Upcoming Release of the 1940 Census

Join us on Sunday, March 25, 2012 to learn more about the 1940 U.S. Census to be released on April 2nd. The Lincoln-Lancaster County Genealogical Society, in partnership with the Nebraska State Historical Society, has organized a special program relating to the upcoming release of the 1940 census.

1940 Census poster

1940 Census poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

This free program will be held at 1:30pm, Sunday, March 25th at the Bess Dodson Walt Branch Library, 6701 S. 14th St., Lincoln. Come to hear a special presentation, “Introduction to the 1940 Census,” by Lori Cox-Paul, Director of Archival Operations, National Archives branch at Kansas City.

For more information, contact or 402-483-1239.

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Nan J. Aspinwall, Western Entertainer

Nan Aspinwall was famous as an expert roper. NSHS RG3513.PH6-54

When Nan Aspinwall arrived in New York on July 8, 1911, after a ride on horseback from San Francisco to New York, it was perhaps the highlight of a long and colorful career as an oriental dancer, sharpshooter, trick roping expert, and vaudeville actress. Born in New York on February 2, 1880, she spent most of her early years in Nebraska, where her parents were storekeepers in Liberty, a small Gage County town. Later publicity during her career indicated that she was raised on a cattle ranch in Montana, although it seems probable that this story was concocted to enhance her stage image as a cowgirl and Western entertainer.  

By 1899 Nan was performing as an oriental dancer, “Princess Omene.” Sometime in 1905 or 1906, she began appearing as the “Montana Girl,” an expert horsewoman, roper, and sharpshooter, and by 1906 she was billed (along with husband Frank Gable) as a “Lariat Expert.” By at least 1908, the couple was performing with the combined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Far East Troupe. On a bet from Buffalo Bill, she rode on horseback from San Francisco to New York and back in 1911, supporting herself with exhibitions of roping and riding in small towns along the way. Later she and Frank had their own vaudeville show.  

Aspinwall performed as an exotic dancer early in her career. NSHS RG3513.PH6-28

In June of 1927 Nan and Frank Gable were in Norfolk, Nebraska, to attend a much-publicized reunion of old frontiersmen. The gathering, highlighted by a parade, was largely instigated by Norfolk’s Dr. Richard J. “Diamond Dick” Tanner and radio personality Karl Stefan. The Norfolk Daily News on June 15, 1927, announced the arrival in town of “Two-Gun Nan” and her husband, identified as “Two Famous Ropers,” to participate in the celebration.  

Little is known of Nan’s life after Frank Gable died in 1929 and their show ended. She married again at some point in the 1930s, to Al Lambell, who also predeceased her. She died on October 24, 1964, in San Bernardino, California, after decades of obscurity. The Nebraska state Historical Society has photographs and souvenirs relating to her career as well as a manuscript collection of Aspinwall Family papers. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor /Publications

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No Riding on the Sidewalk!

I recently ran across a booklet containing the Ordinances of the City of Beatrice, Nebraska from the year 1885. I thought I would share a few items of interest.

City of Beatrice Ordinances, 1885 (NSHS RG308)

Ordinances for the City of Beatrice, 1885 (NSHS RG308)

According to Ordinance no. 60, it was unlawful to ride a bicycle, velocipede or tricycle upon the sidewalks or crosswalks within the city of Beatrice. If you were caught and convicted, it could cost you anywhere from $1 to $10 per violation!
City of Beatrice, Ordinance no. 60 (NSHS RG308)

City of Beatrice, Ordinance no. 60 (NSHS RG308)

City of Beatrice, Ordinance no. 60, pt. 2 (NSHS RG308)

City of Beatrice, Ordinance no. 60, pt. 2 (NSHS RG308)

Another item I found of interest was that of Ordinance no. 56, which was for the appointment of the City Weighmaster.
City of Beatrice, Ordinance no. 56 (NSHS RG308)

City of Beatrice, Ordinance no. 56 (NSHS RG308)

-Tom Mooney, Curator of Manuscripts

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America Illustrated

His art was admired by Norman Rockwell. His handiwork can be seen in ads from General Motors, Packard, and Campbell Soup. In the course of his career, 129 of his works became published as Saturday Evening Post covers. However, few people recognize the name John Falter, or know that his beloved childhood home was in Nebraska.

In the Spring 2012 issue of Nebraska History, NSHS Associate Director Deb Arenz writes about Falter’s life and work by following his trail of art. Many of his paintings and sketches were donated to the Nebraska State Historical Society by his widow, and on April 6, 2012, an exhibit will open in the Nebraska History Museum, showcasing Falter’s work.

Falter painted "Falls City, Nebraska at Christmas" for the cover of the December, 21, 1946, issue of the Saturday Evening Post. NSHS 10645-4562


Born in Plattsmouth in 1910 and raised in Falls City, Falter was a true Nebraskan. Motifs from his childhood, such as the Falls City water tower, reappeared frequently in his artwork.  Falter himself said “I never really left Falls City. Every chance I could get, I would bring my family back here so they could see where my roots were planted. I love this state.”

Although he had many early accomplishments such as his own comic in the local newspaper, and a scholarship to the Art Students League of New York, Falter felt that his first big accomplishment came when he sold a magazine cover to the pulp magazine Street & Smith’s. He wired his parents  “I have arrived in art!” and soon began getting regular work drawing for other pulp magazines and books.

Falter's first pulp magazine cover was for Western Story, March 26, 19332. His early pulp work features a softer look and looser brush stokes than found in his later work. In cover illustration, some blank space is necessary for text and title. Over the years he learned to use this space to add drama to the scene. NSHS 10645-5711


In 1934, Falter hired an agency to represent him. It was an expensive and risky move that paid off; soon Falter was providing art for high profile magazines and ads for large companies. When WWII came, he painted propaganda posters and war publicity. After the war, Falter achieved his greatest career success: selling cover work to The Saturday Evening Post. In 1952, he was featured on the cover of Newsweek as one of America’s best illustrators. He continued producing fine art for the rest of his life.

Even though you might not recognize Falter’s work, it is endearing because it is so much like our own experience. His paintings also reflect the ideals and worldview of the era. Falter asserted that he enjoyed simply painting what he saw. “I’m not trying to propagandize anything,” he said “I’m just trying to put it down as I lived it.” To see America as Falter saw it, stop by the Nebraska History Museum after April 6 and enjoy a slice of Falter’s human experience.

-Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant

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Brown Bag Lecture to Discuss Overland Trail Sketches

Surviving images and artistic renditions of Oregon-California Trail scenes are rare. Views by Arkansas artist William Minor Quesenbury (1822-1888)  showing trail landmarks in Nebraska and Wyoming exhibit a skill surpassing that of almost all other sketch artists on the trail. The sketches are the basis for Scenery, Curiosities, and Stupendous Rocks: William Quesenbury’s Overland Sketches, 1850-1851, by David Royce Murphy, with contributions by Michael L. Tate and Michael Farrell, published in December 2011 by the University of Oklahoma Press. The book will be featured in the upcoming (March 20, 2012) New York Book Show sponsored by the Book Industry Guild. It received second place in the Professional Books/Scholarly design category.

Quesenbury’s sketch of Chimney Rock from the east.

Murphy, senior research architect at the NSHS, will give a free Brown Bag lecture, “Solving the Mysteries of Quesenbury’s Sketches: Making the Book Scenery, Curiosities, and Stupendous Rocks,” beginning at noon on Thursday, March 15, at the Nebraska History Museum, Fifteenth and P streets, in Lincoln. In 1850 Quesenbury left his Arkansas home for California and returned home in 1851 with daguerreotypist John Wesley Jones, who used selected material for his “Pantoscope,” a gigantic, scrolling, panoramic painting. Most of the sketches cover the 1851 journey. They begin with views of Devil’s Gate, follow the trail east through Wyoming, and include a distant view of Courthouse and Jail Rocks in Nebraska. The prized page of the sketchbook has two remarkably detailed drawings of Chimney Rock. They show the rock in its pristine state, its column tall and intact. The last sketch is an unfinished panoramic sketch of Ash Hollow.  

Murphy’s lecture will be recorded for later broadcast on 5City TV and posted on YouTube, courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation. Previous “Brown Bag” lectures at the NSHS have already been posted. Copies of the book based on Quesenbury’s sketches are available at the NSHS Landmark Stores. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor /Publications

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Huff and Puff Not Enough to Destroy This Straw Building

Everyone has heard that necessity is the mother of invention. This is best exemplified in times of war, when the necessities of a country are tested to the maximum. During World War II, architects and builders were forced to find many alternatives to common building materials. But few alternatives have shown themselves to be as phenomenal and innovative as the construction of the Lone Oak restaurant in Lincoln.

Few would guess that beneath its handsome curved walls and stuccoed exterior, the Lone Oak building is constructed of rectangular hay bales. Although the idea sounds primitive, hay-bale buildings have proved themselves more solid and economical than expected. Cheap and a wonderful insulator, straw was the perfect solution to war-time shortages. Completed in 1946, the Lone Oak was a particular achievement because of its two stories, with a surprisingly stable dance floor on the second level. The structure contains other unexpected facets as well, including a flat concrete roof and curiosities about the window substructure that cannot be understood without looking inside the walls. In the Spring 2006 issue of Nebraska History, senior research architect David Murphy explored more interesting aspects of Lone Oak’s construction in his articles “The Lone Oak: Brave and Daring” and “How Did They Do That?”

While its structure alone would have been enough to gain the building its current place as a historic landmark, Lone Oak also has a background of interesting events. The restaurant held the prestigious recommendation of Duncan-Hines, and was also popular as a club. In August of 1958, controversy rocked Lone Oak when its owners Nola Bailey and Tom Bentley were found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in a nearby cottage. The families of each came into dispute over whether Bentley had been a partner in the business or an employee, along with other details of rights to the valuable restaurant.  The case went all the way to the Nebraska Supreme Court, revealing a curious mystery of the debt and secrets of Tom Bentley. Eventually the court sided with the Baileys. In a Spring 2006 article entitled “Tragedy at Lone Oak,” John Carter researched the details of the deaths and court case.

Located at 7502 W. O Street, the building has held many new names and restaurants since, including “The One Oak,” “The Lone Elm,” “Thelma’s,” and “El Ranchito.” Unfortunately, however, time and a poorly-cared-for roof have gotten the better of the Lone Oak building. Due to extensive water damage, the straw inside the walls has grown mold; it is likely beyond repair. Owner Todd Reinhardt has plans to demolish the building next year, using the land to expand his business. Although it is tragic to lose such a historic place, hopefully tearing down the structure will provide insight into its unconventional construction, and reveal information to improve current designs for straw-bale architecture.

Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant, Publications

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Mystery Grave in Boyd County

The Boyd County skull, showing what appears to be a bullet hole in the forehead.

Like something out of detective fiction, a crew digging a trench found an unmarked grave in a rural field where no graves were known to exist. This 2000 discovery near Lynch, Nebraska, resulted in an excavation led by Nebraska State Historical Society archeologist Gayle Carlson, now retired. The uncovered skeleton had what appeared to be a bullet hole in the forehead. Who was this person? And what were the circumstances of death? Carlson now has a tentative answer, shared with readers of the NSHS quarterly newsletter, Nebraska History News (January/February/March 2012).  

Based on bones, teeth, and other evidence, Carlson and others concluded the skeleton belonged to a man in his twenties or thirties. The burial likely took place between the 1880s and 1910, based on coffin hardware evidence. Carlson and Nebraska History Museum curator Laura Mooney found a match for some decorative escutcheon plates and thumbscrews in an 1892 funeral supply catalog.  

Retired Lynch police chief Albert Lee told Carlson that his great-grandfather once owned the property where the grave was found. Then NSHS senior research historian Jim Potter suggested a book titled Vigilante Days: Frontier Justice Along the Niobrara, by Harold Hutton. In its pages Carlson learned of a man named Jack Richards.  

A coffin handle recovered from the grave.

Richards was said to be the accomplice of Holt County father and son Ralph and Charlie Hills, who were accused of stealing livestock, among other crimes. Vigilantes apprehended the Hills on June 29, 1894, and apparently later hanged them. Richards was told to leave the country but went only as far as nearby Knox County and maintained his ties with the Hills family. On September 20, 1895, he was returning from Holt County with a wagonload of supplies, accompanied by two of the Hills’ teenage girls. While passing through Boyd County, the group stopped and Richards went into a cornfield beside the road to pick some ears for his team.  

The field’s owner, Jacob Bruza, saw Richards. Furious about the depredation, he told his wife to get his gun—apparently a shotgun loaded with homemade lead slugs. Richards took a rifle from the wagon and waited to see what Bruza would do. Presently, one or more shots were fired and Richards fell mortally wounded. The girls left the scene immediately with the team and wagon.  

Bruza and a neighbor took Richards to the Lynch hospital, where he died two days later. Richards was said to have a wound in his forehead, another in the side of his face, and a third in his left side. Some thought Bruza would be convicted of murder, but he was acquitted. Vigilante influence was thought to be the reason.  

Cemetery records show no evidence of Richards’s burial in Holt, Knox, or Boyd counties, though it’s possible that he’s buried in an unmarked grave. But retired chief Albert Lee believes that his great-grandfather, a Presbyterian minister, may have permitted the burial on his property.  

The remains will soon be reburied in a Boyd County cemetery near the discovery site. Identity is still speculative. DNA testing could resolve the issue, but only if known relatives could be located for comparative purposes. All evidence thus far is consistent with the grave being that of Jack Richards. – David L. Bristow, Associate Director / Publications and Gayle Carlson

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Leap Year Once Viewed as Opportunity for Women

This Leap Year postcard from 1908 depicts a bachelor walking along a path with numerous women lying in wait.

The year 2012 is a leap year, which means that it has 366 days instead of the usual 365 days. The year 1896 was also a leap year and was widely observed in Nebraska with dances, picnics, and other social events sponsored by women for men in honor of an old leap year tradition allowing women to propose marriage to men. In some areas this privilege was restricted to leap day (February 29).  

Frequently a leap year party was paired with Valentine’s Day observances. The McCook Tribune on February 7, 1896, reported that a “Leap Year and Valentine social” would be given at the local Congregational Church. “This being Leap year it is naturally expected that the ladies will act as escorts for the sterner sex, thus furnishing evidence that the new woman is with us.” 

Later that month a ”swell leap year dancing party [was] tendered to the Thurston Rifles [military company] by their young female friends.” The Omaha Daily Bee of February 23, 1896, reported: “[T]he customs of leap year parties were well followed, the gentlemen not being allowed to leave their seats without being attended by a lady escort.”  

The bachelors of Nebraska were the targets of good-natured jokes throughout the leap year of 1896. The McCook Tribune noted on February 14: “More than six weeks of the leap year have come and gone, and no engagements have yet been announced; so, . . . we have interviewed the village bachelors and herewith present their answers to the query, ‘Will You Accept a Proposal to Marry, This Year’? Answers included William Parrish’s ‘I am in the market; office hours from 7 till 6’; Professor Wymore’s ‘Have trouble enough now’; and J. R. Smith’s ‘Sealed bids will be received until June 1st.’” – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor/Publications

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Hybrid Corn Ads from the J.C. Robinson Seed Company

The Nebraska State Historical Society’s collections are full of fun advertising materials. I thought you might enjoy seeing a few examples advertising Funk’s hybrid corn from the Rob-See-Co (J.C. Robinson Seed Company). These advertisements date from the 1940s and 1950s.

James C. Robinson established the company in 1888 and was the sole proprietor until 1904, when the company was incorporated as the J.C. Robinson Seed Company. The company had about 2,000 acres for producing seed crops. Additionally, they utilized 15,000 to 20,000 acres each year under a contract system.

By 1917, the company had five large warehouses in Waterloo, Nebraska, and another in Rocky Ford, Colorado. Business grew throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Today, The J. C. Robinson Seed Company is one of the member companies comprising Golden Harvest Seeds Inc., one of the the nation’s largest seed brands.

-Laura Mooney, Senior Museum Curator

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Todd Storz: Radio for a New Era

Todd Storz, owner of Omaha’s KOWH, saw music as opportunity. He showed the world how to harness music and make it profitable in a world more interested in visual stimulation than audio. Largely because of his invention and business efficiency, American radio was shaped into a form that is still popular today: Top 40.

In the Spring 2012 issue of Nebraska History, Chris Rasmussen tells more about Storz’s career in his article “Vox Populi of Omaha: Todd Storz and the Top 40 Radio Format in American Culture.” Storz was born in 1925 in Omaha, to a wealthy family that could fund his early interest in ham radio and obsession with new technology. During his one year at the University of Nebraska, Storz experimented with radio by altering the broadcasting range of the University’s radio station. His dabbling was shut down by the Federal Communications Commission when it was discovered that the University of Nebraska station could be heard in Ohio. Cheeky towards authority and very intelligent, Storz’s personality would be reflected in his later radio stations.


Mid-Continent celebrates the KOWH’s dominance in the Omaha market, showing off its eye-popping ratings in the mid-1950s. Broadcasting/Telecasting, July 30, 1956.

For example, the give-aways that characterized Storz’s stations and those of his imitators were designed to make the station seem fun and young. The radio station promoted local treasure hunts and capers that repeatedly made newspaper headlines, which only encouraged Storz. Rasmussen describes the chaos that ensued when Storz’s Omaha station KOWH told listeners that there were six ten-dollar checks hidden in books in the Omaha Library. And when a KOWH city-wide treasure hunt was so popular that it caused a downtown traffic jam; “Storz was there, comically directing traffic from his car.”

The idea of Top 40 was fairly simple. Storz believed that if you captured the young audience, you could eventually capture the old. By only playing the top 40 most popular songs, Storz gave listeners only what they wanted. He then punctuated music with camaraderie-building events, making radio a “cool” thing to be a part of. Before, the music choice of a station depended on the personal taste of the disc jockeys. Now, Storz operated his business like a machine that ran only on local popular demand.

A record player from the 1940s – 1950s, built to play the new “45’s” such as a Jerry Lee Lewis’s 1957 hit, “Great Balls of Fire.” As a radio station owner, Todd Storz was among the early adopters of an all-records format. NSHS 9379-38(1)


Keeping up with technology also improved Storz’s success. Before WWII, the center of the home had been radio, now it was television. So rather than compete with television for live talent and center-stage in the home, Storz simply took anything and everything that television did not. By making radio almost purely music, his stations could be companions to listeners in the car, workplace, shop, etc. Rasmussen states: “Where the network conventional wisdom had been that listeners wanted to ‘be there,’ Storz knew that his listeners wanted radio to be with them. The shift in the musical experience was profound and paved the way for listening styles of subsequent decades.”

Although Storz eventually sold Omaha’s KOWH to pursue his other stations, the radio revolution that Storz began with KOWH was already sweeping the nation. Thousands of radio station owners had realized the enormous potential for a new kind of radio. When television became popular, social monitors predicted that radio would die. However, because of the invention of Storz and others like him, radio would be reborn.

- Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant

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