Friday, July 4, 2014

An Invitation: Try a Little Local Tourism

by Jerry Johnson and the Sutton Historical Society

Are local attractions really not attractive? We are not good tourists of our local attractions. Don’t you agree?
How many tourist destinations are within an hour's drive of
Sutton? How many do you drive by regularly and ponder, "We
should check that out someday." But you don't.

Most of us enjoy to travel. And when we travel we’re pretty good tourists. We’re skilled and efficient in planning a few days in an area such that we can visit as many of the sights as possible. We anticipate these trips, make them the highlight of the year and post pictures on our Facebook page for friends. (Better than a painful slide show.)

If we go to Chicago, we can take in the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Gallery, maybe the Aquarium or Planetarium, Millennium Park, the Lake Front, etc. We make use of our time and see it all.

Almost any trip to New Orleans will include visits to Jackson Square, the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, Pat O’Brien’s and a hurricane, a jazz bar, etc.

Even if you only have one day to spend in Yellowstone National Park you can still see Old Faithful, a couple of other geyser basins, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Canyon and the waterfalls and a drive-by look at the lake.

Who goes to San Francisco without a visit to Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, a cable car ride, Pier 39, maybe a ferry ride and Alcatraz?

But what if you should live near one of these centers for tourism? It’s a different story. There is no urgency to see this stuff as it’ll be there next week, next month and next year. We lived 60 miles from San Francisco and didn't go to Alcatraz for nine years and then only when visitors wanted to go there.

Real local destination here - just a few miles southwest of town. How about
starting a clamor for signs on Highways 6 and 41 pointing to the Fallen
Heroes Marsh? At least sidetrack two miles off of 6 on Road R and take a
look at this monument for the Nebraska fallen in the southwest Asia wars. 
It just human nature. Why put off to tomorrow what you can put off until next week, next month or whenever.

We do not have the generally accepted “hot” tourist attractions here in south-central Nebraska but we do have a long list of interesting, entertaining and even educational tourist targets within day-trip range.

The Clay County Museum in Clay Center is a well-designed museum with a fine collection of local memorabilia. Have you been there recently, ever?

York’s Palmer Museum is well-done and has a strong Sutton connection. Their benefactor Anna Bemis Palmer was raised in Sutton.

The Stuhr Museum near Grand Island and the Hastings Museum are well supported with substantial building and exhibits.

How about the Plainsman Museum in Aurora? There is a great agricultural section and they have the “Gold Case” that Sutton pioneer Grosshans used to carry his gold coins from Russia. There is the Wessel Living History Farm at the York interchange, the Prairie Loft in Hastings, the Mennonite Museum in Henderson, and, well, you get the idea.

Besides museums, how about WWII era Fairmont Airport, or the Stockholm Church and cemetery between Ong and Shickley, the Potters’ Friend Opera House and the Indian attack sites near Oak.

All of that is within about a 50-mile circle. Let’s extend the range a bit…

Pioneer Village in Minden may be the oldest and largest historic collection within hundreds of miles. It is showing its age somewhat but is still worth a good half-day even if you only find one topic to concentrate on – antique cars would be a good candidate. It’s a good place for kids, too.

Near to Pioneer Village is the Nebraska Prairie Museum in Holdrege which comes highly recommended (still on my TODO list.) Seward County sports its own Museum in Goehner (did you know that – been through that interchange a lot, right? Pulling off the interstate every now and then can be a pleasant surprise.)

Further west is Fort Kearney and the Great Platte River Road Archway. And in North Platte you can visit Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historic Park and Cody’s Scouts Rest Ranch though my recommendation is the Lincoln County Museum with its exhibit of the famous World War II Canteen that put North Platte, Nebraska into the memories of thousands of soldiers. There is a spectacular arrowhead collection in that museum, spectacular and huge.

Don’t forget the Nebraska Major League Baseball Museum in St. Paul.

To our southwest is the Willa Cather Museum in Red Cloud which is in the midst of an ambitious upgrade creating the National Willa Cather Center. They have the help of no less than Ken Burns to publicize this effort. Check out his pitch at: http://www.willacather.org/cather-blog/531-ken-burns-announces-creation-of-national-willa-cather-center  This Cather Center promises to be in the style and flair of author’s centers in the most sophisticated of locales.

Hidden in post offices throughout Nebraska and largely forgotten is a series of depression-era murals many
This park is in Omaha just off of I-480 marking the birthplace of President
Gerald Ford Jr. His birth name was Leslie Lynch King, Jr., good for a trivia
question anytime, anyplace. 
of which could be visited on a good drive someday. Nearby you’ll find examples in Geneva, Hebron, Minden, Red Cloud, Pawnee City, Schuyler, Albion, Auburn and more. Look it up…

To the southeast and a ways off are Arbor Lodge in Nebraska City – good to visit in the fall during apple picking season and the Homestead National Monument near Beatrice.

We haven’t even mentioned the big cities yet. When was the last time you visited Morrill Hall on the University of Nebraska campus? Have your kids, grandkids seen Elephant Hall? No? You need to fix that.

Elsewhere in Lincoln you can see the State Historical Society on “R” Street, the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia on “D” Street (big Sutton connection), Sheldon Art Museum, Frank H Woods Telephone Museum, the International Quilt Museum (are you keeping up?), etc. The Nebraska State Capitol building is arguably the most spectacular capitol in the nation, especially when you realize it was built in hard times on the plains.

The area between Lincoln and Omaha around Ashland and the Platte River hosts several tourism targets including Linoma Beach, recreation areas and Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium but as one who spent 18 years in the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command how can I not put in a special word for the SAC Museum just off I-80 on the west side of the Platte? This museum traces the story of SAC and its relationship with Omaha since 1947. Okay, I guess they now call it the Strategic Air & Space Museum, but years of SAC habit die hard.

Omaha should not be left out – it’s not that far away. The Durham Museum on South 10th has railroad stuff, the Byron Reed coins, galleries and more. Did you know that the Durham museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution? Not too shabby.

And Omaha has Boys Town, General Crook House, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Joslyn Art Museum, Florence Mill & Mormon Cemetery (with its powerful statue) and the birthplace of President Leslie Lynch King, Jr., etc. Or perhaps you are not familiar with President King, our 38th president. At least that was his name when he was born on Woolworth Avenue in 1913. His mother divorced the abusive Mr. King, Sr. and later married Gerald R. Ford. Young Leslie became his new Dad’s Junior. Good moves my Mom and Junior.

Kansas isn’t that far away now is it?

Well-known Kansas museums include Republic County Museum in Belleville, Pawnee Indian Museum in Republic and the Orphan Train Museum in Concordia.

The Geographic Center of the Continental United States near Lebanon is worth a stop if you passing nearby. Our last visit there was highlighted by an aggressive rooster from a nearby farm who was very possessive of the entire site.

How in the world can you pass up a special trip across the Kansas border Cawker City south of Red Cloud
to see the World's Largest Ball of Sisal Twine? Have you done that yet? No? So hard to believe.
We cannot let any list of Kansas attractions go by without mention of Cawker City south of Red Cloud, home to the World’s Largest Ball of Sisal Twine, a memorable Day Trip if I’ve ever heard of one.

Okay, that’s quite a list. We’ve probably concentrated on museums but there are lots of recreational sites, boating, fishing, etc. within a short drive and I’m sure many can think of their own better list of touristy things within a short drive.

Was the Fallen Heroes Marsh on your list? Less than 10 miles southwest of Sutton just west of the intersection of Roads 315 and R is the Nebraska memorial to the servicemen killed in the two Southwest Asia wars. Not a great entertainment venue or a light-hearted experience, but it is an inspirational tribute to those heroes and a good place to spend a few minutes with yourself in that peaceful setting with your thoughts of those very young who are named on the plaque. That trip can be done in less than 45 minutes. Why wait? Late afternoon/sunset is the best time.


Even closer is the Sutton Museum at 309 N. Way Ave. where we’d love to spend a few minutes talking about our local community, its past, present and even the future. Do treat yourself to a visit to any of the nearby tourist targets mentioned here or that you learn of. You can still make those major trips to the big-time tourist sites. My recommendation is always San Francisco – I’ll be there before this issue of Sutton Life Magazine is in your mailbox.
Too much to drive out of town to visit one of these destinations? Just walk a couple of blocks east of the north end of
downtown between the railroad tracks and School Creek. The Sutton Museum is normally open on Sunday afternoons
or just call (402) 773-0222 and make an appointment for your own guided tour and a bit of conversation. Consider
bringing an old sock as your guide may need some hint to shut up. 

This article first appeared in the May, 2014 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. Contact Jarod Griess at (402) 984-4203 for more information about the magazine and Mustang, Inc.

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