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Childhood Visits to Hastings, Nebraska
In the 1950’s, our family would travel every summer from our home in Silver City, New Mexico, to Hastings, Nebraska, where both of my parents had been born and raised. By that time, my father was working on his Ph.D. in university administration at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and so we would stay with my grandparents. While we enjoyed a summer of movies, walks around the city, and games, our dad was driving 200 miles every day over to Lincoln and back to complete his courses.
We stayed at my maternal grandparents' home 2 which was located at 1010 North Burlington. It was a large brick home — a full basement which included laundry and storage but also a recreational room; a main floor with all the traditional rooms of living, entertaining, and dining; and four bedrooms and a large bathroom upstairs — which had been built by my grandfather in the 1920's.
The home — which had plenty of nooks and spaces to explore — was just three blocks away from the Hastings Museum, which was called the House of Yesterday in its early days. 3 My brother, Gary, and I would walk together down the tree-lined Burlington Avenue to visit the museum. As an adult, I have discovered that it was only three blocks. But in my child-memory, it was longer than that — more like six or eight blocks! Along the way we passed big homes with neatly trimmed lawns and tidy gardens.
The block before the museum was a park, and we discovered old tombstones hidden in the shrubbery. We never questioned why those tombstones were there, but we liked reading the names and dates and comments. Later we learned that it was called Highland Park Cemetery and it had been used as a cemetery in the early years of Hastings' history. It is still there today, a 40-acre park with small trees, shrubs and flowers — all labeled and identified. Some old tombstones remain, but it is believed that many graves were unmarked.
The Hastings Museum is located on the corner of Burlington and 14th Street, and it takes up the entire block. The ideas for it began as early as 1913 when a man named A.M. Brooking moved to Hastings with his large ornithological collection and placed much of it in the museum at Hastings College. Over the years, this collection was moved to different facilities and other items were added, but for many years, an idea was taking fruit: Build a permanent facility. The idea finally became reality in 1926 when several citizens of the community met, formed an organization, and filed articles of incorporation. The committee included my paternal grandfather, George Overturf. 4
Gary and I spent most of our time looking at the exhibits which were on the first floor and so we would see them immediately upon entering. These exhibits were tableaus of early pioneer life in Nebraska. There were dioramas of animals and birds as well. Since then, other exhibits have been added, but Gary and I enjoyed looking at the dioramas. We would often browse at the old photographs of Hastings, as well, enjoying it even more when we found the names of one of our grandfathers.
A Sod House in Nebraska in 1870
My paternal great-grandparents came to Nebraska in October of 1877. My great-grandfather wrote:
“Our worldly belongings amounted to four horses, one wagon and harness, our bedding, and $160. We drove overland, arriving in Johnson County, Nebraska, on October 24, 1877. I rented a farm but could not get possession until spring. We rented a house to winter in and I went to work. We managed to exist until we raised a crop. Three and a half years from that time we had 160 acres of land and had it paid for besides building a shanty on it.” 5
In Nebraska, a “shanty” usually meant a sod house, but I have seen photographs of my great-grandparents' property and there is no sod house. I believe their shanty was more likely made of wood, but small and cramped and not very comfortable. The tableau of the Interior of a Sod House in Nebraska in 1870 has to have some similarity to what my great-grandparents experienced. I often stared at this tableau, looking at each item and considering its usage and efficiency.
A Country Store in 1890
Most people lived on farms in Nebraska in 1890 and had to take weekly trips into town for supplies. My great-grandparents lived close to Elk Creek, Nebraska, and that is where they went to get supplies. It would seem likely that they might have shopped at a store like the one in this tableau.
Nebraska had become a state in 1867. Two years before, in 1865, the first railroad to the Pacific was begun in Omaha (it was completed in 1869). Unfortunately, in the early 1890s Nebraska suffered from a long and difficult drought. Farm prices fell and conditions were so terrible that immigration almost ceased, and many left the state to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Nebraska's population only increased by seven thousand persons between 1890 and 1900.
This store is a few years earlier than when my great-grandparents arrived, so perhaps the store they went to in Elk Creek wasn't as small and limited in its choices.
White-Tailed Deer, the State Mammal of Nebraska
I am not sure whether I preferred the dioramas of the animals more than the tableaus of pioneer life, but looking at the animals — so close and lifelike, just a few feet away behind the glass — was always a great experience. The white-tailed deer (scientific name is Odocoileus virginianus) is the official state mammal of Nebraska and has been since 1981 (which happened after I visited the museum in the 1950’s, of course). Interestingly, Nebraska is not unique in that ten other states have designated the white-tailed deer as a state symbol: Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.
When it is frightened, the white-tailed deer will raise its tail and exhibit a conspicuous flash of white that can communicate danger to other deer or help a fawn to follow its mother; hence, its name. White-tailed deer are able to run up to forty miles per hour, jump fences as high as nine feet, and swim as fast as thirteen miles per hour. They graze on green plants; eat acorns, nuts and corn in the fall; and browse on woody vegetation in winter. They can be found everywhere in the state: farmlands, brushy areas, and woods. In recent years Nebraska's deer population has been estimated as high as 540,000. Unfortunately, many are killed by cars every year.
The male white-tailed deer grows antlers, so this is most likely a male in the tableau. The young deer in this diorama is probably two or three years old and perhaps no longer with his mother, but it is actually unlikely that the male and a youngster would be together, as raising and caring for the young was primarily the responsibility of the mother. Males leave their mothers after a year and females leave after two. The museum provided a small bit of information about each animal, but I recall it as being quite brief.
The Dall Sheep Exhibit
It might seem surprising to discover a diorama in a museum on the Plains of North America revealing Dall Sheep in Mount McKinley, Alaska, but the museum did have dioramas of animals from other places. I enjoyed this element of it — most of it was about Hastings and/or Nebraska, but sometimes it had a group such as this.
Dall Sheep (Ovis dalli dalli) do not live in Nebraska; instead, they inhabit the mountain ranges of Alaska, as the title suggests. They are most notable for their curled horns on the males while the females have a much smaller, shorter horn. This makes them very recognizable when they are adults, but it is not always easy to tell when they are young.
The horns grow steadily during spring, summer, and early fall. In late fall or winter, growth slows. This results in a pattern of rings called annuli which appear along the length of the horn, like the rings of a tree. This can help determine the age of the animal. Males have been discovered as old as 16 years, while females have reached 19.
While the museum was filled with many interesting exhibits, it was the dioramas which remained in my memory always.
Other personal-experience stories which might be of interest:
- Riding a Mule to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon
- The Elementary Laboratory School
- Valentine, Nebraska
- Memories of High School Band
- Interesting Summer Jobs
- My Mother: The Teacher
- The Three Dogs in my Life
- Move to New Mexico: A Family Transition in 1949
- Fairbury, Nebraska
- Two Outdoor Adventures
- Courtship by Mail: A Vietnam War Story
- Grizzly Den: A Hike in Sugarbowl Provincial Park
- How does a Long-Term Relationship Succeed: A tale of a 48-year Marriage
- A Career in Teaching: The First Year
- My father's Basketball Career at Hastings High School, Hastings, Nebraska
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It was changed in the 1970's because the name apparently confused some people who thought they were coming to see an old home made into a museum. ↩