The Nebraska State Capitol’s Roots in World War I
Lowering the stone into place at the cornerstone ceremony of the third Nebraska State Capitol on November 11, 1922. NSHS RG1234-71-84
The Armistice marking the end of World War I was signed on November 11, 1918; Nebraska Governor Samuel R. McKelvie signed a bill in 1919 for the construction of a new State Capitol that could house state government and also serve as a memorial to Nebraskans killed in the war. The groundbreaking ceremony for the third and present State Capitol, held on April 15, 1922, gave Nebraskans an opportunity to display pride not only in their state but in the recent American victory in World War I as well. The cornerstone was laid on November 11, 1922, Armistice Day (now Veterans Day). The groundbreaking in April coincided with the visit to Lincoln of Marshal Joseph J. Joffre, commander of the French Army during the early years of World War I, as part of a larger world tour to promote peace, The Lincoln Star on April 15 and 16, 1922, reported details of the groundbreaking, attended by Joffre, and his whirlwind visit to the city, which included stops at the University of Nebraska campus and the home of another famous soldier of World War I, Gen. John J. Pershing. Military veterans were an important part of the ceremony. The Star said: “Men in khaki who fought side by side with Joffre’s countrymen in the great struggle marched behind ‘le grand marschal’ in the parade from the Burlington Station to the Capitol. Veterans of the Spanish-American and Philippine wars and the Civil War were also in line. . . . Almost a hundred of the G.A.R. veterans had turned out and stood bravely at attention while the great marshal went past.”
The visiting World War I hero was received at the old Capitol by Governor McKelvie, who then gripped plow handles behind a team of horses to cut a thirty-foot furrow to signal the start of construction of the new Capitol. The cornerstone was laid on Armistice Day. McKelvie, dignitaries in top hats, the American Legion, and thousands of citizens braved a heavy drizzle to watch the cornerstone being lowered into place. The inscription: “The Capitol of Nebraska, November 11, 1922. Dedicated to the memory of those who fell in the service of their country.” The building was completed in 1932.
Read more about the Nebraska State Capitol, its exterior sculpture and its design, background, and influence, in Nebraska History magazine. Members receive four issues yearly. Selected articles from past issues are posted online at the Nebraska State Historical Society’s website.