We're off the freeway now, taking smaller, narrower highways from one
tiny town to another in Nebraska, along the Republican River valley. We
passed a real caboose (Burlington Northern, colored green) at the end
of a long train of grain hopper cars; that's the first time in years
we've noticed a caboose still in use!
We spent two nights in McCook, the home town of Senator George Norris.
Norris actually grew up in Ohio and Indiana and moved to McCook at age
38. After serving five terms in the Senate, where he
was known as the
father of the TVA and the REA, he returned to McCook. McCook
boasts two recent Nebraska governors, and a Frank Lloyd Wright house
with lovely window panels.
Our hotel had an advertisement for Vicki's family restaurant in the
"Sale Barn" north of town. We saw no sign for Vicki, but found the big
steel building MIDWEST LIVESTOCK COMM where the Thursday cattle sales
were head, and indeed, there was a very small sign "RESTAURANT." We
each had a $3.98 dinner of chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, corn,
roll and butter. Across the street was the "WORK ETHIC CAMP" of the
Department of Corrections. Don't you just love modern euphemisms?
War and memories of war are still very much a part of Nebraska. Along
the road to McCook some artist had taken some old pieces of farm
equipment and cut them up and reassembled them to resemble civil war
guns -- a cannon, a mortar, and a machine gun. Two crosses had been
fashioned out of four by fours and painted white, but noone was buried
at the crosses. There were no captions, so
it was either a
work-in-process or purely artistic social comment. In
Benkelman -- too
small for anything these days except a grain elevator -- the cemetery
has a tall flagpole next to each veteran's grave; from a distance they
look rather like the masts of sailboats in a marina. Other cemeteries
have installed these flagpoles all around their outer edge.
In McCook we found the McCook Air Force Base Historic Site. We knew
that the remains of McCook AFB was "northwest of town," so we proceeded
north on Highway 83. A few miles north was a sign for a historical
marker, which indeed referred to the base, so we followed a dirt road
which wound past a couple of stock farms to the base. Five old WW II
hangars were still standing, and were being put to good use as barns
and storage buildings for the farmer who raises goats on the property.
There had been 5000 men stationed here. A small memorial garden has
been set aside, and there is a reunion every September for the Army Air
Force veterans who trained as bomber crews, 1943 - 1945, for the B-17,
B-24, and B-29s.
In Holdrege, the Nebraska Prairie Museum remembers the German prisoner
of war camps which were located in mid-state. There were 375,000 German
POWs in the U. S., and the location of the POW camps was a fairly
closely-held secret. Atlanta was the reception station for eighteen
branch camps in Nebraska, with a total of 100,000 prisoners.
The prisoners were allowed to volunteer for farm work. It was win-win,
for there were few men left to work the farms, and farm work was
preferable to prison camp boredom. The farmers paid the government, and
the government paid the workers -- although the opening mural at the
exhibit shows two POWs sitting on the back of a pickup returning to
camp, while the khaki-clad guard looks underneath a napkin at the
homemade pie being brought back to camp to share with fellow prisoners.
After the war the buildings were auctioned off, and the original
landowner bought back his farmland.
On the far side of the POW exhibit are the two treasures: The Thomas F.
Naegele Gallery, entitled In The Eye of The Storm, and the theater
which shows a brief video of an interview with Naegele.
Born in Stuttgart of a Christian father and a Jewish mother, Naegele
and his parents escaped Germany and found their way to the U. S.
Naegele enlisted in the Army and first trained as a medic and telephone
technician. But he was reassigned to POW Camp Indianola and later
Atlanta in August 1944. His father, an artist, had painted pictures of
the treatment of French prisoners of war in Germany during World War I.
He sent his son a box of paints and reminded him of this piece of
Naegele found lots of old pieces of wood around the camp and painted
scenes, each of which told a story of the German prisoners and their
life in camp. He had a penetrating artist's vision and a sense of humor
which cut through official propaganda to reveal the truth. The Naegele
Gallery is a must see when you drive through Nebraska. If you don't
drive through Nebraska, there is an exhibition catalog, in German and
English, entitled Liebe Deine Feinde / Love Thine Enemies, published in
1994 by Bleicher Verlag, Gerlingen, ISBN 3-88350-609-5. It's for sale
at the Museum store for $10 plus tax. Nebraska Prairie Museum, POB 164,
Holdrege NE 68949-0164. The catalog was produced in connection with the
Exhibition's showing in Stuttgart.
Probably 80% of the prisoners were not sympathetic to the Nazi
government's goals. As part of the post-war repatriation procedures,
the prisoners were given a crash course in civics, American style, at
Fort Eustis, Virginia
Thomas Naegele went on to become a graphic artist and designer based in
New York City. His son, Tobias Naegele, is editor in chief of Military
Times News Group, which publishes the widely read Army Times, Navy
Times, and Air Force Times newspapers. Thomas Naegele's grandmother was
a victim of the Holocaust.
The museum itself was packed with exhibit cases and rooms full of
furniture and objects of art, with balconies built around the perimeter
holding the overflow. First one extension, then another and another had
been added to the back. This museum is run by the County Historical
Society, paid for primarily by private contributions and volunteer
been around for a while, so the first exhibits you see
appear kind of old fashioned, while the newer ones represent a more
modern understanding of history.
The Prairie Museum has a couple of idiosyncracies -- lots of
mannequins, and a tendency to group like things together. Arrowheads,
guns, pottery, porcelain dolls, stuffed dolls, bridal dolls, millinery,
postmarks, glass, silver, china, organs, old
cars, farm journals,
washtubs, stoves, vacuum cleaners, fans, cribs, baby carriages,
suitcase, furniture, pipes, radios, toys, hunting trophies, quilts,
tuxedos, embroidery, law books, back-issue papers, the first flying
doctor, ball gowns, bottles, Karo syrup, military uniforms,
plows, farm machinery, license plates, model horses, sleds, a miniature
baseball caps, trophies, sports uniforms, Harry
Hathaway's fishing lures, boy scout memorabilia, seashells (no ocean in
Nebraska, folks), pop bottles, whiskey bottles, medicine bottles, mugs,
more tools, hardware, nails, barbed wire, men's fur coats, buggies, a
marvelous 1941 aerial map depicting all of Phelps County, saddles, the
Initiation Goat of the Funk Lodge (that's the town of Funk,
NE) of the
Ancient Order of United Workmen, political buttons, old wedding gowns,
new wedding gowns, wedding pictures, and more. One special exhibit had
a baseball wedged in a specially-built "broken" glass window, inscribed
with the names of all the volunteers who prepared that exhibit!
The museum made us hungry, so we returned to Holdrege where we found a
plain sign "Cafe" above a door to a white building right next to the
grain elevators. The special was pan-fried chicken with home made
potatoes mashed in real butter, gravy, macaroni salad, corn, and wheat
rolls. Even better than Vicki's at the Sale Barn.