While I'm browsing a timeline of Nebraska history at Omaha's Durham Museum, random events catch my eye. "1874: Grasshopper plague hits Nebraska." Really? Cool! But before I think to ask where an exhibit might be—or search "1874 grasshopper plague" on my phone—my restless mind is already moving on.
If you're a trivia-lover like me, a museum—almost any museum—can be one of the most fascinating places to spend an afternoon. So many facts. So many stories.
Today I'm learning about Omaha, which coincidentally is a town much of the country is now curious about, thanks to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's "Omaha!" calls during games. "Peyton Manning is taking 'Omaha!' to the Super Bowl, and civic leaders are practically doing a touchdown dance," writes Michael Kelly of the Omaha World-Herald.
It's not the first time Omaha has drawn national attention. A Durham exhibit fills me in on the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition. I marvel at a detailed model of the 1898 exhibition, with Classical and Renaissance-style buildings surrounding a lagoon. How had I overlooked this piece of history until now? I devoured details of Chicago's famed 1893 World's Fair as I read The Devil in the White City, and I learned about the 1904 World's Fair during a long-ago trip to St. Louis—but an expo in Omaha?
Next I'm wandering in the Omaha at Work gallery. In 1955, I read, Omaha passed Chicago to become the nation's largest livestock market and meat-packing center, employing half of Omaha's workers. Photos show stockyards sprawling around the imposing 1926 Livestock Exchange Building. I wonder what it would have been like to eat steak in the building's cafeteria or dance in the ballroom. Or how the workers felt as the industry declined in subsequent years; in 1999, the vast stockyards closed.
In the Baright Home and Family Gallery, re-created rooms show how homes have changed from the mid-1800s to today. More fun facts: Kool-Aid, invented by Nebraskan Edwin Perkins in 1927, was originally called Kool-Ade. In 1954, Omaha-based Swanson and Sons introduced the first TV dinner—turkey (due to a large leftover supply from Thanksgiving) packaged with sweet potatoes, bread stuffing and peas, all for 98 cents.
Everywhere I go, there's something I'd love to know more about. Inside a trolley car, an ad shows the Hotel Loyal with a Fireproof sign. When was it built? Was it really fireproof? What happened to it? I won't know the answers; a quick Web search turns up nothing on the Hotel Loyal except some vintage postcards for sale.
I walk through Pullman cars, watch a video on Omaha, take pictures in the magnificent Art Deco lobby and eat ice cream in an old-fashioned soda shop. My family is ready to leave, and I realize I didn't even peek into the temporary exhibit "Blown Away: the 1913 Easter Tornado." A great disaster, perhaps on the same scale as the grasshopper plague. I'll have to research this one another day.
Mystery and history. Maybe it's only a coincidence that they rhyme, but for me, they go hand in hand. Show me pictures. Let me read a story. Fire my imagination.
Tell me more.
(Trans-Mississippi exhibit photo courtesy of Malone Photography; stockyards photo courtesy of John Savage.)
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