My wife, Anne Marie and I just completed an eight day family history road trip around eastern Nebraska and south-eastern South Dakota. We drove more than 1100 miles in four states to visit my aunt and uncle, one of my first cousins, a new-found second cousin of mine, three cemeteries and six farm sites.
Days 1 and 2, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19 and 20
We started by flying from Chicago to Omaha, renting a car and driving to Lincoln, NE to visit my daughter and her significant-other/boyfriend, Blake. Over the weekend we saw the flood plain garden Blake works on for the city’s park department and two other lovely city parks near their house, Sunken Gardens and a rose garden. We visited the Quilt Museum on the University of Nebraska campus and saw three great quilt exhibits. We also took a tour of the Nebraska state capitol building. Fun fact: when Nebraska became a state, there were twelve trees in the entire state. Twelve. We toured the impressive new preschool where my daughter works as an Intake Counselor for a Head Start program. We had a very lovely time with them seeing the sights of Lincoln, NE. That makes six state capitols my wife and I have visited together in six years of marriage (Springfield, IL, Des Moines, IA, Madison, WI, Phoenix, AZ, St. Paul, MN and Lincoln, NE). 44 more years of marriage and we’ll have seen all 50 of them (and be 100+ years old).
Day 3, Monday, Oct. 21
My wife wanted to visit Red Cloud, NE where the Willa CatherFoundation has preserved the house she grew up in. We drove the 150 miles from Lincoln to Red Cloud and found the foundation’s headquarters where we watched a 20-minute video biography of Willa. I bought a book of her short stories in the gift shop. We toured her childhood home led by a retired schoolteacher who taught Cather to students for three decades. The house is an historical treasure. The foundation has tracked down many of the items auctioned off after her parents’ deaths and has restored them to the house. Her attic bedroom still has the wallpaper Willa hung herself. It must be every family historian’s dream to have an ancestor’s house restored and preserved like that. I know it is something that I would love to see.
We drove five miles south of town to see the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie. It consists of more than 600 acres that have never been plowed and from which they have removed all the non-native trees. We walked the paths around and across the grasslands. My wife had never experienced the Great Plains before and found it all very beautiful.
Afterwards we drove south for less than a mile so we could cross the border into Kansas and add another state to our list. (Come on, it counts!) We drove north to Grand Island, NE to spend the night. We missed getting to see my cousin Nancy who lives there. Her son had gotten married that weekend in Colorado.
(to be continued)