State 15: Nebraska - September 6, 2017
“This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good,
falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”
Peace Pilgrim (Mildred Lisette Norman)
We woke up at a Walmart in Omaha, having had an awful night sleep. Between sounds of shopping carts smashing in the corral, the winner takes all parking lot drag races, and the occasional verbal altercations between 2 drunk men, sleeping in Walmart parking lots in large cities is best avoided, and Omaha was no exception. However, we had limited options available to us this day, and although we were frequently roused, we never felt unsafe. Today, we would drive 1-hour West to the Nebraska’s capitol city of Lincoln, to tour the state capitol, and the state's museum.
We never really know what we are driving into when we enter a state’s capitol city. Some are major metropolises with over 1 million people, and others are more suburban with under 20,000 residents. Lincoln, NE was in the middle of the road with over 250,000 people, but very refreshingly did not have that big city feeling. Nebraska’s capitol city of Lincoln would prove to have quite a few additional unexpected surprises in store for the Cross Country Couple.
We began our day by heading to the capitol building. Upon our arrival, we were shocked by what we saw! Externally, the Nebraska State Capitol building was the most unusual I had ever seen. It was a 3 story square building with a 15 story tower in the middle constructed of Indiana limestone, and topped with a gold gilded rotunda. The capitol building has the nickname “Tower on the Plains”, and municipal code prevents any other building within Lincoln, NE to be built taller or obstruct it's view. The capitol building is not only the tallest building in Lincoln, but is also the 3rd tallest in the state of Nebraska. Prior to our arrival, I had heard the Nebraska State Capitol was exceptionally unique, and had even won architectural awards. In 1976, the Nebraska Sate Capitol was designated a National Historic Landmark. Now I see first-hand what everyone was talking about, and I could not wait to see inside!
We entered the capitol building via the grand staircase without being strip searched by security, which was very welcoming. I usually save the strip search for at least the 3rd date. We made our way to the tour guide's office, which was oddly located in a far off corner of the building. The capitol was designed by the famous Architect Bertram Goodhue, and constructed from 1922 to 1932. The cost of the project was 10 million dollars, of which 1 million was paid each of the 10 years. With a towering open design, and floor to ceiling stained glass windows, the interior of the capitol was absolute breathtaking, and the design was reminiscent of a Celtic cathedral. My favorite aspect of the design was the exquisite tile work on the floors, walls and ceiling throughout the building. Please see the beautiful pictures below.
Of specific interest, were the Greek and Roman goddesses, and an assortment of past and present animals found in Nebraska. For goodness sake, the capitol has a stegosaurus dinosaur on the floor beneath it's rotunda! What else could you ask for in a capitol? Please see the pictures below.
Nebraska is the only state with unicameral legislation in the US. Instead of having a House and a Senate, it only has one house known as the legislature. Nebraska also has the only legislation which is non-partisan. Each legislature is elected with no political affiliation, and runs and serves solely on their beliefs and history of service. Nebraska clearly has a very interesting approach to state government. While I respect and admire such thinking, I believe having only 1 legislative branch makes it easier for lobbyist or “bribes” by large corporation’s, which may not be in the best interest in the citizens of the Nebraska. Please see the pictures below of the single legislature chamber in Nebraska.
Next, we took a very old, and very tiny elevator to the memorial chamber on the 14th floor. There are 4 observation decks on each side of the tower offering beautiful 360 degree views of the city of Lincoln. Please see the pictures below.
Although, the capitol currently has 21 murals throughout, only 2 of the 21 murals were completed prior the building's grand opening in 1932. The economy in Nebraska took a severe downturn in 1933, and 19 blank canvases were left for a future artist to leave their mark. From 1954 to 1966 the local economy improved, and 12 additional murals were completed. I like that the state waited until it had the funds to complete the murals, verses completing them and going into debt. The Cross Country Couple likes fiscal responsibility in a potential new home state! Please see the pictures below of a selection of murals.
There were still 8 blank spaces in the interior of the rotunda within the memorial chamber on the 14th floor, and they were finally completed in 1996. One of the paintings I found of interest pays tribute to the medical profession, which is the first time I seen such in a state capitol. Please see the pictures below.
After departing the State Capitol, we drove around the corner to the Nebraska State Museum. Admission was free, and the museum consisted of 2 floors. We began our tour on the 1st floor, and the first thing which caught my eye was the bathroom. As I get older, the time between having to go to the bathroom, and REALLY having to go to the bathroom has gotten much shorter. As a result, it has become common place for me to always scope out the nearest restroom. However, the Nebraska State Museum bathroom was of particular interest due to the sign which hung next to door, which is pictured below.
While it is not uncommon to see unisex bathrooms, this is the first bathroom sign we had come across on our Cross Country Trip explicitly stating “All Gender Restroom”. I have a friend who is transgendered, and this sign was very refreshing to witness. This lets me know Nebraska is a progressive state committed to the equality of all of it's citizens.
The first floor of the museum featured two special exhibits. The first of which was puppets from a 1970’s Nebraska children’s TV show; Kalamity Kate. Vintage children’s puppets are a very unusual exhibit, but it also successfully broke up the monotony of the traditional state's museum. They went into great depth on the puppeteers, and process of puppet preservation. I must admit, I did appreciate the puppets artistic beauty, they were quite cute, and I had a lot of fun! Please see the pictures below.
Next we headed across the hall on the first floor to tour the 2nd special exhibit featuring photos that capture Nebraska’s history across the 20th century. We spent the next hour looking at pictures of politicians, 20th century family life, cold war, and the Nebraska State Fair, which even included a picture of Liberace buying overalls at the fair. LOL! This was another very interesting approach to telling the history of a state, and unlike any other we had previously seen. Please see the pictures below.
Next, we headed to the 2nd floor, which featured 150 artifacts of historical significance to Nebraska. In fact, some of the artifacts were so Nebraska specific I had difficulty understanding their relevance since I am not from the state. The 150 artifacts are rotated out annually. Each year, you can visit the museum to see new exhibits and learn more about the history of the state of Nebraska! These artifacts are displayed beneath glass with a description alongside of the wooden storage crate in which they are stored when not on display! The museum atmosphere was neither techy, nor trendy, yet it possessed a simplistic elegance allowing for the artifact to be the center of attention.
This was a yet another very unique and interesting approach to a state’s museum, and I wanted to take a moment to highlight a few of the artifacts of interest. The first exhibit that immediately caught my eye was a Klu Klux Klan hood and robe. I was shocked to see such symbols of hatred publicly displayed in a state’s museum. Then, I read the inscription next to the display, and was moved to tears. The story of love surrounding these garments of hate was the most powerful and inspirational story I had ever heard. The KKK hood and robe once belonged to a Larry Trapp; the Nebraska Grand Dragon of the Klu Klux Klan. For years, he used literature and phone calls to propagate his message of racial hatred.
One day, Lapp called the home of a Jewish Canter named Michael Weisser whom recently moved to town, and said “You are gonna be sorry you moved to Lincoln, NE Jewboy!”. Weisser responded by asking Lapp if he could bring him over some groceries. The line went silent for a minute, and Lapp said, “I’ve got that taken care of, but thanks for asking”. Experiencing a kind gesture from Weisser in spite of his own expressed message of hate forever changed Larry Trapp. After meeting the Weisser's soon thereafter, Trapp renounced the KKK, converted to Judaism, and spent the rest of his life publicly speaking out for racial equality. Although his spirit had been healed, his health was rapidly deteriorating. Trapp was blind, and both of his legs had been amputated as a result of his childhood diabetes. As Trapp’s medical condition worsened and required additional care, he moved into the Weisser's family home. On September 6, 1992, Trapp passed away, and is buried in a Jewish Cemetery in Lincoln, NE. I give Nebraska a lot of credit for publicly exhibiting such a controversial display. Larry Trapp’s story propagates a powerful message our country needs now more than ever. The only way to overcome anger and hatred is with kindness and love.
Another exhibit of interest was the last document Abraham Lincoln signed prior to his Assassination on April 14, 1865. At the time, Nebraska was a territory, and not yet a state. As a territory, governors were appointed instead of being elected. The morning after Lincoln’s assassination, a certificate was found on the Lincoln’s desk appointing Alvin Saunders; Governor of the Nebraska Territory. It looks like Mr. Saunders caught a very lucky break! In addition, the museum had the Nebraska State's Constitution on display, which we always like to see. Please see the pictures below.
Around 7:00 pm, we began looking for a Walmart in the capitol city of Lincoln. We got turned away from the first Walmart for the most ridiculous yet memorable reason. On the very occasional times when we get turned away from a Walmart, it is usually due to a city ordinance, or the change in the store's policy. However, the manager stated we could not sleep in the parking lot because the Walmart is too small. I actually burst out laughing in front of the manager. I asked if he was serious, and he reassured me he was. It was by no means a Walmart Supercenter, but we had previously slept at Walmart’s a lot smaller. I took the opportunity to remind him, I have a very small campervan that fits in a single parking space that would look very cute next to his very small Walmart. While he found my comment amusing, he stated I still could not park there overnight, but he told me of another nearby Walmart where overnight parking was allowed. We drove 30 minutes across the city of Lincoln, NE to the recommended Walmart, and had a restful night sleep.