America West Airlines in Omaha and a formerly from Afghanistan. (Omaha World-Herald photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

Afghan women arrived in Omaha under the sponsorship of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Saleemah, a teacher from Kabul and wearing a scarf is hugged by Masuma Basheer, an employee of America West Airlines in Omaha and a formerly from Afghanistan. (©Omaha World-Herald photo by Bill Batson)

tom-karzai-at-uno-reduced

Tom Gouttierre conferring UNO honorary status on Hamid Karzai during the then-Afghan president’s visit to Omaha

UNO Center for Afghanistan Studies plays role in multi-national efforts to restore Afghan educational system

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/25/uno-center-for-a…ucational-system

UNO Afghanistan Teacher Education Project trains women educators from the embattled nation

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/20/uno-afghanistan-…embattled-nation/

The enchanted life of Florence Taminosian Young, daughter of a whirling dervish

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/10/the-enchanted-li…whirling-dervish

Louise Abrahamson’s legacy of giving finds perfect fit at The Clothesline, the Boys Town thrift store the octogenarian founded and still runs

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/05/louise-abrahamso…uns-at-boys-town

Shirley Goldstein: Cream of the Crop – one woman’s remarkable journey in the Free Soviet Jewry movement

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/05/shirley-goldstei…t-jewry-movement

An Open Invitation: Rev. Tom Fangman Engages All Who Seek or Need at Sacred Heart Catholic Church

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/09/an-open-invitati…-catholic-church

The Sweet Sounds of Sacred Heart’s Freedom Choir

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/10/the-sweet-sounds…ts-freedom-choir

Salem’s Voices of Victory Gospel Choir Gets Justified with the Lord

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/07/salems-voices-of…ed-with-the-lord

Voices of Victory Mass Choir of the Salem Baptist Church CD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After steep decline, the Wesley House rises under Paul Bryant to become youth academy of excellence in the inner city

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/27/after-a-steep-de…n-the-inner-city

Song girl Ann Ronell

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/19/song-girl-ann-ronell/

A Family Thing: Bryant-Fisher Family Reunion

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/04/a-family-thing-b…r-family-reunion

Rev. Everett Reynolds Gave Voice to the Voiceless

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/18/rev-everett-reyn…to-the-voiceless

From the Archives: Minister makes no concession to retirement, plans busy travel, filmmaking schedule

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/01/from-the-archive…mmaking-schedule

From the Archives: Golden Boy Dick Mueller of Omaha leads Firehouse Theatre revival

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/23/from-the-archive…-theatre-revival/

 

Requiem for a Dynasty: UNO Wrestling

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/28/requiem-for-a-dy…ville-university/

UNO wrestling dynasty built on tide of social change

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/17/uno-wrestling-dy…-social-change-2/

Image result for don benning omaha uno

 

Magazine and mission founded on spirit of giving: Metro Magazine publisher Andy Hoig celebrates philanthropy

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/06/a-magazine-and-a…tes-philanthropy/

Lucile’s Old Market, Mother Hubbard magnificent obsession: From one eccentric to another – Mary Thompson on her late mother Lucile Schaaf

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/11/28/luciles-old-market/

Finding Forefathers: Lincoln Motion Picture Company Film Festival gives nod to past and offers glimpse of future

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/11/20/finding-forefath…limpse-of-future

Freedom riders: A get on the bus inauguration diary

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/21/get-on-the-bus-a…-ride-to-freedom

Joan Micklin Silver: Maverick filmmaker helped shape American independent film scene and opened doors for women directors

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/10/joan-micklin-sil…-women-directors

Joan Micklin Silver: Shattering cinema’s glass ceiling

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/18/shattering-cinemas-glass-ceiling

Sam Cooper’s freedom road

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/07/sam-cooper’s-freedom-road/

Man on fire: Activist Ben Gray’s flame burns bright

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/02/ben-gray-man-on-fire

Two blended houses of worship desegregate Sunday: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection and New Life Presbyterian are houses undivided

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/30/two-blended-hous…houses-unidvided

Hidden In plain view: Rudy Smith’s camera and memory fix on critical time in struggle for equality

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/29/hidden-in-plain-…gle-for-equality/

Isabella Threlkeld’s lifetime pursuit of art and ideas yields an uncommon life

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/04/isabella-threlke…an-uncommon-life/

Men of Science

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/02/men-of-science/

Blacks of Distinction

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/18/blacks-of-distinction-2

The Myers Legacy of Caring and Community

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/11/the-myers-legacy…ng-and-community

Cool Cat Billy and the Sportin’ Life

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/01/sportin-life

Art Missionaries, Bob and Roberta Rogers and their Gallery 72

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/19/art-missionaries

Get your jitney on: August Wilson play “Jitney” at the John Beasley Theater resonates with cast and crew

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/get-your-jitney-on

Puttin’ On the Ritz: Billy Melton and the crew Rrcall the Ritz Cab Co.

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/puttin-on-the-ritz

A force of nature named Evie:

Still a maverick social justice advocate at 100

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/16/a-force-of-natur…e-advocate-at-99

The Storz Brewery
The building at 1807 N. 16th St., which housed the operation until it closed in 1972. It included a hospitality room patterned after a brew house called “The Frontier Room” and a hunting lodge-style room adorned with the stuffed heads of big game called “The Trophy Room.”
THE WORLD-HERALD

 

 

The Storz Saga: A Family Dynasty – Their Mansion, the Brewery that Built It, the Man Who Loved It, a Legacy of Giving, the Loss of a Dream

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/15/the-storz-saga-a…-loss-of-a-dream

The Magnificent Obsession of Art Storz Jr., the Old Man and the Mansion

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/15/the-magnificent-…-and-the-mansion

Gospel playwright Llana Smith enjoys her Big Mama’s time

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/07/gospel-playwrigh…r-big-mamas-time

Doug Marr, Diner Theater and keeping the faith

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/06/doug-marr-keeping-the-faith

When We Were Kings: A Vintage Pro Wrestling Story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/04/when-we-were-kin…-wrestling-story

RIP Preston Love Sr., 1921-2004. He Played at Everything

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/preston-love-192…ed-at-everything/

Preston Love: His voice will not be stilled

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/preston-love-his…l-not-be-stilled

The Smooth Jazz Stylings of Mr. Saturday Night, Preston Love Sr.

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/mr-saturday-night/

North Omaha champion Frank Brown fights the good fight

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/15/north-omaha-cham…s-the-good-fight

John and Pegge Hlavacek’s globe-trotting adventures as foreign correspondents

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/02/john-and-pegge-h…n-correspondents

 

 

When Boys Town became the center of the film world

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/when-boys-town-b…f-the-film-world/

Flanagan-Monsky example of social justice and interfaith harmony still shows the way seven decades later

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/flanagan-monsky-…y-60-years-later

Rich Boys Town sports legacy recalled

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/rich-boys-town-s…-legacy-recalled/

Winners Circle: Couple’s journey of self-discovery ends up helping thousands of at-risk kids through early intervention educational program

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/couples-journey-…-of-at-risk-kids

Otis Twelve’s Radio Days

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/otis-twelves-radio-days/

Thomas Gouttierre: In Search of a Lost Dream, An American’s Afghan Odyssey

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/19/in-search-of-a-l…s-afghan-odyssey

Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barber Shop:

We Cut Heads and Broaden Minds, Too

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/goodwins-spencer…roaden-minds-too/

Now Wasn’t That a Time? Helen Jones Woods and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/17

Black Women in Music

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/11/black-women-in-music

Durham Museum to celebrate 40-and-40: Forty years as train station and four decades as museum

March 4, 2015 1 comment

There was a time, not so long ago, when it seemed Omaha was hell-bent on tearing down its history.  All manner of historic structures were razed: the old United States Post Office ; the Fontenelle Hotel, a huge tract of warehouses in Jobber’s Canyon, the Medical Arts Building. Thank God more jewels were saved than lost: the Old Market district; the Orpheum Theatre, the Rose Theater; Union Station, Burlington Station, the Brandeis Building, Joslyn Castle, the Storz Mansion, the Mastercraft, Omar Bakery, the Livestock Exchange Building, St. Cecilia Cathedral and many more that have been protected, renovated, and repurposed.  Some of those survived narrowly escaped being razed.  It took agitation, activism, vision, and purpose by determined people to save some if not all of those treasures.  The tension between new development and historic preservation continues, as witnessed by the recent loss of the apartment buildings just east of Midtown Crossing and the Johnson & Johnson Mortuary on South 10th Street.  One of the most signifcant saves was Union Station ,which today goes by the name Durham Museum to reflect its adapted reuse as a museum charting Omaha’s and the nation’s history.  My new story about the Durham for Metro Magazine (/www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/) explains how that building has now reached the same number of years, 40, in its role as a museum that it served as a passenger rail station for Union Pacific Railroad.  It is one of those grand structures, certainly  by Omaha terms, that never fails to mesmerize and impress me by its sheer size and grandeur.  My eyes automatically fix on the far upper reaches of that proletarian palace.  I never met or caught a train there, but I recently had the privilege of delivering a lecture there and I hope to have the opportunity to do so again in the near future.

 

Durham Museum to celebrate 40-and-40: Forty years as train station and four decades as museum

Dual milestone for historic landmark thriving in new use
Museum’s growth spurred by champion and namesake
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in Metro Magazine (/www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/)

 

 

Forty years. That’s the length of time the former Union Station in Omaha operated as a passenger train center and come 2015 that same Art Deco-style building marks 40 years as the Durham Museum.

It’s not often a grand public space celebrates a dual legacy with a shared milestone of service. From 1931 to 1971 millions of rail passengers passed through. Starting in 1975 the old Union Station became a cultural-historical venue that millions more have visited.

Much like the history it celebrates, Durham Museum was not built in a day. Neither was its home, Union Station. Union Pacific began construction on it in 1929, the year the Stock Market Crash triggered the Great Depression. The Gilbert Stanley Underwood-designed structure opened in 1931, the year when a congressional resolution officially made the “Star Spangled Banner” America’s national anthem.

As soon as Union Station closed in 1971 the site’s future lay in doubt. Its survival looked bleak the longer it sat abandoned and untended. Even after UP donated the place to the City of Omaha in 1973, most officials regarded it as a burden or albatross, not a gift. Many called for the “eyesore” to be torn down. Enter a group of preservationist-minded private citizens who formed the Western Heritage Society as a vehicle for reopening the former train station as a museum. If not for their efforts this monument to Omaha’s vigor may have gone the way of other historic buildings that got razed rather than saved.

Originally known as the Western Heritage Museum, the institution was resource-poor its first two decades yet managed to give new life to the old digs that had seen far better days. Most importantly it built a formidable body of artifacts related to early Omaha, including the Byron Reed Collection of rare coins and documents and the Bostwick-Frohardt Collection of late 19th century-early 20th century photographs. It also originated events, such as Christmas at Union Station, that became community traditions.

Durham executive director Christi Janssen admires the vision and fortitude of those angels, including Itey Crummer, Emi Baker and Ron Hunter, who made the old train station a museum.

“Their challenges were way different than our challenges today,” she says. “They were really fighting hard to raise money to turn the lights on essentially.”

Chuck to the rescue
Then, in the mid-1990s, the struggling museum that long postponed much-needed renovations and improvements for lack of funds was gifted with tens of millions of dollars through a Heritage Services drive. That campaign also brought the museum one of its greatest champions, the late Charles W. “Chuck” Durham, who grew HDR Inc. into a national engineering firm and became a major philanthropist.”Fortunately, Chuck Durham showed up with a keen architectural and engineering instinct. Walking into this Union Station Chuck could see beyond the collapsing roof, the peeling paint and the tarnished light fixtures and envision its magnificence with the right amount of money and the best of architecture and construction firms,” recalls Heritage Services President Sue Morris.As an active museum board member Durham committed himself to helping it reach its potential and restoring the building to its former glory. His children note their father saw great value in the work the museum did and in the history the building represented.Daughter Sunny Lundgren says, “He thought this is Omaha’s history and we need to preserve it and so the first thing he did was give money to this place and then he started knocking on doors and saying, ‘Do you know what an important building this is? It’s part of Omaha, we need to restore it.'”

“He led the charge in raising dollars from community leaders who responded generously,” daughter Lynne Boyer adds.

Among those Durham reeled in was then-Kiewit Corporation CEO Walter Scott. His support was recognized when the museum’s most iconic space was renamed the Suzanne and Walter Scott Great Hall.

“The building and I have something in common. We were both ‘born’ in 1931,” Scott says. “Many years later it was Chuck Durham who introduced me to its role as a museum. He convinced me to help him establish the museum’s relationships with the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and National Archives. Chuck had a vision for what the Durham Museum could become, and I think he’d be pleased to see the board and staff have realized a good part of his vision.”

Sue Morris says Durham was persuasive enough that the Heritage Services-directed campaign raised more than $30 million for the museum. The funds underwrote a major 1996 project that entailed constructing a new parking deck, installing a new roof as well as new mechanical and electrical systems and creating new office spaces, classrooms and permanent exhibits. The Great Hall was repainted and restored and interactive sculptures added. A 22,000 square foot addition was built over Track #1.

A new name and mission
In recognition of Durham’s efforts, the museum was renamed in his honor in 1997 as part of a general rebranding.”It’s always been centered on Omaha’s history and western heritage,” Janssen says, “but as the museum has evolved we have aspired to be much more than that. We want to be a gathering place. The events we host are a great way to celebrate traditions. Beyond Omaha’s history and its western heritage our mission is to share the nation’s story. We are a significant piece of that. We mirror the national story in terms of rail travel and the industry that built this community. So we have broadened our scope quite a bit over the years. Thus, we’ve been able to tap into a new audience.”Janssen says “a very strong education focus now takes front and center,” adding, “We get into school classrooms, we host school field trips and summer camps down here, we offer a scholars in residence education series that is much sought after.” The museum does special programming around various history months, such as Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), Jazz Appreciation Month (April), National Hispanic Heritage Month (September) and Native American Heritage Month (November).The lecture hall is fully outfitted for distance learning. Presentations made there are regularly fed to classrooms, community centers and other sites around the nation. A mobile video camera unit allows educators to focus on various architectural details of the Great Hall, for example, as part of distance learning history curriculum.

“We continue to look for ways to engage people and to make the museum a presence wherever we can,” Janssen says. “We want people to realize it’s not just about the permanent and traveling exhibits, it’s about lectures, films, concerts, the Ethnic Holiday Festival, Christmas at Union Station, the authentic soda fountain and more.”

As the building transformed from dusty relic to gleaming palace once again and the museum grew its programming, attendance increased. In the first decade of the new millennium Chuck Durham contributed a generous match to new philanthropic gifts that funded several more infrastructure needs and the building of the Stanley and Dorothy Truhlsen Lecture Hall.

Public trust and uninterrupted growth

From that point forward the museum has seen its greatest growth in terms of attendance, membership and donations, Janssen says.”I think the thing that gets people to invest in us is a proven record and we have that now because of the growth we’ve enjoyed and the hard work we’ve been doing. We can get their attention because they see something happening here. They see we’re actually going to do what we say we’re going to do. That’s foundational for us – we never say we’re going to do something and then don’t. We’re intentional to always under promise and over deliver.

“But I think the thing that continues to get people excited about the museum is that everyone leaves with an appreciation for the history and the experience they find here. We are a repository of stories and we share those stories through our artifacts and our programs. We have been able to capture and retell those stories, and again this building speaks louder than words.”

With the museum’s finances stabilized and the institution becoming an affiliate of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution (in 2002), whose popular traveling exhibits show there, Durham was pleased by how far things had progressed and how bright the future looked.

“My father enjoyed watching the museum come alive with outstanding programs and exhibits which attracted large numbers of visitors from all over the city, state and country,” Boyer says. “It gave him a sense of great satisfaction to know the museum would continue to educate and entertain visitors of all ages for generations to come.”

Right up until his death in 2008 Durham, then wheel-chair bound, made a point of visiting the museum as often as he could.

“He enjoyed coming to the museum,” Janssen says. “Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that we had ice cream. He appreciated the opportunity to visit the soda fountain. He loved to eat a sundae.”

The Durham family remains involved. Lundgren formed the museum’s guild and served as its president one year. She supports various education efforts there and still volunteers at events. She says her family’s Christmas is not complete without visiting the museum.
Boyer enjoys taking her grandchildren there, saying, “When I visit the museum with them I view it through their eyes and gain an even greater appreciation for all it has to offer. It is an educational gem.”

Janssen says the Durham could not have blossomed without the generous support of individual members, families, corporations and foundations or without the committed work of board members, docents, volunteers and staff. She says the museum has been fortunate to have both good leadership and stewardship.

The Durham has become a major attraction – welcoming a record 204,000 visitors in 2013 and on pace to record a similar number in 2014. Its household membership base is over 7,000.

 

 

New directions and neighbors
That kind of support, she says, “just changes the way we can do business.” There’s no time to rest on laurels. “Our job is always to take it one step further,” Janssen says. “A big focus going forward is incorporating technology into the experience, both in digitizing our photo archive and in making our gallery exhibits more interactive.”

After years of being an outlier the Durham’s poised to be one of many anchor attractions along a revived South 10th Street. It can partner with such new neighbors as the House of Loom, the resurgent Little Italy district, KETV, which is moving into the restored Burlington Station, the new Blue Barn Theater and the coming Omaha Public Market. That’s in addition to North Downtown, the Capital District, the Old Market, Lauritzen Gardens and the Henry Doorly Zoo.

All of it, she says, speaks to “a new vibrancy” in the area. “It’s not just about us anymore. It’s about everybody around us. We can do so much more if we do it together and we become a destination corridor.”

Follow the 2015 anniversary events at durhammuseum.org.

 

Nebraska’s Film Heritage presented by Leo Adam Biga: Tuesday, Feb. 17, 6:30 p.m., Durham Museum

February 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Join me for-

Nebraska’s Film Heritage Lecture

presented by Leo Adam Biga

Tuesday, Feb. 17, 6:30 p.m.

Durham Museum

PLEASE NOTE: Reservations are required. Email reservations@DurhamMuseum.org or call 402-444-5071.

 

Here is how the Durham is promoting my talk:

 

 

 

*Nebraska’s Film Heritage
presented by Leo Adam Biga
Tuesday, February 17, 6:30PM
Stanley and Dorothy Truhlsen Lecture Hall, Durham Museum

Omaha author Leo Adam Biga highlights the story of Nebraska’s rich legacy in cinema. Several native sons and daughters have made significant contributions and established major careers in the industry, both on screen and behind the camera. To this day, Nebraskans continue to make their mark in virtually every aspect of the industry and have received many honors, including Oscar recognition. Many hometown products are regarded as leaders, innovators and trailblazers, including the Johnson Brothers and their Lincoln Film Company, Harold Lloyd, Fred Astaire, Darryl F. Zanuck, Marlon Brando and Joan Micklin Silver.

Leo Adam Biga is an Omaha-based nonfiction author, award-winning journalist and blogger. His 2012 book Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film is a collection of his extensive journalism about the Oscar-winning filmmaker. Additionally, Biga is the coeditor of Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores and the author of two e-books for the Omaha Public Schools. As a working journalist he contributes articles to several newspapers and magazines. His work has been recognized by his peers at the local, regional and national levels.

*Due to limited space, reservations are required. Please call 402-444-5071 or email reservations@DurhamMuseum.org to reserve your spot.. Cost of admission applies and members are FREE.

SCHEDULED TOURS
Join selected scholars for a special tour and commentary of Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen.
*March 7, 2015, 9AM and 11AM
Rachel Jacobsen, Executive Director, Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof Theater

*Due to limited space, reservations are required. Please call 402-444-5071 or email reservations@DurhamMuseum.org to reserve your spot. Cost of admission applies and members are free.

SPECIAL EVENTS
Hollywood Bootcamp
Saturday, March 28, 2015, 10AM-3PM
Bring your friends for a day of boot camp…Hollywood style! Walk the red carpet, learn expert tips in costuming and make-up design, star in your own movie and much more. Plus, get your own star on The Durham Walk of Fame!
Regular Museum Admission Rates Apply
Free to Members

Katharine Hepburn Movie Series
Now – March 30
The Durham Museum is proud to partner with Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof Theater for a series of movies that coincide with the costume exhibit, Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen.

All screenings will occur at Film Streams’ Ruth Sokolof Theater (1340 Mike Fahey Street). For details and showtimes visit http://www.filmstreams.org.

Leo Adam Biga to deliver Nebraska Film Heritage lecture at Durham for Katharine Hepburn exhibit

January 22, 2015 1 comment

Leo Adam Biga to deliver Nebraska Film Heritage lecture at Durham for Katharine Hepburn exhibit
Join me at the Durham Museum at 6:30 pm on Tues. Feb. 17 for a lecture I am giving on Nebraska’s Film Heritage in conjunction with the Katharine Hepburn exhibit there. Kate had no particular ties to Nebraska, but she was an icon in an industry that included many fellow icons from this state. She famously worked with two of them, Henry and Jane Fonda, in On Golden Pond. She worked with another, Montgomery Clift, in Suddenly Last Summer. Her longtime lover, Spencer Tracy, won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in a movie partially shot here, Boys Town, about one of the most famous Nebraskans ever, Father Edward Flanagan, and his legendary home for boys. One of Hepburn and Tracy’s lesser films together, Sea of Grass, was set here.

My talk will touch on some of the figures from here, past and present, to have carved out successful cinema careers behind the camera and in front of the camera. These include household names and more obscure but no less important names. Far more Nebraskans than you think have made significant contributions to the industry or established themselves as solid working film artists. I will also discuss some of the significant films made here and premiered here. Additionally, I will highlight some of the legendary film artists who have passed through Nebraska. Finally, I will give props to some of the individuals and organizations that have enhanced the cinema culture here.

 
The lecture is part of my Nebraska Film Heritage Project that will ultimately result in a book.
 
Read more about the exhibit and the special programs scheduled around it, including my lecture, below.
 
I hope to see you at my presentation,
 
 
Leo Adam Biga
Author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”
February 7 – April 26, 2015
The Durham Museum is pleased to present Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen, an exclusive exhibition of Hepburn’s personal costume collection organized by the Kent State University Museum. The exhibit features more than 35 costumes worn in 21 films and 6 stage productions spanning Hepburn’s illustrious career. Among the items on display will be an ensemble of her signature tailored beige trousers and linen jackets, vintage posters, playbills, photos and other Hepburn-related artifacts, as well as stage costumes from The Philadelphia Story and Coco and screen costumes from Adam’s Rib and Stage Door. From classic Hollywood dresses to Kate’s personal “rebel chic,” the exhibition highlights how Hepburn’s sense of style influenced countless women and fashion designers. It helped to create the informal, elegant approach to American style seen on today’s runways. Come see how this true icon of American culture came to epitomize the modern woman of the 20th Century.
Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen is supported locally by Mutual of Omaha, Douglas County Commissioners, On Track Guild, Rhonda and Howard Hawks and the Dixon Family Foundation. Media support provided by KETV.
Pictured Left to Right:
Dress by Walter Plunkett, from the 1934 RKO movie The Little Minister
White satin and lace wedding dress by Howard Greer, from the 1934 production of The Lake
Design by Chanel, from the 1976 production of Coco
LECTURES
*Nebraska’s Film Heritage
Presented by Leo Adam Biga
Tuesday, February 17, 6:30PM
Stanley and Dorothy Truhlsen Lecture Hall
Omaha author Leo Biga highlights the story of Nebraska’s rich legacy in cinema.*Katharine Hepburn: Master of her own Image
Presented by Amy Henderson of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
Thursday, April 9, 6:30PMSCHEDULED TOURS
Join selected scholars for a special tour and commentary of Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen.*Backstage with Kate
February 7, 2015, 9AM and 11AM
Jean Druesedow, Director, the Kent State University MuseumMarch 7, 2015, 9AM and 11AM
Rachel Jacobsen, Executive Director, Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof TheaterApril 4, 2015, 9AM and 11AM
Dr. Barbara Trout – Professor – Department of Textiles, Clothing and Design, College of Education and Human Sciences University of Nebraska-Lincoln

*Due to limited space, reservations are required. Please email reservations@DurhamMuseum.org or call 402-444-5071. Cost of admission applies and members are free.

SPECIAL EVENTS
An Evening with Kate
February 6, 2015
6:30PM Lecture, Reception and exclusive preview of the exhibit to follow
Join the Durham Museum’s On Track Guild and Honorary Chairs Gail and Mike Yanney for “An Evening with Kate.” Jean Druesedow, Exhibition Curator and Director of the Kent State University Museum will discuss the exhibit, collection and Kate’s life.

Tickets: $75

For more information or to make a reservation, contact the museum at 402-444-5071.

Hollywood Bootcamp
Saturday, March 28, 2015, 10AM-3PM
Bring your friends for a day of boot camp…Hollywood style! Walk the red carpet, learn expert tips in costuming and make-up design, star in your own movie and much more. Plus, get your own star on The Durham Walk of Fame!
Regular Museum Admission Rates Apply
Free to Members

Katharine Hepburn Movie Series
February 14 – March 30
The Durham Museum is proud to partner with Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof Theater for a series of movies that coincide with the costume exhibit, Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen.
All screenings will occur at Film Streams’ Ruth Sokolof Theater (1340 Mike Fahey Street). For details and showtimes visit http://www.filmstreams.org.

Visit The Durham Museum Hitchcock Museum Shop, Old-Fashioned Soda Fountain and the Photo Archive for 10% off Katharine Hepburn related gifts, treats and photos as part of your membership!

Brown v. Board of Education: Educate with an Even Hand and Carry a Big Stick

July 7, 2012 1 comment

I filed this story for a traveling Library of Congress exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic 2004 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that changed the face of education in America by law if not always practice.

 

 

 

 

 

Brown v. Board of EducationEducate with an Even Hand and Carry a Big Stick 
©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic 1954 Brown v. Board ruling and its aftermath reveal how far America’s come on the issue of race and how far it still must go. Lauded as a landmark decision against segregated public schools and as a precursor to opening all public institutions, the decree bolstered the nascent civil rights struggle.

Brown was the end game in the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund‘s challenge to the Plessy v. Ferguson separate-but-equal doctrine that sanctioned segregation. The NAACP legal team framed the argument for overturning Plessy in legal, social and moral terms.

The court’s unanimous decision held that school segregation violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the 14th Amendment. But the integration and equity mandated by Brown has proven elusive.

One only has to look at Omaha for how insufficient the remedies to implement that finding have been. Before and even long after the ruling, black public school students here were largely confined to a few buildings on the north side. Black faculty were assigned to all black schools. It took a federal lawsuit filed by concerned Omaha parents and a resulting 1975 court-ordered busing program before the Omaha Public School district opened all its doors to students of color.

Thirty years later Omaha, like other urban centers, “is close to the point we were when Brown was decided, which is an educational system that is divided, if not solely on the basis of race, then clearly on the basis of class,” said Omaha attorney and former mayoral candidate Brenda Council. She said the problem will not be fixed until “we openly discuss it and take steps to ameliorate it.”

The OPS One City, One School District plan is the latest remedy offered by proponents of educational equity.

Suburban districts oppose the initiative and counter with options promising incentives and quotas to increase minority student placements.

Anyone interested in what led to Brown and to efforts at undoing or resisting its mandate can get a good primer on the topic by viewing With an Even Hand: Brown v. Board at Fifty at the Durham Western Heritage Museum.

The 100-plus items on display from the Library of Congress include intimate glimpses inside the precedents and processes behind Brown. There are photos, original legal briefs, even handwritten notes from Supreme Court justices and NAACP lawyers, that delineate history in the making. Some Omahans have personal connections to this history. Brenda Council’s late aunt, Geraldine Gilliam, was the first black teacher to integrate the schools in Topeka, Kansas. “I’m proud of that fact,” Council said.

 

 

Topeka native Norman Stanley, who now lives in Omaha, attended pre-Brown Topeka’s Monroe Elementary School. He was the product of a schizoid system whose elementary schools were segregated, but junior highs were integrated.

“It made no sense. You segregate a kid for the first six years and then integrate for the rest? Nobody could ever explain that to me,” Stanley said.

Although proud of the education he received under segregation, he embraced change. He was in the Air Force overseas when the Brown decision came down. “‘Thank God it’s over,’ I said. ‘By the time my grandkids are in high school, everything will be solved.’ How wrong I was.”

A Nov. 8 Durham panel discussion made clear Brown’s legacy is still a potent touchstone for equal rights advocates. Council was joined on the panel by KETV Ch. 7 “Kaleidoscope” host/producer Ben Gray, Creighton University law professor Mike Fenner and Glenwood (Iowa) Community Schools superintendent Stan Sibley.

Council pointed out the sad irony that 50 years after Brown, debate continues on how to fulfill its charge. She spoke of the need for “an enlightened citizenry to engage in open, honest discussion of the issues.”

Gray said equal education remains unrealized as “race, class and white privilege” have “disenfranchised” blacks, who are relegated to schools that have fewer resources. He said equality “ought not just be the law, it ought to be the moral imperative.” A vocal advocate of the OPS plan, he said segregation is back because “we’ve never, ever had a meaningful dialogue about” the issues behind it. “People of goodwill are just going to have to get out of their comfort zone and address this seriously.”

Sibley, a former OPS administrator, said, “It is true that not all of the people in the city of Omaha have a vested interest in the education of all the children in Omaha, and they really ought to. The dialogue has to happen, and if the dialogue focuses on what’s good for kids, then I think it will work out.”

Council said given the debate sparked by the OPS proposal, “It’s almost serendipitous this exhibit has come here at this time in Omaha.”

Rendered by a timid court, Brown was a gerrymandered decision built on “one compromise after another,” Fenner said. Its ambiguous 1955 order to proceed “with all deliberate speed” allowed individual states and school districts to implement the law in fits and starts or to outright ignore or defy it. It took later rulings, including forced busing, to achieve even partial and temporary desegregation.

Social trends like white flight have created entrenched suburban enclaves whose tax-rich districts serve predominantly white student bodies, resulting in the kind of defacto segregation that existed before. As whites have fled older, poorer inner city districts populated mainly by minorities, inner city schools have come to primarily serve students of color. The demarcation that exists along racial and social economic lines in schools reflects the same segregation patterns in housing.

A less than comprehensive response to the conditions that cause segregation has left loopholes for circumventing the spirit of the law. Beyond stifling diversity in schools, segregation critics contend the practice creates an unequal distribution of educational resources, thereby compromising the education of students lacking basics like books, computers, pencils, et cetera.

Mandatory busing forced the hand of school districts like OPS to integrate schools. Since the end of court-ordered busing in Omaha in 1999, OPS has lost most of its upper and middle-class student-tax base.  As more students opt out of OPS for the Millard, Ralston, Elkhorn or Westside districts, OPS loses revenues and any semblance of a racially and socioeconomically balanced educational system.

The Brown exhibit includes a ’50s-era political cartoon by Bill Mauldin that sums up the struggle for equality in America. Three black children push mightily against an oversized door with the words “School Segregation” on it. Despite their best efforts, the door is only opened a crack. The caption reads: “Inch by Inch.” Brown opened the door, but forces continue to try and push it shut.

“It was a decision the majority of the country wasn’t really ready for,” Norman Stanley said. “I’m not sure even today we’re ready to do what the court told us to do.”

 

Finding the Essence of Omaha in All the Right Places Leads You to Obvious and Obscure Sites

June 28, 2012 5 comments

Whether you’re a Omaha resident who lives here year-round or part of the year, a native returning home, or a visitor here for the first or tenth time, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of some places to see and things to do in the metro.  I prepared the following list for the Omaha World-Herald a few years ago.  At least one of the attractions is now defunct (Project Omaha) and if I were making a new list today I would include some additional sites (including the House of Loom and TD Ameritrade Park).  The point is, it’s by no means a comprehensive list but more of a sampler of, as the headline says, some of the obvious and not so obvious sites to check out.

 

Mormon Trail Center

 

 

Finding the Essence of Omaha in all the Right Places Leads You to Obvious and Obscure Sites

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the Omaha World-Herald

Loves Jazz & Arts Center

 

 

Loves Jazz & Arts Center
2510 No. 24th St., 502-5291
Steep yourself in Omaha’s rich African-American heritage through photographs, videos and other art/historical materials at this gem of a cultural center in the heart of the black community. See displays on the music and civil rights legacy of black Omaha. Catch lectures, panel discussions, poetry slams, live music jams, film screenings and other educational-entertainment programs.


Project Omaha
South High School
4519 So. 24th St., 557-3640
Reminiscent of a visit to grandma’s attic, this one-of-a-kind museum in a public school setting uses artifacts along with student-made videos, books, games and other resources to explore Omaha history, including the stockyards. The collection’s size and depth will impress. Note the Brandeis department store Xmas window mockup. Call 557-3640 for a visit or a guided tour of historic city sites.

 

 

Jewell Building

 

 

 

 

The Jewell Building
Omaha Economic Development Corp. offices
2221 No. 24th St.
This National Register of Historic Places and Omaha Landmark designee was home to the famed Dreamland Ballroom, hosting scores of jazz/blues performing legends and overflow dance crowds. Now the offices for the Omaha Economic Development Corp., the restored Georgian Revival building features a large photographic display of those halcyon Dreamland nights of Basie, Ellington and more. A North O shrine.

 

 

Nebraska Jewish Historical Society


 

 

The Nebraska Jewish Historical Society
Jewish Community Center
333 So. 132nd St., By appointment at 334-6441
Photographs and archival documents depict Jewish life in Omaha from the turn of the last century through today. Special collections highlight the Jewish American experience of local merchants, war veterans and figures of national prominence, including Henry Monsky and Rose Blumkin. Print/video interviews reveal an Omaha Jewish community that was once much larger but that remains vibrant.


Cathedral Cultural Center and the St. Cecilia Institute
St. Cecilia Cathedral campus
3900 Webster St., 551-4888
The history of Omaha’s Catholic archdiocese and its cornerstone edifice, St. Cecilia Cathedral, is revealed in artifacts, photos and interpretive panels. The life and work of Thomas Kimball, architect of the Spanish Renaissance worship site, is well-chronicled. The center, located just east of the church in midtown, presents temporary art exhibits, lectures, receptions and other programs. Free admission.

 

 

photo
Cathederal Cultural Center


 

 

El Museo Latino
4701 1/2 So. 25th St., 731-1137
National touring art exhibits complement a Latino Presence in Omaha section with photographs-narratives drawn from local community founders and elders. Listen to these pioneers’ oral history interviews in Spanish or English. Learn how the current Latino immigrant wave echoes earlier migrations in transforming Omaha. The El Museo Latino building was the former Polish Home and the original South High.


Durham Museum
801 So. 10th St., 444-5071
The former Union Station is a beautifully appointed, restored Art Deco railroad terminal now home to interactive Omaha history displays and major touring shows. The Smithsonian affiliate and National Register of Historic Places site exhibits train cars and engines and a model layout of downtown’s U.P. yards. Enjoy lectures, discussions and films. The Durham also holds the Bostwick-Frohart collection’s 8 X 10 view camera photos of early 20th century Omaha.

 

 

Durham Museum


 

 

Sokol South Omaha
2021 U St., 731-1065
Omaha’s ethnic enclaves celebrate their own and the Czech community is no different. Aside from the classic gymnastics program that’s part of any Sokol facility, this site maintains a museum featuring photographs and other memorabilia related to the nearby Brown Park neighborhood as well as local Sokol history, Czech traditions and leading Omaha Czechs. Tours by appointment at 731-1065.


Joslyn Castle
3902 Davenport St., 595-2199
Built on a 5.5 acre estate this ornate Gold Coast home of George and Sarah Joslyn reflects the grandeur of early Omaha. The John McDonald-designed 35-room Scottish Baronial castle, now being restored in all its splendor, features exquisite mosaic tiles, in-laid woodwork, a ballroom and a conservatory. A splendid backdrop for teas, receptions and dinners, the mansion’s an Omaha Landmark and National Register of Historic Places site. For tours and rentals, call 595-2199.


Joslyn Art Museum
24th and Dodge, 342-3300
Sarah Joslyn’s magnificent memorial to her entrepreneur husband, George, opened in 1931. Designed by John and Alan McDonald, with a 1994 Norman Foster addition, the stunning Art Deco temple showcases a comprehensive permanent collection. Enjoy exhibits, lectures, concerts, films and tours. The new sculpture garden provides a major new attraction. The pavilion atrium is a popular gathering spot.

 

 

joslyn-castle.jpg

Joslyn Castle

Joslyn Art Museum


 

 

Douglas County Historical Society
Metropolitan Community College Fort Omaha campus
30th and Fort
Library/Archives Center
451-1013
Discover a vast repository of history pertaining to the city of Omaha and to Douglas County through archived newspapers, clipping files, maps, plats, atlases, documents, diaries, letters, books, artifacts, photographs and audio visual materials. Located in Building 11A on the historic MCC Fort Omaha campus. Call 451-1013 to schedule research visits.

General Crook House Museum
455-9990
The restored 1879 Italianate quarters for Indian Wars campaigner Gen. George Crook includes Victorian era decorative arts, costumes and furnishings. Classes and a reference collection on the history/appreciation of antiques are available. Tea aficionado Mona Christensen hosts proper teas. Call 455-9990 to arrange tours or private functions. Located in Building 11B on the historic MCC Fort Omaha campus.

Gen. Crook House


 

 

Orsi’s Italian Bakery
621 Pacific St., 345-3438
It’s a bakery/pizzeria not a gallery but walls of family and neighborhood photos depict Omaha’s Little Italy section through the years, including Santa Lucia festivities, Mason School graduation classes and local Italian-American sports icons. Orsi’s is an anchor business in the trendy nouveau residential urban community emerging in this historic district south of the Old Market.


Omaha Central High School
124 North 20th St., 557-3300
Omaha’s oldest all-grades public school dates back to 1859 but the stately National Register of Historic Places building on Capitol Hill was completed in four phases from 1900 to 1912. John Latenser’s Renaissance Revival design included an open courtyard. This school known for academic rigor boasts many distinguished grads. Exterior markers note the school-site’s rich history. Call 557-3300 to arrange viewing interior displays.


The Omaha Star
2216 No. 24th St., 346-4041
Since 1938 the Omaha Star newspaper has carried the collective voice of the local African American community in calling for equal rights and decrying bias. A beacon of hope on North 24th Street, the Star was a mission for its late founder and publisher, Mildred Brown. The apartment she kept in back has been preserved just as she left it. The National Register of Historic Places building is undergoing restoration.


Boys Town Hall of History
132nd and Dodge, 498-1300
The story of this fabled American institution is told in audio, video, artifact displays. Learn how Rev. Edward Flanagan’s original home for boys grew into a childcare leader at satellite campuses across the nation. See how the school’s band, choir and athletic teams helped put Boys Town on the map. View the Oscar Spencer Tracy won portraying Flanagan in the 1938 movie, Boys Town. Marvel at the many notables who’ve visited the Omaha campus.

Orsi’s Italian Bakery
Omaha Central High School
The Omaha Star
Boys Town Hall of History

 

 

W. Dale Clark Library
215 So. 15th St., 444-4800
Omaha history can be found in hundreds of books and videos as well as in decades-worth of local newspapers on microfilm. Inquire about Omaha history talks.

Omaha Community Playhouse
6915 Cass St., 553-0800
The Omaha Community Playhouse represents a significant portion of local live theater history. The original site at 40th and Davenport is where legends Henry Fonda and Dorothy McGuire got their starts on stage. At the height of their stardom they returned for benefit performances of The Country Girl that raised money to construct the current Playhouse, which contains a collage of famed players who’ve trod the boards there.


Livestock Exchange Building
4920 So. 20th St.
For nearly a century the Omaha Stockyards and Big Four meatpacking plants ruled the roost. The hub for the booming livestock market was the 11-story Livestock Exchange Building, an example of Romanesque and Northern Italian Renaissance Revival design. The stockyards are gone but the National Register of Historic Places structure lives on as an apartment-office site. The grand ballroom still in use today. Historical monuments outside the building describe its lively past.


Ford Birthsite and Gardens
32nd And Woolworth Ave.
Markers and descriptive panels commemorate the birthsite of the 38th President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford, who was born Leslie King on July 14, 1913 in a Victorian style home at 3202 Woolworth Avenue in Omaha. The surrounding gardens in honor of former First Lady Betty Ford make the spot a popular choice for weddings, receptions and other events.

Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center
1326 So. 32nd St., By appointment at 595-1180
In addition to dedicated laboratories for examining, evaluating and conserving historical and art materials, the facility features a small exhibition on President Gerald R. Ford. The center’s state-of-the-art facilities include a microscopy laboratory and a digital imaging laboratory. There’s also a library of reference works on conservation and collections care.

Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame
Boys & Girls Clubs of Omaha, North Unit
2610 Hamilton St.,  North BGCOO 342-2300, NBSHF 884-1884
Until a permanent structure is built a wall of descriptive plaques honor Hall of Fame inductees, whose ranks rival that of any state athletic hall in the country. We’re talking history-makers in Bob Gibson, Bob Boozer, Gale Sayers, Ron Boone, Marlon Briscoe, Don Benning, Johnny Rodgers and many more. Looking at the names and achievements arrayed before you a story of staggering dimensions emerges.

Malcolm X Memorial Birthsite
3448 Pinkney St., 1-800-645-9287
The struggle to build a brick-and-mortar memorial to the slain activist is symbolized by the stark 10 acres of land the Malcolm X Foundation has been trying to develop for decades at his birthsite. Only a simple sign marks the spot. Paving stones lead to nowhere. A fence encloses an empty lot. Dreams for a visitors center, museum and plaza remain deferred. A most forlorn National Register of Historic Places site.

Prospect Hill Cemetery
3230 Parker St., 556-6057
Omaha’s oldest cemetery was founded in 1858 and is the internment site for many early city leaders, their familiar names still adorning streets and structures today. Some notorious figures also lie there. Often referred to as Omaha’s pioneer burial ground, Prospect Hill remains an active cemetery as well as a historic site open for visitation daily. A state historical marker describes its rich heritage. Free admission.

Gerald R. Ford Birthsite and Gardens
Prospect Hill Cemetery
photo
Malcolm X Memorial Foundation

 

 

Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters
3215 State St., 453-9372
A heroic, tragic chapter of the Mormon Migration played out in what’s now north Omaha when thousands of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spent the winter of 1846-1847 in an encampment. 325 died there. An audio-visual display details the struggles encountered in reaching this Winter Quarters, the camps’s harsh conditions and the arduous journey to the Salt Lake Valley. View a pioneer cabin, pull a handcart and visit the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery. Free admission.

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center
601 Riverfront Dr., 661-1804
Learn about the historic Corps of Discovery expedition led by famed explorers Lewis and Clark, including information about sites along the trail. A National Parks Service ranger can answer questions and help you plan a site trip. The Riverfront Books store offers an array of educational materials for sale that can enhance your experience on the trail.

Union Pacific Railroad Museum
200 Pearl St., Council Bluffs, (712) 329-8307
Artifacts, photos and interpretive panels chart the development of the transcontinental railroad and its role in helping pioneers settle the West. View displays about the heyday of passenger travel and innovations made by the nation’s largest railroad, Union Pacific, which is headquartered in Omaha. The museum’s housed in the Bluffs’ historic, newly restored Carnegie Library.


Historic General Dodge House
605 3rd St., (712) 322-2406
This restored 1869 Victorian home was the residence of Civil War veteran and railroad builder Gen. Grenville M. Dodge, a military, political, financial wheel whose counsel was sought by presidents. The 14-room, 3-story mansion commands a terrace view of the Missouri Valley. Note the exquisite woodwork and “modern” conveniences unusual for the period. The home is used for a variety of receptions and other events.

Western Historic Trails Center
3434 Richard Downing Ave., Council Bluffs, (712) 366-4900
Discover the history of four historic western trails — Lewis & Clark, Oregon, Mormon and California — through exhibits, sculptures, photographs and films at this State Historical Society of Iowa center designed and built by the National Park Service and local partners.

 

 

Union Pacific Railroad Museum
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