January 2019

NU at 150: What was the University of Nebraska like in the early days?

The University of Nebraska marks its 150th birthday on February 15. The legislature chartered the university on that day in 1869 (though classes didn’t begin until 1871). What was it like at the early university? We’ll put it this way: if you like leaky roofs, chilly classrooms, and traditional memorize-and-recite pedagogy, you’d love early NU classes. It took time for the university to live up to its name.

Omaha in 1860

Omaha in 1860 was only a shadow of what it would later become. Henry E. Palmer, a native of Wisconsin, crossed the Missouri River to Omaha on a steam ferry in March of 1860 and recorded his impressions of the fledgling city. Palmer's arrival was not particularly auspicious. The ferry on which he arrived got stuck on a sandbar, and "there we remained until about 4:00 P.M.--no breakfast, no dinner, no lunch.

Six Quick Nebraska Firsts

Here are some Nebraska "firsts," according to Nebraska newspaper columnist Will M.
Maupin who published this list in 1930.

1. "The first railroad was laid by the Union Pacific, in Douglas County. The first railroad laid south of the Platte was laid in Cass county, at Plattsmouth, by the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad in Nebraska, now the Burlington.

2. "The first capitol building at Lincoln was built of stone quarried by convicts, and much of the construction work was done by convicts whose labor was contracted to 'Boss' W. H. H. Stout."

Lightning Rods

Enough damage has been caused by lightning to haystacks, barns, farm animals, and houses to make Nebraska farmers aware of the danger. During a thunderstorm overhanging clouds carry a negative electrical charge, and the ground carries a positive charge. When the cloud becomes overloaded, a charge of electricity jumps from the negative field above to the highest point in the positive field below.

Leap Year Masquerade Ball

The old leap day (February 29) custom of women proposing marriage to men is reflected in early Nebraska accounts of dances and parties celebrating past leap days and leap years. The Omaha Daily Bee on January 24, 1876, reported a recent leap year masquerade ball held in Fort Calhoun, Washington County. According to "M.

A Kearney Ghost Story

Perhaps in anticipation of goblins and ghoulies and long-legged beasties, the Kearney Weekly
 offered this "Kearney Ghost Story" October 3, 1890.

"There was a ghostly manifestation at the New Midway Hotel last Thursday night shortly after
midnight, as related by one of the guests.

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