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  Summer 2011 Issue Excerpts


Here's a bit of what you'll find in the Summer 2011 issue.
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J. C. Penney in Nebraska

Main Street Empire: J. C. Penney in Nebraska - David Delbert Kruger

The April 1914 opening of downtown Grand Island's J. C. Penney store was as significant for the company's thirty-eight-year-old founder as it was for the crowd waiting along the Third Street sidewalk. For James Cash Penney, the Grand Island opening marked not only his first store in Nebraska, but also the closest he had come to operating near his hometown of Hamilton, Missouri. Nebraska's first J. C. Penney store was also, arguably, the first of the franchise's stores in the entire Midwest, as the next closest location was over three hundred miles away in Fort Morgan, Colorado. For nearly a decade, Penney had been creating a chain of sixty stores, but until 1914 his commercial reach extended no farther east than Colorado. The name "J. C. Penney" was almost unrecognizable to Nebraskans at the time, particularly in the shadows of established retailers like Brandeis, Miller & Paine, Herpolsheimer's, Louis Bergman, and Rudge & Guenzel. The Grand Island location had been planned from the company's first headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, but by the time it opened, Penney had already persuaded his board of directors to relocate the headquarters to New York City for better access to manufacturers, distribution lines, and financial institutions. If James Cash Penney and his company were moving east, it seemed logical that many additional J. C. Penney stores in Nebraska would soon follow. Within fifteen years, James Cash Penney was able to saturate more Nebraska towns- large and small-than any other retailer before or since, with most of his stores serving their respective main streets for more than fifty years.

Although Penney never resided in Nebraska, he understood its largely agrarian culture and had spent considerable time living in its border states of Missouri, Colorado, and Wyoming. Growing up in northwest Missouri, Penney had taken up farming as a teenager before health concerns forced him to migrate to Colorado and later Wyoming to pursue a career in retailing. However, even as he changed professions, Penney continued to be most comfortable in small towns and rural areas that were largely dependent upon agriculture. As he later reflected:

"For me, innately, cities were places to keep away from. Small towns were where I was at home. I knew how to get close to the lives of small town people, learning their needs and preferences and serving them accordingly."

Despite Penney's move to New York City in 1914, he still identified with farmers and ranchers, and believed that he shared their values and understood their needs. As a fundamentalist Christian, Penney also believed that a J. C. Penney store in their rural communities could be the embodiment of what a retail institution should be: an honest neighbor that operated by the golden rule "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you." Penney had opened his first stores as cash-only Golden Rule mercantiles, primarily for sheep ranchers, miners, and their families, allowing them to maximize quality with minimum prices. Similarly, he also embraced thrifty farmers and railroad workers in Nebraska. The newspaper ads for his first Nebraska store featured headlines such as "Grand Island's Cheapest Store" and "We Cater to Railroad Men." While J. C. Penney stores did sell complete lines of fashionable apparel for the entire family, Penney never envisioned his department stores emulating the flair of J. L. Brandeis or Miller & Paine. J. C. Penney stores were simply a value-based mercantile for common Nebraskans who needed Pay Day overalls and quality linens as much as they needed a Towncraft suit or a Marathon fedora.

Within a year of the Grand Island opening, the company opened additional J. C. Penney stores in Hastings and Beatrice. Expanding throughout Nebraska was very much in line with Penney's aspirations. "If I had insisted on keeping personal control of the Penney Company," Penney later reflected, "we would still be merely a small chain of stores scattered through the Middle West." Clearly, Penney would have preferred gradually opening new stores using existing store profits and associate partnerships. Doing so had enabled him to expand his chain without borrowing money, but the process took too much time for rapid nationwide expansion, something that his partners and associates increasingly wanted. Six years after moving to New York City, the J. C. Penney Company was able to expand from 48 stores in seven states to 197 stores in 25 states. Over the same period, annual sales had mushroomed from $2.6 million to $28.7 million.

The chain grew rapidly throughout the nation and continued to expand its presence in Nebraska. In 1916, new stores were opened in Falls City, McCook, and Ord. Within two years, North Platte and David City also welcomed J. C. Penney stores to their downtown business districts. Amazingly, the company was able to find additional new locations with little more than manager recommendations, personal visits, census figures, and crude marketing data. From its New York headquarters, eight scouts were assigned to perpetually visit, investigate, and report on potential sites across the United States. From the J. C. Penney perspective, bigger cities were not necessarily better locations. Although Grand Island had a population just over 10,000, none of the other Nebraska store locations at that time had populations larger than 5,000. In its first twenty years, the company didn't even have a store prototype large enough to serve a city the size of Lincoln, much less Omaha, so locations in those cities were not even considered.

The entire essay appears in the Summer 2011 issue.

1930s Medical Training

Courtship of Two Doctors: 1930s Letters Spotlight Nebraska Medical Training - Martha H. Fitzgerald

Joe Holoubek trained to be a country doctor in Nebraska. Destiny-and a young physician named Alice Baker-took him 1,100 miles away to Louisiana.

But his later success in life-as a consulting cardiologist, co-founder of a medical school, and half of north Louisiana's best-known medical couple-springs from his five formidable years of training in Omaha. The emphasis in the late 1930s was primary care, and the level of responsibility Nebraska medical students shouldered was awesome. He spent his senior year treating patients in their homes, diagnosing ailments with little more than a stethoscope and a battery of questions.

We have firsthand accounts of those days in training through Alice and Joe's courtship letters. His letters to her and her letters to him, written from 1937 to 1939, reveal divergent philosophies of clinical training in Nebraska and Louisiana. They also expose the health risks of internships in the years before World War II.

Joe and Alice met in 1937 during a summer fellowship at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and courted long-distance. Both were senior medical students, he at University of Nebraska College of Medicine and she at Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans. Joe was twenty-one, born on a farm in Colfax County. He was the grandson of Bohemian homesteaders, and English was his second language, learned when he started school.

Truth be told, Joe was dismayed when he first met Alice-there was a girl in the class! A "hen medic," as he called her, with a soft Southern drawl. But fascination overcame his prejudice, and he took her out dancing. He posted a letter to Louisiana the first week he arrived home from Rochester.

Letters flew back and forth twice a week their last year in school and every day their internship year. Alice and Joe wrote about professors and fellow students in Louisiana, Nebraska, and Minnesota, about physicians and patients, illnesses and treatments, family and friends, songs and movies.

Most of that correspondence was preserved. Nearly 800 letters, transcribed and footnoted, now constitute The Holoubek-Baker Letters, 1937-1939: An Annotated Collection. Both alma maters have copies of the collection in their medical archives, as do Mayo Clinic, LSU Shreveport, and LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport.

The letters are a treasure of primary source material on 1930s medicine and medical training. They recreate the era before antibiotics, when tuberculosis ran rampant and hospital workers were at risk of serious infection. Illness felled both Joe and Alice their internship year, and their career plans collapsed. But their long-distance courtship sustained them and formed a deep bond that took root and flourished in Louisiana. Dr. Alice and Dr. Joe, as they became known, married and started their professional lives in New Orleans, relocating to Shreveport after World War II. Joe adapted well to his new home. Two years of letters from Alice had prepared him for Louisiana's different approach to medical training.

In 1937, when the letters began, LSU New Orleans was six years old. Founded by Governor Huey Long to provide an affordable medical education, it was already a Class A school, drawing professors from around the world. Students trained for research and practice in the South, with its warm-weather diseases and widespread poverty. As at most medical schools in the country, they worked in clinics their junior year and hospital wards senior year.

House calls were rare, reserved for obstetrics, and students had little autonomy. After four years of training, they received only a bachelor's degree in medicine. The M.D.s came a year later, Alice wrote Joe in February 1938:

"I can't imagine the hospital here really letting us decide anything definitely for ourselves. And I surely feel that loss, too, for I fear I might be sadly lacking at an emergency. That is one reason I so prefer to interne [sic] here. There must be so much more for us to learn from our instructors during our interne year. All of us students have been complaining because we have been given so little therapeutic. . . . They really mean it when they call our interneship our fifth year of Medicine."

In Nebraska, self-reliance was a given. The school, which dated to 1881, readied its students for rural practice hundreds of miles from a major medical center. They would be expected to treat everything from ear infections to major trauma. Students started clinical service their sophomore year, learning how to take histories and make a physical diagnosis. They took on hospital service their junior year and staffed the outpatient clinics their senior year. Seniors also had "outcall" duty, making house calls throughout greater Omaha, under supervision.

Medical training across the country was far more standardized in 1937 than it had been a quarter century earlier, but variations lingered. Second-rate schools had closed in the wake of a 1910 landmark study, Abraham Flexner's Medical Education in the United States and Canada: A Report to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Others moved toward the higher professional standards Flexner pushed, with Johns Hopkins Medical School as his model. Specifically: stricter requirements for admission, affiliation with university hospitals, full-time professors in the basic sciences, two years of clinical training, and financial support from foundations or state governments.

The report was largely complimentary of Nebraska, which already had two years of clinical training. But it helped convince legislators to consolidate the two campuses-students had taken basic sciences in Lincoln, then moved to Omaha. University Hospital opened in 1917, accepting patients for teaching purposes from throughout Nebraska. Clinical teaching staff and hospital staff comprised local physicians volunteering their time.

The entire essay appears in the Summer 2011 issue.

Postcards from Long Pine

Postcards from Long Pine

As described elsewhere in this issue, Long Pine, Nebraska, became a tourist destination in 1910 with the founding of Long Pine Amusement Park, later known as Nebraska's Hidden Paradise. Some travelers bought picture postcards to commemorate their visit. The Nebraska State Historical Society has a number of these in its collections; others circulate through antique shops and online merchants.

In 1907, the U.S. Postal Service began allowing personal messages on the address side of postcards. This was the beginning of "divided back" postcards, and their brief and sometimes pithy messages can make the back of the card as interesting as the picture side. Taken together, these four cards provide glimpses of recreational travel in the 1910s and '20s.

Hidden Paradise

Intersections of Place, Time, and Entertainment in Nebraska's Hidden Paradise - Rebecca A. Buller

During the Roaring Twenties, visitors found a wide variety of entertainment at Hidden Paradise, an eighty-acre resort-like area near the north-central Nebraska community of Long Pine. One could spend the day whooshing down the slide at the Plunge, swinging for a hole in one, fly fishing for a trophy trout, tubing the cool waters of the natural spring-fed creek, catching the latest flick at the theater, meeting friends for drinks and a steak, spending a quiet evening reading in a rented cottage, or dancing the night away at the Pavilion.

Hidden Paradise began in June 1910 when three local entrepreneurs created what was then known as Long Pine Amusement Park. Much of its success in the early twentieth century was due to its situation near Long Pine, a town that boomed economically, developmentally, and socially because of its association with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad (C.N.W.R.R.).

Like almost all Great Plains towns, Long Pine was founded near a fresh water source, but also had distinctive natural features. Long Pine Creek, which starts a few miles southwest of town and flows north to the Niobrara River, is a clear spring-fed watercourse with 55ºF waters that run year-round. It is the state's longest self-sustaining trout stream. Its narrow, deep canyons, densely lined by large oaks and ponderosa pines, stand in stark contrast to the surrounding short grass prairie rangeland. It is an ecotone, where Eastern ecosystems meet those of the West-for example, it is home to both mule deer and whitetail deer. The canyon is a natural oasis amidst the semi-arid Sandhills that contain only the occasional cottonwood or ash. This setting attracted people to the area and, ultimately, led to the Park's creation.

From 1910 through the 1960s people flocked to Hidden Paradise to enjoy dances and live bands, local restaurant specialties, summer holiday celebrations, outdoor recreation, and family vacations. The Park drew local people from the nearby towns of Ainsworth, Bassett, Valentine, and O'Neill, and also vacationers from Norfolk, Omaha, Fremont, Lincoln, South Sioux City, and Chadron, and even people from around the country. During the 1940s, the Park's owners lived at their home in Rosalind, California, from October through March, and at Hidden Paradise while managing the Park the rest of the year.

Hidden Paradise is prominent in many people's memories, and portions of it are active to this day. Its story reveals how people experienced outdoor recreation and related activities during the early- and mid-twentieth century. Leisure activities are revealing because they are often in some ways unique and in other ways reflective of larger trends. Available entertainment reflects aspects of social life, sense of place, and place attachment. By examining the intersections of place, time, and entertainment in Nebraska's Hidden Paradise, we can better understand the historical geographies of individual and collective human experience, and recognize how entertainment reflected trends of race, ethnicity, gender, age, class, nationality, and religion.

Nomenclature depends upon time and place. Nebraska's Hidden Paradise has been known as the Long Pine Amusement Park, Hidden Paradise Resort, and Hidden Paradise Park. Today, the entire region, including private cabins, is known simply as Hidden Paradise. In the past, when people mentioned "the Park" they were referring to the Long Pine Amusement Park Company and/or the business Hidden Paradise. In the early days, "the Park" mainly consisted of the Plunge, restaurant, dance pavilion (known as "the Pavilion"), and cottage rental properties. From the 1960s until today, "the Park" refers only to the restaurant/Pavilion structure.

Long Pine's Beginnings

Long Pine was one of thousands of Great Plains communities created during the late nineteenth century. Settlers moved in to take advantage of free lands by way of the Homestead Act (1862), Timber Culture Act (1873), and Kinkaid Act (1904). In the early 1880s cattle ranchers and workers from the Sioux City and Pacific Railroad were among the first settlers in present-day Brown County. A cycle of boom-and-bust settlement characterized the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Construction of the town exploded during the 1880s, and then faltered during the drought of the 1890s. The town's population declined from over 800 in 1895 to 151 by the spring of 1898. The Kinkaid Act of 1904, an enlarged homestead act offering 640 acres free, enabled another (albeit brief) settlement boom.

People had long noticed the special features of Pine Creek canyon. Earlier in the nineteenth century, fur trappers preferred the beaver pelts from the banks of the creek. And-as with locations such as the natural springs near Paddock, Nebraska, to the east in Holt County-the town's early entrepreneurs had big ideas about capitalizing on the potentially medicinal properties of the waters. Some individuals wanted to name the community Seven Springs for the source of the creek (five miles south of the town), while others argued for Long Pine. The Omaha Bee described the creek as "remarkable," with an average velocity of seven miles per hour, width of twenty-five feet, and depth of three feet, and promised that the effort to travel to see the waters bubbling from the earth at the seven springs would be well repaid.

Despite periodic droughts and resulting loss of population, early settler C. R. Glover promoted the little town from 1881 to 1893, arguing that it "was the only place in Nebraska worthy of being called a 'summer resort'." An Omaha Daily Republican newspaper reporter known as "The Frontiersman" visited the area and penned a description that appeared in the paper's January 5, 1882, edition. He estimated that the "creek forms a strong body of waters, and affords in its gradual falls a force of at least thirty horsepower," and noted that a meticulous adventurer might even discover petrified wood, bone (such as the skeleton of a recently discovered mastodon), moss agate, and stones along the banks of the creek. Prophetically, he remarked that the beautiful creek and canyon had the makings of a "grand summer resort." Three local entrepreneurs established the Long Pine Amusement Park twenty-eight years later.

The entire essay appears in the Summer 2011 issue.

 

 


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