Early Editors' Rivalry Included Horsewhipping, With Whipper Sat Upon
Sharp competition between Omaha newspapers of that day showed itself regularly with dog-eat-dog rivalry, but when a "common cause" presented itself such as the Poor Farm scandal editors joined hands. Of the papers then in publication, Edward Rosewater's Bee and Gilbert M. Hitchcock's World-Herald were the most expressive, and the two didn't "spare the rod" in their editorial reaction to the Poor Farm mess. It was the fiasco of the age and was many years being buried.
Of all the newspapers Omahans had read in the past the Arrow (1854), Nebraskian (1854), Times (1857), Republican (1858 under Dr. Gilbert C. Monell and in 1859,to 1861 under E. D. Webster), Democrat (1858), Telegraph '(I860), Daily Herald (1865 under Dr. George L. Miller), Daily Evening Tribune (1870), in which Phineas W. Hitchcock was a chief stockholder, Evening Bee (1871) and The Evening World (1885) which purchased The Daily Herald in 1889 - The World-Herald, the Bee and by 1900 the Daily News developed into the most influential journals.
Unlike the Bee, The World and The Herald were organized as newspaper enterprises. Edward Rosewater actually did not have journalism in mind when he launched the first edition of the Bee June 19, 1871, to influence the public in favor of the ratification of a legislative bill originated by him, creating the Board of Education.
The bill required its submission to a vote of the people for approval, and Mr. Rosewater's deep concern over the outcome prompted him to distribute his small paper gratuitously and without advertising,
He had no definite plan to continue his "hand-out" sheet. It was the overwhelming vote of the people favoring his bill that changed his mind and thereafter the Bee grew in size and popularity.
Mr. Rosewater's career was at times stormy, and in later years he wielded such influence in political circles that he was known as "Czar Rosewater."
In July, 1873, St. A. D. Balcombe, who had purchased the Republican in 1866, published what Mr. Rosewater considered an uncomplimentary article about him. The Bee's publisher promptly responded with a note demanding a public apology.
Balky, as Mr. Balcombe was frequently called, replied in his paper: "If E. Rosewater will apply to the proper person he will get his fill of satisfaction for the article that appeared in these columns yesterday."
Mr. Rosewater armed himself with a cowhide whip and met Mr. Balcombe at Fourteenth and Douglas Streets. Rosewater began a vigorous application of the whip, lashing Balcombe with obvious relish. The Republican's editor, however, was a tall man and soon got the best of Mr. Rosewater's whip. He wound himself around the Bee's editor, effected a scissors hold, landed him on the sidewalk and sat down on him.
When the combatants mutually agreed upon a truce, Jesse Lacey ran out of his grocery store and emptied a bottle of red ink on the sidewalk. This "mark of blood" remained until months of foot travel erased it. Each editor claimed victory in his paper the next day, although witnesses generally agreed that Mr. Rosewater came out second best.
Gilbert M. Hitchcock confined himself to pursuing a journalistic and political career in which he constantly upheld the dignity of each profession.
As a Democrat, Mr. Hitchcock entered the political scene in 1902 when he was elected to the House of Representatives of the Fifty-eighth Congress. In 1910 he was elected to his first term in the United States Senate.
But it is not so much for Mr. Hitchcock's political career that old-time Omahans remember him but rather for his role as founder and for many years publisher of what today is the city's only surviving metropolitan daily newspaper. The World-Herald today serves a far-flung circulation territory that blankets all of Nebraska, Western Iowa and parts of three other states but its early years were marked by financial stress and a seemingly never-ending struggle for existence.
Mr. Hitchcock was a, 29-year-old attorney, already married two years to Jessie Crounse, when he launched The Omaha Evening World on a hot August afternoon in 1885. In the enterprise with him to sink or swim when Vol. I, No. 1 came off the little printing press were Frank J. Burkley, business manager who had given up his job as advertising manager of The Omaha Morning Herald; William V. Rooker, managing editor who had resigned as news editor of the Bee; William F. Gurley, reporter who had quit his job as private secretary to Nebraska's Senator Charles F. Manderson, and, finally, Alfred Millard, the banker whose
main job seemed to be "to take care of the overdrafts."
Mr. Hitchcock, though a Democrat, was convinced Omaha could use an independent newspaper, The Bee was staunchly Republican, The Morning Herald strongly Democratic.
The five owners put 15 thousand dollars into the capital stock of their little paper. They hired foremen, printers and pressmen. They took on a wire service. And by the time they had bought a small press, a gasoline engine, a couple cases of type, ink and paper, they had consumed half of their investment. Then the papers were offered for sale to Omahans at 3 cents a copy.
In those days a penny was an oddity in Omaha. The few that were on hand were used mostly as pocket pieces or curiosities. A nickel was about the smallest coin in general circulation.
The World found itself with a problem: How to enable its street salesmen, to make change. The paper solved it by arranging for a supply of pennies from the United States Mint. When a wealthy and influential Omaha business man heard ,about the "penny transaction," he stormed into Mr. Hitchcock's office and shook his finger under the young publisher's nose.
"Don't you dare bring any pennies into Omaha," he shouted, declaring with frenzied excitement that pennies would ruin business. "I won't stand for it!"
Mr. HitcMcock ordered pennies by the peckand the price of the paper stayed at 3 cents!
The World's first home was in a rented ground-floor storeroom and office in the Union Block, a two-story brick building on the northwest corner of Fifteenth and Farnam Streets. It remained there four years.
The Evening World began to grow beyond the partners' expectations. Capitalization was increased, and the paper began a modest expansion. When the circulation lists showed two thousand subscribers, the editors were delighted but not the business manager. The paper was losing money. Street-sale prices were dropped to 2 cents, then to a penny. Eventually, Mr. Hitchcock bought most of the stock. He was the only one of the original incorporators to stay with the business.
But despite a usual shortage of funds, the paper strived constantly to give readers unusual features. One "outrageous expense" as Mr. Hitchcock's critics called it was hiring a paragrapher by the name of Foster from Philadelphia whose wit soon had The Evening World quoted in other newspapers around the country.
In 1889, The Evening World took three expensive strides forward. It printed its first Sunday editions, beginning March 3; acquired the entire interests of The Morning Herald in July, consolidating the two papers; and in September leased a new home for The World-Herald in a three-story building at 1412 Farnam Street.
Both papers The World and The Herald had been in serious financial difficulties. Mr. Hitchcock was unable to put cash into the deal, for he didn't have any. He made the transaction by trading a Tenth and Dodge Streets lot.
For almost 20 years the paper struggled nose - deep in financial waters. The years 1890 to 1900 were close to disastrous because of the economic condition generally. The paper exhausted the capital of its founder before it finally took a turn for the better and went into a slow climb toward financial security.
The 1412 Farnam Street plant has long been remembered by veteran Omaha newspaper men because of its spiral staircase a winding, iron stairway connecting the business office on the first floor with the editorial rooms upstairs. Many notables climbed the circular stairway William J. Bryan, editor of the paper from 1894 to 1896; Mayor James C. Dahlman, Frances E. Willard, head of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, Heavyweight Boxing Champion John L. Sullivan, Actor Otis Skinner and others.
The plant was to be expanded both to the east and west before the paper moved into its new building on the northwest corner of Fifteenth and Farnam Streets, where it was to live from 1916 until 1948. But even as the paper grew in size and circulation, its financial position failed to keep the pace. At the turn of the century in 1900, its indebtedness was about 100 thousand dollars.
But by 1910 the huge debt was whittled down to 74 thousand dollars. By 1916, 31 years after The World's founding, The World-Herald paid its first dividend to stockholders.
Mr. Hitchcock died in 1934 at 74.
Henry Doorly, who married Senator Hitchcock's daughter Margaret, went to the newspaper July 1, 1903. On the death of Mr. Hitchcbck, Mr, Doorly became president and publisher of The World-Herald in 1934. In 1950 Ben H. Cowdery, Mr. Doorly's son-in-law, and a vice-president of the paper, was made publisher, Mr. Doorly remaining as president. Mr. Cowdery has been with the paper since September 14, 1934.
In 1899, a syndicate established a new paper in Omaha. It was the Daily News. Within the first year of its publication the paper occupied a new building at Seventeenth and Jackson Streets.
The Daily News, backed by Eastern capital, meant a newspaper "war" with price cutting and a scramble for increased circulation and expanded advertising business. Although it was Ornaha's "third" paper the News did pose a constant threat to its competitors.
The News continued on its own until February, 1927, when Nelson B. Updike, publisher of the Bee, bought the News and merged it with his own paper. The consolidation created the Omaha Bee-News which soon afterward constructed a new newspaper plant just west of Seventeenth Street on the south side of Jackson Street.
The Bee-News consolidation did not live long, however, under the Updike management. In June, 1928, William Randolph Hearst moved into Omaha, buying the Bee-News and adding it to his string of newspapers. The paper then was backed by the multi-million-dollar Hearst empire.
But it was the wrong time. In 1929 came Black Tuesday the Wall Street stock crash which touched off the Great Depression. By 1937 some parts of thp Hearst empire were wobbling, and in a new policy of retrenchment the fabulous newspaper czar began liquidating a good portion of his property. Omaha was included in the "economy drive," and in that year Hearst managers suspended publication of the Omaha Bee-News. The World-Herald acquired the property.
Then, more than ever, The World-Herald felt the responsibility of providing the best possible newspaper for its readers. Its duties were actually tripled, for there no longer were three major newspapers. The World-Herald was alone...
Qmaha's German press can trace its history back to 1887. That year Edward Rosewater and Judge Gustave Beneke founded Beobachter am Missouri (Observer On the Missouri). It was a weekly publication and existed about eight years.
The German population was making a rapid increase in the city ,and state. German residents soon demanded a daily.
In response, F. C. Festner, owner of a successful book bindery, unveiled the Nebraska Tribune, a Democratic-slanted journal although it was announced to be independent. The paper had somewhat of a checkered career after Mr. Festner's death and finally changed into a weekly; It remained in this field until Val J. Peter took control and revived it as a daily.
Hard times can be weathered so long as a people's spirit lives. Such had been Omaha's character throughout its first 35 years. But the general depression of the early 1890's was something else. Hardy Omahans were at last showing the strain. The spirit of old seemed to be missing. Something was needed to dispel the gloomy, discouraging outlook and give the city's morale a much-needed boost.
What could do it? A few business men talked over the possibility of an annual festival along the lines of the New Orleans Mardi Gras and the Veiled Prophets of St. Louis.
In 1894, a committee consisting of Dudley Smith, E, M. Bartlett and William R. Bennett visited St. Louis and New Orleans to gather information. They purchased the New Orleans Mardi Gras props and decorations for use as a starter and returned to Omaha with ideas and plans.
And the name. The memory of Coronado brought to mind his quest for the mythical, ancient kingdom of Quivera. If this, then, could be the Land of Quivera, the "kingdom" should have its monarchs...King and Queen Quivera? King and Queen Nebraska?... No, but if the State's name were spelled in reverse...
Thus the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben on April 21, 1895, announced its organization and purpose and listed its first board of governors; Dudley Smith, R. S. Wilcox, C. C. Belden, W. L. Dickey, L. M. Rheem, C. C. Chase, E. E. Bryson, T. A. Frye and M. J. Penfold. The first ritual was written by Mr. Rheem.
The first Coronation Ball, crowning King and Queen AkSar-Ben I, was held September 19, 1895. Miss Meliora Woolworth (later Mrs. Edmund M. Fairfield) was the first Queen and E. M. Bartlett the first King.
The pomp and spendor of present-day Ak-Sar-Ben coronations were unknown in the beginning, but the pageantry was colorful enough to cause a new excitement among Omahans. There were no processions to the throne. At the first coronation, Miss Woolworth merely remained in the family box, surrounded by her attendants, until the King sent a breathless page to present to her a bouquet of roses, signifying that she was his choice to reign as Queen.
Music for the first Coronation Ball was provided by the First Infantry Band, and maids of honor filed into their places to the "cavalry tempo" of the William Tell Overture!
In those days, "nice girls" were not supposed to appear in public, and when Miss Woolworth's family finally consented to her becoming the first queen the young lady's friends and relatives were horrified. Her coronation gown consisted of a skirt made of nine yards of white satin, with at least a yard in each big, puffed sleeve.
Some of the other costumes were described in The World-Herald in stories of later years as being more grotesque than picturesque, despite their being costly. "Owls, frogs, green nameless creatures, fantastic things with stripes about the bodies," said the paper. The King, a tall man, wore a pale blue cloak over his silver armor Lohengrin suit. "Robes of silver, bright as the scales of a fish, fell over him... His headdress, a swan helmet, was worn over a flaxen wig. Blond locks and lull beard flowed from him like the locks and beard of Balder..."
With each succeeding year, however, the fall entertainment was improved. In the beginning, the festival lasted 10 days. In 1898, Gus Renze, designer of Ak-Sar-Ben decorations, introduced electrically-illuminated floats which followed the streetcar lines to obtain electricity from the overhead power wires. All the floats were designed and built under Mr. Renze's direction.
In 1900, a street carnival was added to the festivities.
The first Ak-Sar-Ben Den was purchased by the Knights in the summer of 1895, the year of the organization's founding. It was located at Twentieth and Burdette Streets, on the west side of Twentieth. All Ak-Sar-Ben activities were conducted there until fire destroyed it in June of 1927.
The resulting loss of possessions stopped the evening electrical parades which brought thousands of Omahans and visitors from surrounding towns to the business district on the night of the annual event. All along the route of the procession, thousands of faces filled windows and looked down from rooftops. People thronged the streets and jammed the sidewalks to overflowing.
Ak-Sar-Ben's present home was constructed on land purchased in 1920. In that year, the first races were held on completion of horse barns, track and steel grandstand. Eight years later Omahans were introduced to the spacious new Coliseum at Ak-Sar-Ben Field.
In 1896, while Mr. Bartlett and Miss Woolworth still reigned, William Jennings Bryan was nominated as the Democratic candidate for the Presidency, and "Free Silver!" became the battle cry. In Omaha, many vacant store buildings were used as schools in which the doctrine of free silver was taught to the voters. Sidewalks were full of listeners to exponents of the "16-to-l" ratio. But despite the battle in the campaign that followed the great orator's immortal "Cross of Gold" speech at the convention which, nominated him, Bryan was not elected.
Evidence of the return of prosperity began shortly after the Republican candidate, William McKinley, took office. Slowly, but more sanely now, the city began to prosper again. More buildings were erected in 1897 than in the whole preceding seven years.
Then came the blast that thundered around the world the destruction of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor. In the war with Spain that followed, Omaha was represented in the First, Second and Third Nebraska Regiments.
On April 27, 1898, Company L, First Nebraska Infantry, known as the "Thurston Rifles," posed for a panoramic photograph at the intersection of Seventeenth and pouglas Streets before departing for the Philippines. This regiment was to win many laurels for itself in the months that followed.
The battle-worn First was ordered back to the United States on June 21, 1899, and was mustered out on August 23 at San Francisco. The men were welcomed home in Lincoln August 30 and in an impressive ceremony presented their battle flag to the State of Nebraska.
Staff Member A. D. Fetterman's dispatch to The World-Herald on July 30, 1899, describing the First Nebraska's return from the Philippines and reassuring kinfolk and friends that in general the boys were "all right," was a famous World-Herald "scoop" of that day.
Mr. Fetterman obtained the exclusive story when he got Nebraska's Governor Poynter out of bed in San Francisco to take him out to meet the transport Hancock outside the harbor in the Government steam launch which had been available for the Governor's use on just such an occasion.
Those were days of slow communications, and the State had been rightfully concerned about the First's condition. But Mr. Fetterman's story cast aside most fears. His historic dispatch, informing Nebraskans of Colonel Mulford's memorable words, "Yes, we're all right," was telegraphed to The World-Herald City Room. There was much running up and down the spiral staircase, for this story was to electrify the State, The First Nebraska thank God was safe!
About this time some of Omaha's most prominent stores of today were in the process of expansion from their meager beginnings.
In 1893, Charles M. Wilhelm purchased the Orchard Carpet Company and the new firm of Orchard & Wilhelm Co. was organized. Two years later came the store of Thomas Kilpatrick & Co., an outgrowth of the drygoods firms of A. Cruickshank Company, which had begun as Ross and Cruickshank in 1868, and Tootle & Jackson. These two firms had been absorbed into the Kilpatrick-Koch Dry Goods Company. But prior to these had been the opening of The Fair Store by Jonas L. Brandeis in December of 1881 at 506 South Thirteenth Street.
Mr. Brandeis, born in Prague, Bohemia (Czechoslovakia today), in 1837, carried The Fair from a humble beginning to one of the largest merchandising firms in the Midland States. He first attracted the attention of buyers with attractive displays in the limited windows and on the front sidewalk.
Early success soon demanded more business space, and several moves to larger quarters were made first by enlarging The Fair, then by leasing the entire building in which The Fair then did business, the three-story structure at the southwest corner of Thirteenth and Howard Streets, and in 1888 to 114 South Sixteenth Street.
The Fair then changed its name to the Boston Store. Stock was greatly increased, and the store advertised extensively in the newspapers. As an additional medium of reaching the people, the store for a while used wagons, loaded with goods plainly marked with price tags, which rumbled through the Streets to announce special wares. The public ran to the wagons!
Trade continued to increase, and Mr. Brandeis then took his sons into partnership with him under a new firm name of J. L. Brandeis & Sons. They purchased ground on the northwest corner of Sixteenth and Douglas Streets and put up a four-story department store. Fire destroyed the building in 1894, but the Brandeises were undaunted. They replaced it with the structure that still stands on that corner, now occupied by Woolworth's and other tenants.
The elder Brandeis died in 1903, but the Boston Store continued to flourish under his sons' management. In 1906 they created a sensation in business circles when they purchased the Young Men's Christian Association property, together with the land adjoining it on the west, on the south side of Douglas Street between Sixteenth and Seventeenth Streets. There they erected the present-day Brandeis Store.
The name of Milton Rogers is interwoven with the history of Omaha merchants. Mr. Rogers, credited as being the city's first hardware dealer, came up the Missouri in August of 1850 to begin business in Kanesville.
Five years later he opened a branch store in Omaha City. His first location was between Ninth and Tenth Streets on Farnam. It was a small, frame building; but with good business he soon found his merchandise bulging out the walls. His first expansion consisted of merely enlarging the store. This system, however, quickly proved unsatisfactory and Mr. Rogers rented a store building in Pioneer Block.
Rogers' Hardware's evidence of a thriving business was in the number of times it moved each time to places offering more space. In 1861, Mr. Rogers purchased a 22-by-130-foot lot on the southeast corner of Fourteenth and Farnam Streets and erected a store-building in the Central Block. He joined with other property owners in an enterprise in 1866 to construct business buildings in this block, running from Thirteenth to Fourteenth Streets on the south side of Farnam.
A few years later he bought the building adjoining his own and once again expanded his store space. When later he took his sons Herbert M., Thomas J., Warren M. and William S. Rogers into the business, the firm became known as Milton Rogers & Sons and continued thereafter under that name. The brothers remained in that location until the old structures were torn down to make way for the Woodmen of the World Building. The business then was moved to new quarters on Harney Street.
Other familiar names come into the history of early Omaha business firms: W. R. Bennett Co., Burgess-Nash Co., McCord-Brady Co., M. E. Smith & Co., Byrne-Hammer Dry Goods Co., Hayden Brothers, Thompson-Belden & Co. and Adams & Kelly Co., among those most remembered by old-time Omahans. Of these, only Adams & Kelly Co. survived to see Omaha's Centennial Year.
W. R. Bennett Co., one of Omaha's earliest general merchandising firms, began business on the northwest corner of Fifteenth Street and Capitol Avenue. The company occupied this location many years before moving to its new building on the southwest corner of Sixteenth and Harney Streets where later it sold out to Burgess-Nash Co. The latter carried on the same type of merchandising business as its predecessor furniture, dishes, linens, etc.
Burgess-Nash became one of the city's leading department stores. It was headed by Ward M. Burgess, a native of St. Joseph, Mo., who came to Omaha in 1889 as a billing clerk at M. E. Smith & Co. He rose to president of M. E. Smith in 1921 and a year later became head of Burgess-Nash Co., which he had helped organize, when Louis C. Nash retired in 1922. He resigned both positions in 1924 with the financial collapse of both the M. E. Smith and Burgess-Nash concerns. He left Omaha in 1927 after he and two associates were cleared on charges of using the mails to defraud in connection with the failure of the M. E. Smith wholesale dry goods house and the Burgess-Nash department store. He died December 11, 1936, while on the verge of success in a new venture in New York.
M. E. Smith & Co. began in 1868 when Monroe E. Smith joined A. J. Crittenden in establishing the retail dry goods store of Smith & Crittenden in Council Bluffs. Growth of the business prompted the partners to add a wholesale department in 1870. By that time the company had occupied three different locations in Council Bluffs, each larger than the former.
In 1886 it was decided to move to the larger city across the river, and in that year Omaha received the rapidly-growing concern then under the name of M. E. Smith & Co. Its first home was at Eleventh and Douglas Streets. Subsequent moves put the firm in numerous new locations the second floor of a building later occupied by the Klopp & Bartlett Printing Co., then to Eleventh and Howard Streets and finally in 1907 to its eight-story structure on the northwest corner of Ninth and Farnam Streets. Later it expanded to include the entire half-block on Douglas between Ninth and Tenth Streets. The M. E. Smith Building today is but one-third of that once-great wholesale house.
In March, 1925, T. C. Byrne, president of Byrne-Hammer Co., announced that his company had purchased the assets of its competitor, M. E. Smith .& Co. Sale price was $1,830,000.
Byrne-Hammer, which had come into existence at the turn of the century, succumbed at the start of the Great Depression. '
McCord-Brady Co.; organized in 1865 by James McCord of St. Joseph, Mo., his son, W. H. McCord, and John S. Brady of Omaha, was first located at Tenth and Farnam Streets. This pioneer wholesale grocery house occupied a five-story brick building at Thirteenth and Leavenworth Streets from 1887 until the organization liquidated in 1933.
In February of 1938 Omahans learned that one of their best-known department stores by that date an institution in the city was retiring from the field. Hayden Brothers, "the family store," actually had its beginning in Chicago in 1885. In 1887, William and Joseph Hayden took the advice of some friends of theirs the Cudahy family and moved to Omaha. Their first general store was a single room just across the alley to what later was their Sixteenth Street entrance between Dodge and Douglas Streets. They had. six employees.
Growth of the business brought in a third Hayden brother, Edward, a year and a half later. A conference was held and larger quarters were decided upon. The outcome was 40 thousand square feet of floor space in the building that for the next half century, would be a landmark to Omaha shoppers. J. C. Penney Co. occupies the Hayden property today.
Before Hayden Brothers firm went into voluntary retirement in 1938 the store had expanded to include both Dodge and Douglas Street fronts. In it Haydens sold everything from a suit of clothes to coal with such items as groceries, drugs, notions, laces, meat, fish, hardware, stationery, jewelry, leather goods, shoes, ladies' ready-to-wear, art and needle work, carpets, shades, draperies, house furniture, wall paper, china, glassware, bakery goods, pet birds and ginger ale sandwiched between. It was the store where the housewife could deposit her savings in the Haydens' bank and could also go for any conceivable item needed by the human race. She had 78 departments through which to browse. If she wanted to take them in succession and do a systematic job of browsing, as well as buying, it would take her a week to cover the 178 thousand square feet of floor space!
Thompson-Belden & Co., general merchandising firm selling clothing, yard goods, linens, art work, etc., opened its doors to customers for the first time in 1886 the period when retail shops lined Tenth Street and the big stores were on Farnam, below Fourteenth, or in the vicinity of Fifteenth and Douglas. This firm began at 1313 Farnam Street. As the center of the retail district moved westward, the store was moved to the old YMCA Building at Sixteenth and Douglas Streets in 1889. In 1905, the company moved to its new building on the northwest corner of Sixteenth and Howard Streets, the present location of Montgomery Ward & Co.
The founding partners, C. C. Belden and Henry A. Thompson, continued in business together until 1923 when Mr. Belden purchased the Thompson holdings. Mr. Belden's son, C. R. Belden, took over the store's management on the death of his father in 1925. The company, which began business with three employes, ended its career with more than two hundred. In April, 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, Thompson-Belden & Co. filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy in Federal Court. It was one of the few cases in which a firm filed for bankruptcy while still solvent. The Company's bankruptcy schedule listed total liabilities of $254,735 and total assets of $367,244.
But hard times were bearing in harder with the depression's ill wind. And Thompson-Belden saw the handwriting on the wall.
Adams & Kelly Co. remains one of the few survivors of the many large and well-known business concerns which were giving Omaha a name at the turn of the century. This firm, still specializing in interior mill work, once had a letterhead that located its office and warehouse at 1529-31-33 Sherman Avenue, with its mill-factory at 1202-1218 Nicholas Street. The mill hasn't changed location. But the street on which the warehouse stood no longer is Sherman Avenue. Today it is that part of Sixteenth Street north of Cuming.
These were a few of the firms, whether they survived or not, who helped put Omaha on the map as the adventurous 1800's drew to a close.
The Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition was first proposed in the fall of 1895 but did not become a reality until the spring of 1898.
The Exposition, which was laid out along the Kountze tract in what was then North Omaha, was the most memorable event in the city's history up to that time and drew thousands of visitors and distinguished guests from all sections of the country. The Exposition grounds were located in that part of the city which today is the area, including Kountze Park, east and west of Florence Boulevard and north of Pinkney Street.
In a setting which less than 50 years before had been a prairie known only to a few fur traders and Indians was created a beautiful lagoon on which floated Venetian gondolas with bright awnings. Surrounding the lagoon were glittering, white buildings of Greek architectural design.
Of the. many expositions held in the United States up to that time, the Omaha enterprise was the only one that paid its stockholders a substantial dividend. Their subscriptions were considered responsible for lifting the city out of its depression-bred pessimism.
Officers of the Exposition were Gurdon W. Wattles, president; Alvin Saunders, vice-president; Herman Kountze, treasurer ; C. S. Montgomery, general counsel; John A. Wakefield, secretary; Z. T. Lindsay, chairman of the executive committee of ways and means; Edward Rosewater, manager of the department of publicity; Gilbert M. Hitchcock, manager of promotion; F. P. Kirkendall, manager of department of buildings and grounds; E. E. Bruce, manager of department of exhibits; A. L. Reed, manager of department of concessions and privileges; and W. N. Babcock, manager of transportation.
The Exposition carried exhibits from 40 states and 10 nations. During its five-month opening, attendance totaled 2,613,508 visitors. In that time, throngs walked the tree-lined avenues, lounged on the green lawns, marveled at the multitude of flower gardens and fountains, took in the exhibits, sweltered to Little Egypt's hoochie-coochie dance, then cooled off with lemon phosphate.
Little Egypt, "the dancing sensation" of the fair, hadn't come from Egypt, however. She had danced her way into the Exposition from Sheeley's dining hall on Cass Street. Lured by the strains erupting, from an Oriental flute, men were drawn as if by a magnet to Little Egypt from all parts of the grounds. At the Streets of Cairo she packed them in with her quivering stomach muscles.
The Exposition was 13 months in the building. At night it was a sight to remember. The white buildings were ablaze in the rays of thousands of lights. In front of the Government Building, an electric fountain was aglow in a multitude of colors.
The grounds surrounding the fabulous buildings were green with more than four thousand trees, nine thousand shrubs, more than 700 thousand square feet of grass, 100 thousand plants, flowers and vines and a roof garden above the Mines and Mining Building to top it all.
There was an aquatic basin behind the Horticulture Building and three miles of graveled sidewalks. Close to a million gallons of water were required daily to keep the lagoon filled. Flowers and grass, trees and shrubs were watered by an irrigation system made up of 12 thousand feet of pipe.
The success 01 the 1898 venture prompted a group to attempt a drive for funds to keep the fair open another year. In June, 1899, it reopened as the Greater America Colonial Exposition, Surprisingly, it stayed in business until its closing date on November 1, but its final night put the finishing touches of misfortune to its unlucky second season. Firemen in the power plant reported the coal supply exhausted and struck that night because their pay hadn't been received.
Lights on the grounds grew dim and finally faded out altogether. The great Exposition already had passed away and now a century, too, was dying...
Omahans and Nebraskans, as the Twentieth Century was born, were experiencing the delights of a period of contentment. The Spanish-American War had elevated the United States to a world power. Heavy commerce was speeding back and forth between the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts on a growing network of steel rails. Electric lights and the telephone were the wonders of the modern age. The Wright brothers proved that man could fly in a heavier-than-air oversized box kite. And the Italian Marchese Guglielmo Marconi sent the first complete message by radio across the Atlantic.
An age of prosperity could be felt. Omaha had grown to 102,555 persons; civic leaders were busy selling lapel ornaments of little red bricks to raise 250 thousand dollars for a city auditorium. Farm crop values were increasing, and farm methods were undergoing a welcome change.
Omaha had seen the beginning of the "machine age" when the first horseless carriage stuttered over the city's coblestone streets in 1899. As the 1900's got under way, more of them cautiously at first, then brazenly haughty put in their appearance, to the alarm of rearing horses and frightened ladies.
Motoring might have been a fad to the skeptics, but the fad was quick in catching on. As the early 1900's wore on, "motor cars" were sneezing, wheezing and blowing gaskets all over Omaha's paved streets. Some daring drivers ventured into the country roads and managed to get back even if at the end of a laughing farmer's tow rope attached to a trusty team.
The automobiles of that age putted along at the dizzying speed of 19 miles an hour, so the contraptions were considered too dangerous for "civilized people." Cpnsequently, the Legislature was sympathetic and agreed with the common complaint that "there ought to be a law." So a law was passed requiring the operator of a car to come to an absolute stop on the read and remain motionless until the driver of any frightened horse could pass in safety.
But the gas buggies were to find a place in the heart of an early Omaha blacksmith who for 34 years, since the opening of his first shop November 1, 1869, had remained in the same location on the northwest corner of Fourteenth and Howard Streets. He had begun his business with $35 pocket money and had done most everything in blacksmithing from shoeing horses to making scrapers for railroad contractors.
This man was Andrew Murphy.
When the first autos chugged over Omaha's streets, Mr. Murphy was quick to conclude that the gas-driven coffee grinders had come to stay. He quickly turned his attention to repairing the machines and the frequent breakdowns of the early cars soon added up to profits in Mr. Murphy's ledger. In 1902 he moved to a larger location on the northwest corner of Fourteenth and Jackson Streets where the firm of Andrew Murphy & Son remains today. The organization now is under the direction of Bert Murphy.
Omahans of the early 1900's will remember the throngs of Saturday shoppers, the summer street cars sometimes called, the "10 benchers" which were delightful for summer-evening rides and, among the major news events of that day, the sensational kidnaping in December, 1900, of 15-year-old Edward A. Cudahy, Jr.
Eddie Cudahy, son of E. A. Cudahy, Sr, wealthy member of the packing family, left his home at 518 South Thirty-seventh Street to deliver magazines to a neighbor. He didn't return. Police and servants spent the night searching.
Next morning Mr. Cudahy received a telephone call.
"Have you looked in the front yard?" asked the voice.
"No," replied Mr. Cudahy.
"Then you'd better look right away," said the voice and the connection was broken off.
In the front yard Mr. Cudahy found a note tied to a brick. It said in part: -.
"We have kidnaped your child and demand 25 thousand dollars for his safe return. If you give us the money, he will be returned safe and sound, but if you refuse we will have to put acid in his eyes."
The note then gave instructions. The money was to be in $5, $10 and $20 gold pieces and was to be put into a white sack. Mr. Cudahy was to take the sack into his buggy and at 7 p. m. on December 19 drive west on Center Street until he came to a lantern. He was then to put the money at that place and return home.
"You must place a red lantern on your buggy..." the note said, adding: "...The letter and every part of it must be returned with the money, and any attempt at capture will be the saddest thing you ever done..."
As instructed, Mr. Cudahy and a friend, fastened a red lantern on the dashboard of the buggy, drove west on Center, found a lantern by the side of the lonely, dark road, left a satchel containing the ransom money and went back to town.
That same night two policemen, posted at the Cudahy home, were keeping out of sight in a barn. At 1 a. m. they were summoned to the residence. There was Eddie Cudahy.
He described his experiences: About dusk on the day he had gone on his errand to the neighbors, he was accosted by two men. Under a ruse that they were from the Sheriff's office, the kidnapers got young Cudahy to enter their buggy, then roughly forced a sack over his head. When they passed the Cudahy home, the boy said he felt one of the men throw something. It was the brick.
The men took him to a house, chained his legs, fed him coffee and crackers. Just before releasing him, they blindfolded him, put him in a buggy and drove around for a while. When they stopped, they helped him out of the buggy, turned him loose and drove away.
Young Cudahy tore off the blindfild and found his way home from Thirty-sixth and Marcy Streets.
The search for his abductors lasted five years. The first break in the case came when two World-Herald reporters found the house where the youth had been held. This first clue, beginning cold, started the chain of events which finally put the reporters and investigators on a trail so hot that it eventually led to identifying the leader as a man named Pat Crowe, one-time Cudahy butcher. The search for Crowe began, went on for five years but nobody ever caught him.
A man calling himself Pat Crowe flat broke and tired of running, he said finally gave himself up to police at Butte, Mont. Omaha police were skeptical that the man was Crowe but he was brought to Omaha anyway and at the depot was met by a cheering crowd.
Since there was no kidnaping law then, Crowe was charged with robbery. The case looked cut and dried. All the cards were stacked against him. The jury deliberated 17 hours then found the defendant "not guilty."
Spectators in the courtroom roared their approval while the judge gavelled for order and scolded: "There can be no applause in my court over the acquittal of a notorious criminal!"
Some years later a police officer in New York pushed a drunk but dignified white-haired old man up to the sergeant's desk.
"Drunk and panhandling," said the arresting officer.
"Name?" asked the sergeant, reaching for his pen.
"Pat Crowe," the man announced, lifting his head proudly as if he expected the desk sergeant to fall out of his chair in surprise.
"How do you spell it?" asked the bored sergeant.
End - Installment VII
Omaha's First Century - Installment VIII
Omaha's First Century - Introduction