Local Histories

Wherever we have chosen to live and remain becomes our home base.  The places we live have an often neglected history that meshes with the histories of our state or province, which in turn relates to national and global histories.NorfolkBook-02McMillBuilding

A person doesn’t need to be an historian or even someone who got good grades in history classes to enjoy and appreciate local history. It’s fun to learn about the life and times of the people who have lived in our vicinity in times gone by.

One thing that makes local history so interesting, is that we’re within walking distance of where it took place.   Oftentimes, all we need to do is step out from our home to be in the presence of where the past took place.  The home base might be where you currently live, or the area where you grew up.  We humans love to investigate things that have to do with ourselves.  We like to know about our roots.  Our mobile society means that many of us are transplants to our home base.  What better way to feel more at home, than to investigate your area’s history?

The nondescript, small city, in a flyover state that I adopted over 30 years ago has its own distinct culture and history.   There are at least a couple of its aspects that have famously influenced modern American culture and tradition that had their beginnings in my adopted hometown.


Perhaps you purchased a box of Hallmark greeting cards to send out your holiday wishes to friends and family.  The Hallmark company began as a postcard company in Norfolk, Nebraska.  Do you enjoy watching late night talk shows on television?  The tried and true format was honed to perfection by Johnny Carson.  He lived his formative years in this town. Carson was our town’s favorite son. Of course, there is much more to Norfolk than the act of name-dropping.

Just as most areas have local museum curators and historians, your locale, town, or city probably does.  This is certainly true for Norfolk. We have several people who actively research and care for our local history.  One of them is local journalist Sheryl Schmeckpeper.  This year, her book about Norfolk, Nebraska was released.NorfolkBook-01

I finally found a copy of Norfolk, Nebraska: The First 150 Years. Schmeckpeper’s labor of love is at once, enjoyable and educational. I was glad to find out that she includes several small photographs throughout the book.

Schmeckpeper calls the chapters, books. There are nine of these short “books” within the book. They are groupings of reminisces and anecdotes.  The author culled through numerous documents and stories to shape the history book’s contents.   Schmeckpeper’s journalistic background comes through in her matter-of-fact, newspaper-like writing style. That said, the book is not without several wry recollections.

One of the more curious passages regards the police and fire departments. “After the fire station was built on the corner of Forth Street and Braasch Avenue, the police department’s offices were moved to the back of that building…’just behind the monkeys and alligators,’ said Earl Henry, who joined the force in 1942.” Furthermore, “In the winter, they kept the monkey in the furnace room, but I don’t recall what they did with the alligators.” I’d like to know why the critters were even housed in the fire department building at all.

Even though I was technically an employee of the Norfolk Daily News because they own the radio station, where I worked, I didn’t know about one aspect of the newspaper’s history.  Schmeckpeper includes this sidebar item in her book:

“Back in 1890, Norfolk residents could stop at the Daily News offices to buy and [sic] paper and go downstairs and take a bath. The ‘Queen City’ Bath Rooms were located in the basement  of the Daily News building.” ‘A hot or cold bath could be had at any hour for the small sume [sic] of 25 cents or a ticket calling for five baths for $1,’ said the Daily News. The facility was outfitted with ‘first class bath tubs and all the necessary appliances.'”

The book also touched upon the mystery about how Norfolk was named.  Popular legend says that the US Post Office made a clerical error by listing the original name of “Norfork” (from the “north fork of the Elkhorn River) to “Norfolk” because the NorfolkBook-03officials thought “Norfork” was a spelling error.  The latest twist is that the original name was supposed to be “Fork City”.  Any further explanation was lost, because the page was cut off and the red ink has faded.  So, the mystery of the Norfolk name remains unsolved.

People who keep track of and preserve local history in archives and books can help us understand our own local cultures and attitudes. That’s why I have long advocated that my friends and family visit area museums and historical sites.  The visits aren’t only educational, but enjoyable, too.

{ Norfolk, Nebraska: The First 150 Years by Sheryl Schmeckpeper; 236 pages, published March 2015 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; ISBN: 9781514346563 }

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness remembers an idea from the comic writer A. Whitney Brown. “The past actually happened, but history is only what someone wrote down.”


About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Books, cultural highlights, History, Hometown and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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