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Historical Newsletter

January / February 2006


There is no two-headed calf, but bizarre artifacts and fascinating tales abound in Weird Nebraska: Strange Stories and Amazing Facts, opening Friday, January 13, 2006, at the Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln. Sensations from Nebraska's past, including sea monsters, unidentified flying objects, and yes, a "petrified man" are featured in this odd sampling from the NSHS collections.

The exhibit also includes examples of the "healing machines" created by Emery Blagdon, Nebraska native and former hobo, who was considered just another eccentric bachelor when he died in 1986. Few of his neighbors knew that, for thirty years, Blagdon had been creating a masterpiece of idiosyncratic art in his dilapidated Sand Hills farm shed. Nearly one hundred paintings and about four hundred and fifty wire sculptures, embellished with wood, ribbon, beads, tin, and plastic, filled every corner of the 800-square-foot shed, illuminated by twinkling Christmas lights. Blagdon believed that his pieces created an electromagnetic field that could treat various diseases. When asked to explain, he would simply say, "I don't know why, it just works." The rarely exhibited Blagdon pieces are on loan to the NSHS by former North Platte resident Dan Dryden.

Weird Nebraska will be on exhibit through 2006.

Emery Blagdon's healing machines


Newly elected board members take their seats in January, and new executive officers will guide the NSHS through the coming year. Patricia Phillips, Omaha, will serve as board president; Sam Rankin, Chadron, as first vice president; Margaret Allington, Lincoln, as second vice president; and Peter Bleed, Lincoln, as treasurer. (The director/CEO, to be appointed, serves as secretary to the board.) Beginning three-year terms on the board are: Ken Bunger, Omaha; Nancy Haney, Lyman; Jim Hewitt, Lincoln; Frank Potthoff, Palisade; and Bill Pratt, Omaha.

The new executive officers are Sam Rankin (left), first vice president;
Patricia Phillips, president; Margaret Allington, second vice president;
and Peter Bleed, treasurer.


The Nebraska State Historical Society will award up to three $1,000 research grants to support original research and interpretive writing related to the history and archeology of Nebraska and the Great Plains. The 2006 research grant application period opens January 2, 2006. Applications must be postmarked by March 1. Recipients will be announced in April. Projects are to be completed within one year.

The grants are designed to support research that will lead to a manuscript ready for submission to Nebraska History, the NSHS quarterly journal, or another appropriate venue, by April 1, 2007. Grant recipients are expected to spend at least one week during the grant period in residence in Lincoln working with materials from the Nebraska State Historical Society collections.

Applicants from any background, including academic and public historians, graduate students, and independent researchers and writers, are welcome to apply. Preference will be given to applicants proposing to pursue previously neglected topics or new approaches to and interpretations of previously treated topics. Preference for one of the grants will be given to current graduate students, young scholars, or nonacademic scholars whose work is not otherwise subsidized.

Funding for the research grant program is provided by the Gladys Marie Lux Education Endowment and the Tom and Marilyn Allan Fund, both administered by the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation.

More information about the 2005 grant program is available online at or by mail from Nebraska History, P.O. Box 82554, Lincoln, NE 68501-2554.


The Douglas Theatre Company is sponsoring the Society's eighteenth annual film series entitled Real Reels. All films are shown, free of charge, at the Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln, at 1:30 p.m.

Our thanks to the Douglas Theatre Company for its gift to the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation, making this program possible. The series begins on January 22, 2006, and runs for seven weeks. Try to join us for one of these great films.

January 22: Johnny Goes Home

Johnny Carson makes a nostalgic return to his hometown of Norfolk in this 1982 documentary.

January 29: Solomon Butcher: Frontier Photographer
Emmy Award-winning documentary about the innovative, but luckless, photographer who captured the sod house frontier of Nebraska.

February 5: Monkey Trial
William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, one defending the literal truth of the Bible and the other    promoting science, face off in a case involving the teaching of evolution.

February 12: Canteen Spirit
The story of the North Platte Canteen of World War II is told by the veterans who passed through the canteen and the workers who greeted them.

February 19: A Time for Burning
Filmed in 1966, this groundbreaking documentary examined race relations in Omaha and introduced Nebraskans to Omaha barber and activist Ernie Chambers.

February 26: Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip
Ken Burns documents Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson's improbable and eventful 1903 jaunt across the country.

March 5: Westward the Empire: Omaha's World Fair of 1898
The Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition brought more than 2.6 million people to Omaha, where they saw new inventions, agricultural and manufacturing exhibits, and specially constructed Classical- and Renaissance-style buildings.


Two new bills affecting Nebraska history go into effect at the beginning of 2006.

The LB 66 Nebraska Historic Building Valuation Preference Program is a property tax incentive that allows owners who are undertaking substantial rehabilitation of their historic properties to apply for a temporary "hold" on property tax valuation increases. Valuation will remain at the pre-rehabilitation level for eight years, and then will be gradually increased to market level during the next four years. Buildings must be on the National Register of Historic Places to qualify, and participation in the program begins with contacting the NSHS's State Historic Preservation Office. Call 402-471-4787 or e-mail to or write to the SHPO at P.O. Box 82254, Lincoln, NE 68501.

The Cemetery Registry Bill (LB 211) requires owners and operators of cemeteries, and those who maintain abandoned cemeteries, to provide information for a central data bank to be compiled and maintained by the Nebraska State Historical Society. Information needed includes location or address; name of entity or persons owning, operating, or maintaining the cemetery; and inception and/or abandonment date, if known. Registration forms and more information will be available early in 2006 on the NSHS website,

Dr. James A. and Ann Rawley

DR. JAMES A. RAWLEY (1916 - 2005)

Dr. James A. Rawley, professor of history (emeritus) at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln and a past president of the Nebraska State Historical Society, died in Lincoln on November 29. Professor Rawley taught at UN-L from 1964 until his retirement in 1987. He was nationally recognized as a historian of the American Civil War and authored numerous books and articles on the Civil War and slavery. Rawley served on the Society board from 1968 to 1986, and was Society president, 1972-74. He also served on the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Board, and was a trustee of the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation.


 Eighth grade students from Lefler Middle School and Pound Middle School in Lincoln are researching topics about Nebraska history and creating tri-fold museum displays for a project titled "Bring Nebraska to Life."

Students started the project with a field trip to Wyuka Cemetery, where they viewed the graves of Civil War veterans, Nebraska political figures, and gravestones representing a variety of immigrant groups to see firsthand the connections between Nebraska history and events that happened in the United States.

Students then selected a person, place, event, invention, or technological advance to investigate. Students and their parents bombarded staff and volunteers at the Nebraska State Historical Society Library/Archives on several Saturdays, searching for primary source documents to use in creating their museum displays.

On Friday, January 13, 2006, students from both schools will come together at Lefler for an evening program that includes keynote speaker Paul Eisloeffel, NSHS curator of visual and audio collections, and a student-created living timeline. Students will display their projects while parents and community members view them. This is a great opportunity for students to showcase their work and interact with eighth grade students from another school in an academic setting.

A few of the topics kids are researching: First Nebraska Regiment, Pioneers Park, Solomon Butcher, Shores family, Pony Express, 1920s bank robberies in Lincoln, Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska, Chief Standing Bear, and Germans from Russia.

Franklin Lueke from Pound Middle School and Cole Moreland from Lefler Middle School examine photographs and documents from the Blizzard of 1888.


Join the Ramona Forever Reading Group from the Lincoln Community Playhouse and celebrate Nebraska, Lewis and Clark, and the Oregon Trail by coming to the Nebraska State Historical Society's Museum of Nebraska History at Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln, on Saturday, January 28, 2006! Become a part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition as they travel from Missouri to the Oregon coast. Create your own travel brochure for the Oregon Trail and convince people to venture west. Go on a scavenger hunt that takes you through many of the exhibits in the museum. Or visit the History Adventure Center and pack for the Pawnee summer bison hunt or a 1920s auto tour. Walk across the whole state on a gigantic floor map of Nebraska. Or just take your time wandering through three floors of exhibits, including the new Weird Nebraska: Strange Stories and Amazing Facts. You can do it all!

The museum is open 1:00-4:30. The Oregon Trail activity will start at 1:30 and continue until closing. The Lewis and Clark Expedition will travel several times throughout the day. Please call ahead for the Oregon Trail activity and Lewis and Clark Expedition. The phone number for the Museum of Nebraska History is 402-471-4754.

Plenty of resources for travelers are available at the Museum Store, open 1-4. Books, maps, games, and even buffalo jerky and rock candy for the road are available for purchase.

The Nebraska State Historical Society's Museum of Nebraska History is open Tuesday-Friday, 9:00-4:30; Saturday and Sunday, 1:00-4:30; closed Monday.


By Cindy S. Drake, Library Curator

An American Family: A History and Genealogy of William Davis and Nancy Endicott Whiting [compiled by Jerry Ann Kaufman]. (Davis family in Saunders County.)

Attracted to America, edited by Ivan E. Nielsen. (Danish American Jensen family in Antelope County.)

Dakota County, Nebraska Tombstone Inscriptions: Circle of Life, [compiled] by Jody K. Boyd.

Descendants of Frank and Barbora (Busek) Scheinost: Genealogy, History, Pictures, researched and compiled by Phyllis M. Bunnelle. (Czech American family in Valley and Boyd counties.)

Germans From Russia, Kaufman Family History: A Genealogy of Heinrich & Maria Barbara Reiter Kaufman from the Volga Village of Medveditskoi Krestovoy Buyerak, [Frank] Russia, compiled and printed by Ervin D. Kaufman. (Family in Scotts Bluff County.)

Knight Family History: A Genealogy That Aspires to: "The Whole Story," compiled by John E. Knight. (Knight and Gruver families in Lancaster County.)

The Life Story of Freeman Tully Knowles, Helen Maude Knowles Culbertson, Guy Knowles Culbertson, prepared by Lynda Parker. (Families in Saunders County.)

Paddle Your Own Canoe: A Memoir, by Alice Ann Marsh Yelken. (Marsh family in Antelope County.)

Pauline and Panno: Immigrant Lives Intertwined, by Fred Baltz. (Danish American Schou family in Douglas County.)

Peter S. Petersen's Memoirs, edited by John W. Nielsen in cooperation with Karsten Kjer Michaelsen. (Danish American family in Howard County.)

Recollections of an 'Also Ran', by Romaine Saunders. (Saunders family in Holt County.)

The Swedes in Omaha and South Omaha ­1889, by Louise Bloom Baumann, 2005.


January 15: Sunday at the Museum Series, "Mona and Camille," by Janet Schmitz, professor of language and literature, Wayne State College. The presentation explores the parallels between the experiences of Mona Neihardt and Camille Claudel as students of Auguste Rodin. 2 p.m., John G. Neihardt State Historic Site, 306 W. Elm Street, Bancroft. Free and open to the public; reception following. For information call the Neihardt Site at 1-888-777-4667 or

January 19: Brown Bag Lecture, "UFOs and Other Nebraska Weirdness," by NSHS staff member Dale Bacon. From the 1890s accounts of "mysterious airships" to "flying saucers" in the twentieth century, a variety of odd phenomena have been witnessed in Nebraska skies. The lecture complements the new Museum of Nebraska History exhibit, Weird Nebraska: Strange Stories and Amazing Facts, opening January 13. 12 noon, Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln. Free and open to the public.

February 12: Sunday at the Museum Series, Dean Jacobs, world traveler and photo journalist, shares his two-year trip around the world on $15 a day, with slides and stories from his book Wondrous Journey. 2 p.m., John G. Neihardt State Historic Site, Bancroft. Free and open to the public; reception and book signing following. For information contact the Neihardt Site as above.

February 16: Brown Bag Lecture, "Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers," by Dr. Pat Crews, director, International Quilt Study Center at UN-L. Dr. Crews has spent decades researching the stories behind Nebraska's quilts and the remarkable individuals, both female and male, who have produced them. The program complements Patchwork Lives, the exhibition of quilts from both the NSHS and IQSC collections on the third floor at the Museum of Nebraska History. 12 noon, Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln. Free and open to the public.

February 20: Research and Region Colloquium, Brian Dippie, professor of History, University of Victoria, Canada, will present "The Contested Status of Western American Art." Dippie specializes in nineteenth-century Western American history, literature, and art. He has explored these subjects in numerous articles and books, including Custer's Last Stand: The Anatomy of an American Myth; The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy; and University of Nebraska Press book Catlin and His Contemporaries: The Politics of Patronage. 3:30 p.m., UN-L Center for Great Plains Studies, Hewit Place, 1155 Q Street, Lincoln.


Paul L. Hedren's First Scalp for Custer: The Skirmish at Warbonnet Creek, Nebraska, July 17, 1876, is available once again in a revised edition published by the Nebraska State Historical Society. Hedren's study relates the clash between the Fifth U.S. Cavalry and Cheyenne warriors at a remote site in today's Sioux County, Nebraska. The only casualty was a warrior named Yellow Hair, who was killed by Scout "Buffalo Bill" Cody. This minor episode, coming on the heels of Custer's defeat at the Little Big Horn, signaled the army's ultimate victory in the Great Sioux War of 1876-77, and bolstered Cody's fame. Available at $9.95, softbound, plus tax and shipping, from the Museum Store, 1-800-833-6747.


The NSHS museum store at the Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln, needs your help as a volunteer to assist with museum store sales. Volunteers meet and greet customers from around the world, work with school groups, and provide tremendous support to the NSHS. Volunteers are needed on Friday afternoons, 1:00-4:30, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons, 1-4.  Training will be provided. For further information call 402-471-4955.

Indian on horseback logo

NEW in the Museum Store

The Nebraska State Historical Society museum stores
have many great gift ideas for your
winter enjoyment or for your Valentine!

Chimney Rock mug--This white marbleized mug features an image of Chimney Rock.
Snowmen mug and eight-inch plate--"Winter Whimsy" design by a Nebraska artist.
New selection of vintage Valentine cards.
Pin and earrings inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Birchbark jewelry.


Voices of the American West, Volume 1: The Indian Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903-1919, by Eli S. Ricker, edited and with an introduction by Richard E. Jensen
Voices of the American West, Volume 2: The Settler and Soldier Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903-1919, by Eli S. Ricker, edited by Richard E. Jensen
First Scalp for Custer: The Skirmish at Warbonnet Creek, Nebraska, July 17, 1876, by Paul L. Hedren, revised edition, 2005
Their Man in Omaha, Volume 1: The Barker Letters, 1860-1868, edited by Don Snoddy, Barry Combs, Bob Marks, and Del Weber


MUSEUM of NEBRASKA HISTORY, 15th & "P" Streets, 402-471-3447
10:00 - 4:30, Tuesday - Friday
1:00 - 4:00, Saturday and Sunday
Museum Store Catalog online


November / December 2005 Issue

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