Friday, March 23, 2012

The Beatrice Adventure of Mark Twain

What would you say if someone came up to you today and said “Guess what? Samuel Clemens is coming to Beatrice, Nebraska!”? Well 150 years ago people might say, “Who is that?” He was and is more commonly known as Mark Twain! An American humorist who commented on American culture and politics. Born Samuel Clemens in Florida, Missouri on Nov. 30th of 1835, Mark Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri which would eventually become the setting for two of his most famous novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ernest Hemingway once said of Huckleberry Finn, “If you read it you must stop where Jim is stolen from the boys, that is the real end. The rest is just cheating.” He also said in the same essay, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

Twain began the travels that were the catalyst for much of his writing as a steamboat pilot’s apprentice on the Mississippi River. In 1861 Twain traveled with his brother to the Nevada Territory and later served as a correspondent from the Sandwich Islands and Europe, which gave him his reputation to launch his lecture and literary career. He became a national voice of his time and fully embraced the “Free Soil, Free Labor” ideology at the heart of the 1862 legislation and was fascinated by the development of railroads through the latter half of the 1800s.
You’re probably sitting there, reading to yourself thinking, “Yeah, I already learned this stuff in history!” However, here are some things you may not know about the historic Mark Twain. 

·         He used different pen names before deciding on “Mark Twain.” He signed humorous and imaginative sketches as “Josh” until 1863. Additionally he used the pen name “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass” for a series of humorous letters. How he came up with Mark Twain was by working on the Mississippi riverboats where ‘two fathoms’ was a depth indication of safe water for passage of a boat . The river boatmen’s cry “by the Mark Twain,” meant, according to the mark on the line, the depth is two fathoms, or 12’, and it is safe to pass! He claimed it was not entirely his invention.

·         In significance of the great invention of his pen name, his is grave is marked by a 12’ high monument.

·         Twain was born during a visit by Halley’s Comet and he predicted that he would go out with it as well. Twain said, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it as well. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with the comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt, ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’” He died the day following the comet’s subsequent return.

·         He has also had an asteroid named after him because of the strong connection between him and the comet.

·         Twain patented three inventions including an, “Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments” (to replace suspenders), and a history trivia game. Most commercially successful was a self-pasting scrapbook, a dried adhesive on the pages only needed to be moistened before use!

Please be sure to join Homestead National Monument of America, The Nebraska Humanities Council, and the City of Beatrice is commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Homestead Act in the FREE LAND? 1862 and the Shaping of Modern America Homesteading Chautauqua event out at Homestead National Monument! Be sure to visit Mark Twain not only as he leads you through the tales of his life, but introduces other historic Chautauquan figures every night of the week of May 21-25!

By Colleen Capri Cutchin
Student Conservation Association Intern
Homestead National Monument of America

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Shifting Boundries ... in the West

Exploration Mural to be Displayed for the 150th

As part of the Homestead Act 150th Anniversary commemoration, Homestead National Monument of America will display the beautiful full color mural From Longships to Spaceships: A Thousand Years of Exploration at the Education Center beginning on March 22, 2012. This 16 panel mural, commissioned by The Planetary Society, describes a portion of humanities quest over the last one thousand years to know the planet we stand on and the universe that surrounds it. Painted by renowned artist Michael Carroll, the mural is a celebration of humanity’s pioneering spirit a thousand years ago, of this moment in history, and of our future in the cosmos. 
Michael Carroll has been an astronomical, science fiction and paleo artist for nearly three decades. He has done work for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His art has appeared in several hundred magazines throughout the world, including TIME and National Geographic. His paintings have aired on NOVA, National Geographic's Explorer and other TV specials, and have covered numerous books, including works by Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke. 
Panel 15 
He has exhibited paintings at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, at Moscow's Institute for Space Research (IKI), the Fleet Science Center, the Wyoming Geologic Museum, and has had traveling exhibits throughout the world.

The mural panels will be on exhibit at the Education Center daily through September 23, 2012. Michael Carroll will be giving a public program in the Education Center on May 6 at 2 p.m. and will be conducting educational programs May 7 – 11.

Artist Biography
 Michael Carroll has been an astronomical, science fiction and paleo artist for nearly three decades. He has done work for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His art has appeared in several hundred magazines throughout the world, including TIME, National Geographic, Asimov’s, Smithsonian, Astronomy, Harpers, Sky & Telescope, Ciel et Espace, and Astronomy Now (UK). His paintings have aired on NOVA, National Geographic’s Explorer and other television specials, and have covered numerous books, including works by Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke. He has exhibited paintings at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, at Moscow’s Institute for Space Research (IKI), the Fleet Science Center, the Wyoming Geologic Museum, and has had traveling exhibits throughout the world. Michael Carroll is a Fellow and founding member of the International Association for the Astronomical Arts.  

He was one of 7 North American space artists invited by the Space Research Institute of the former USSR to attend the Space Future Forum in Moscow (l987). While there, he helped to establish the “Dialogues” project, a series of workshops and exhibitions involving Soviet, American and European artists. He is a member of the NASA Arts Program, and documented research during a U.S. Geological Survey expedition to the Bering Glacier in Alaska. One of his original paintings flew aboard MIR, and another is resting at the bottom of the Atlantic aboard Russia’s ill-fated Mars 96 spacecraft. Murals include two 70-foot works for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, murals in Michigan, California, Nebraska, and for Lockheed/Martin and the Planetary Society. He is also a member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators. Michael Carroll has painted in numerous historic fossil quarry sites, and enjoys reconstructing ancient life for museums and publications.

Michael Carroll is also science journalist, writing for such magazines as Astronomy Now (UK), Popular Science, Astronomy, Sky & Telescope, Odyssey, Sea Frontiers, and Artists magazines. He co-authored and illustrated the book Visions of the Revelation (Donning, l991). Michael Carroll and his wife, Caroline, have coauthored nearly twenty children's books. The Exploring God’s World series includes the Gold Medallion finalist Dinosaurs and Exploring Ancient Cities (Cook, 2000 and2001). They also wrote the highly popular science-themed Absolutely Awesome devotionals (Tyndale). A book series themed in parallel with the creation days of Genesis debuted in 2005(Zondervan), and covers topics ranging from space to geology and biology. Michael Carroll organized and coauthored the science fiction anthology Eat My Martian Dust (Dyson, et al., 2005) and Alien Volcanoes (Lopes and Carroll, 2008)) and several other titles for both adults and children.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


"Free Land!"  The cry resounded throughout the nation and helped to  shape modern America.  The community of Beatrice, the Nebraska Humanities Council, and the Homestead National Monument of America will host the “Free Land?  1862 and the Shaping of Modern America” Chautauqua May 20-25.  This will be in conjunction with the kick-off of a year of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Homestead Act.

Participants will have the opportunity to engage in the consequences of the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railway Act, and the Morrill Act on Nebraska, the Great Plains, and the United States as a nation.  All three pieces of legislation were passed within six weeks of each other in 1862.

            To help interpret the story, six well-known historical figures will come to life through scholarly portrayals of Union general and railroad builder Grenville Dodge, author Willa Cather, Ponca Chief Standing Bear, author and homesteader Laura Ingalls Wilder, homesteader and inventor George Washington Carver, and humorist Mark Twain who will serve as moderator.

            According to Kristi Hayek, Nebraska Humanities Council Chautauqua coordinator, the characters will help to tell the stories surrounding the 1862 legislation, how it benefited those who took advantage of the potential, and how it affected those who suffered from it as a result.

            Patrick E. McGinnis will portray Grenville Dodge, U.S. Army general and chief engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad.  McGinnis holds a Ph.D. from Tulane University and is emeritus professor of history at the University of Central Oklahoma.

            Paxton Williams will portray George Washington Carver, noted inventor and botanist.  Williams is the former executive director of the George Washington Carver Birthplace Association in Diamond, Missouri.

            Taylor Keen will portray Standing Bear, Ponca chief who was involved in a court case in 1879 that was the first step in establishing basic civil rights for Native Americans.  Keen serves as director of the Native American Center and lecturer at Creighton University.

            Karen Vuranch will portray Laura Ingalls Wilder, homesteader and author of the beloved “Little House” books.  Vuranch is an instructor at Concord University in West Virginia and has participated in living-history presentations portraying 10 different characters.

            Betty Jean Steinshouer will portray Willa Cather, Pulitzer Prize-winning author from Nebraska.  Steinshouer has portrayed Cather in 44 states and in Canada and portrays a number of other female authors in the Chautauqua-style for the Florida Humanities Council.

            Warren Brown will portray Mark Twain, humorist and author who wrote on American culture and politics.  As moderator, he will provide context and offer a national perspective to the observations and experiences of the other characters.  Brown has portrayed Mark Twain in more than 1,000 performances nationwide.

            The scholars will be in character costume to attend a May 20th event featuring entertainment and speeches commemorating the signing of the Homestead Act.  The actual document will be on loan from the National Archives April 25th through May 28th at Homestead National Monument of America.

            Each evening of the Chautauqua week, a different scholar will portray his or her character.  After the presentation, the scholar will answer questions as the character and then step out of character to answer questions about the historical figure.

            Chautauqua is made possible through funding from the National Endowment for Humanities, the Nebraska Cultural Endowment, Friends of Homestead National Monument of America, and the state of Nebraska.

Article submitted and compiled by Bette Anne Thaut, member of the Beatrice Chautauqua Committee.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Beatrice Interstate Chautauqua: 1889 to 2012

The first Chautauqua Assembly in Beatrice was held for two weeks in the summer of 1889.  It was the second Chautauqua campground established in Nebraska.  (The first was at Crete.)  Officially incorporated as the Beatrice Interstate Chautauqua, it was planned to attract visitors from Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and even Colorado!  Special railroad excursion rates encouraged out-of-state travelers to come to Beatrice.  The local streetcar line was extended south to take passengers directly from the railroad depots to the Chautauqua grounds. 

The Beatrice Interstate Chautauqua was founded by five investors who owned 90 acres south of the Big Blue River: J. S. Grable, J. L. Tait, S. S. Green, W. D. Nicholls, and A. J. Millikin.  In 1888 they approached the Beatrice Board of Trade (a forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce) with a proposal that if they invested $1500 to advertise the Chautauqua as a Beatrice enterprise, the investors would incorporate with capital stock of $50,000.  This proposal was accepted; the first Chautauqua in Beatrice was held a year later.                                                                                                                                     
The elaborate four-gated main entrance was located about 2 blocks east of 6th Street.  The Tabernacle, the only remaining building, was one of the first to be constructed.  It is 100 x 140 feet and was planned to seat 2,000.   The very first summer 2500 filled the Tabernacle to hear the President of Nebraska Wesleyan University speak.  The structure was open on all sides to allow maximum ventilation, with a complex system of support posts, beams and braces to provide virtually unobstructed viewing for the audience. The Tabernacle was designed with no permanent seating, allowing the most flexible use of the building.  The Chautauqua Tabernacle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and was recognized as “an engineering and architectural achievement of merit.”

 Other buildings constructed on the Chautauqua grounds were the Gatekeeper’s Lodge, the Stewart Boarding and Dining Hall (which could seat 300), a grocery and meat market, refreshment pavilion, photographer’s studio, post office, Tennyson Hall, Whittier Hall, Emma Willard Hall, a bandstand and the Presbyterian Church’s building.  In addition Cottage Row was constructed with several small, privately-owned Victorian houses. 

Tents were available for rent or purchase north of the Tabernacle in the area still used as a campground today.  Each of the tents was numbered for ease of mail delivery during the weeks of Chautauqua events. Large tree houses were built along the creek, but were removed because they were damaging the trees.  

By 1905 the attendance at the Beatrice Interstate Chautauqua had reached 8,000, with one session reaching 10,000.  Speakers that year included former President Hayes, William Jennings Bryan, Frances Willard, the temperance advocate, and Bishop John Heyl Vincent, founder of the original Chautauqua in New York. 

In 1906 7000 attended the Chautauqua in Beatrice due to the railroad’s special excursion rates from Missouri and Kansas.  The grounds now had electric lights, and iron gates to prevent reckless driving.  By that time, nineteen private cottages had been built. 

Boating and canoeing was always an important part of the Chautauqua experience.  In 1890 the Queen of the Blue was launched.  It was a 70 x 15 foot two-deck steamboat that could carry 150 passengers comfortably.  It traveled from the Chautauqua grounds downstream to the paper mill dam at Glen Falls and back for $1.00 fare. 

By 1910, automobiles and the movies made rail travel to Chautauquas seem old-fashioned.  Attempts were made to revive the Beatrice Chautauqua through traveling tent shows in 1912 and 1914, but the era of the great Chautauqua assemblies had passed.  Fortunately, the City of Beatrice was able to acquire the Interstate Chautauqua grounds and recreate it as a beautiful park for the community.  In 1919 Dr. Harry Hepperlin and Don McColery purchased the grounds west of the park to enable its expansion to Highway 77. 

The Beatrice Interstate Chautauqua lasted over twenty years.  It offered information and entertainment to people of all ages.  The most distinctive contribution of the Beatrice Interstate Chautauqua, as well as other Chautauquas, was the idea of using summer vacations as entertaining educational opportunities. 

Chautauqua Calendar

  • May 20: Meet the Chautauquans 11:00 am Chautauqua Park Beatrice
  • May 20: 150th Anniversary Begins 6:00 pm Homestead