Editor's note: This piece originally was published on July 2, 2006, as part of David Harding's "Everyday History" column in The World-Herald.
Omaha's older neighborhoods are full of street names that honor the town's early settlers. So why is Abbott Drive — the entryway to downtown from Eppley Airfield — named after a man who lived 400 miles from the area?
When he was 1 year old, Chris Abbott came to Nebraska with his parents in a covered wagon. His father, Arthur, drove a herd of cattle from Kansas into the Sand Hills, settling in the sod near Hyannis in the northwestern part of the state around 1890.
Arthur Abbott's timing was perfect. He missed the rough winters of the late 1880s, but arrived just after the Burlington Railroad had punched a line into the area, linking this prime cattle country to the stockyards in Omaha and Chicago.
He took a job as county treasurer to help pay for 160 acres of ranch land. He prospered and began making loans to other ranchers based on a handshake and an IOU. Shortly before his death in 1928, he bought a bank in Alliance.
When Chris Abbott took over, he continued to build both the ranching and banking operations with help from his younger brother Leroy.
By the 1940s, the Abbott empire spread to seven ranches totaling 300,000 acres. Chris Abbott produced more range cattle than anyone in Nebraska.
He also was the president of nine western Nebraska banks. He owned a lumber company and a radio station. He was widely regarded as the wealthiest man in the state. Even so, he was more comfortable on a horse than in an office, and he worked his ranches from a saddle nearly every day.
He was a vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a director of several Omaha-based companies. He constantly promoted closer ties between western and eastern Nebraska, and he believed that Nebraska commerce would be well served by better air links within the state.
In 1946, he lined up a group of investors and filed applications to launch Prairie Airways, a commuter airline connecting Omaha and Lincoln with hub cities along the Platte River and in the Panhandle. For some reason, the airline never got off the ground, but Abbott did own flight services in Lincoln and Omaha.
Never afraid to think big, he once filed an application to operate an airline route from Miami to Nome, Alaska. He pointed out that there was no diagonal route crossing the country from southeast to northwest. His friend, the aircraft manufacturer Glenn Martin, expressed interest in the plan, but it probably evaporated with Prairie Airways.
Abbott showed more than a business interest in flying. He got his pilot's license and had a private, paved runway built in Hyannis. He hopped between his far-flung cattle operations in a single-engine Piper and flew cross-country in a twin-engine Beechcraft.
In 1954, Abbott went on a hunting trip in Louisiana with a group of wealthy businessmen. They hunted ducks along the Gulf Coast, then flew back to Shreveport in two planes owned by a gas company.
One of the planes developed icing on its wings as it approached Shreveport and was forced to make an emergency landing. It struck a power line and caught fire as it crashed. Twelve people were killed, including the founder of Braniff Airlines, three oil company executives, the president of an insurance company, the head of a large aerial mapping firm, two clothing company executives and Abbott.
Abbott had pushed for a new road into Omaha from Eppley Airfield, and when it was completed later that year, it was named Abbott Drive.
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In November 1950, Richard Walters, left, warms up Council Bluffs Civic Music singers before a rehearsal of the operetta “Bloomer Girl.” Babette Bronson, Luanne Bisbee, Nancy Ogren and Janet Hicks sing to the music of pianist Frank Fariday.
Staff from Tech High School rehearse for the show “TECHnicalities of 1950.” Taking part in the November rehearsal are, from left, Joe Kucerick, Fred Hawkins, wrestling coach Bob Anderson, Bill (Kewpie) Moore, Norman Rosenquist, journalism teacher Lloyd Berg and principal Carl Palmquist.
Four pupils at Windsor School, members of a student committee to carry books from the school library to kindergarten and first-grade classes, constructed their own version of a “bookmobile”: a partitioned orange crate that they painted, lettered and attached handles to (with a little help from the school custodian). The students, from left, are Terry Holmes, 9, Susan Farris, 10, George Wilson, 10, and Patricia Holmes, 10. In this Sept. 17, 1950 photo, the students brought out their bookmobile to compare to the City Library’s much-larger one, staffed by Elizabeth Latta and John J. Weber.
Three local groups — the Omaha Women’s Club, and the North and South Side Women’s Clubs — bought this renovated bus to help take area youths from city parks to a day camp at Hummel Park. In this photo that ran May 22, 1951, shop foreman Ray Lee puts finishing touches on the exterior of the bus, which was designed to hold up to 50 children.
Gary Grahn, 2, and his dog Pepper in March 1952. When Gary got lost, Pepper protected him until the police found him.
A view looking east down Douglas Street near 18th after it was resurfaced in August 1953. Among the nearby businesses were the Hotel Fontenelle, World Insurance, Penneys, Brandeis, Guarantee Mutual, Herzberg’s and the Omaha theater.
Some small turtles painted with the slogan “Omaha Zoo — 1953” were used in a March 1953 fundraiser. That’s painter Ben Braasch painting the slogan on a china turtle and a real turtle. Some china turtles and three real turtles were given as prizes by the Omaha Zoological Society at an event it held March 16 to begin a $15,000 fundraising drive. The society had been organized in 1952 to help improve the Riverview Park Zoo, and things worked out pretty well. Today, of course, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is consistently ranked as one of the world’s best.
It was hot enough outside to buckle the pavement on June 19, 1953. With highs reaching 105 degrees, Lon Duel of Omaha quaffed a traditional heat remedy.
Mrs. Bryce Miller purchases yellow oleo margarine in Hamburg, Iowa, in this World-Herald photo taken July 6, 1953. Newly passed legislation removed tax restrictions on oleo sold in Iowa and permitted stores to sell it with a yellow color. Before the law, grocers in Hamburg had to compete with Nebraska and Missouri stores, where customers could buy colored margarine. “I’ve always used oleo,” Miller said, “and now I think it’s wonderful that I can buy it — like I want it — right here in Hamburg.”
Emmy Gifford and actresses Alison Teal, Ann Kennedy and Mary Campbell in costume for the Omaha Junior League’s production of “Grandmother’s Magic Clock” at the Joslyn Concert Hall. This photo of the performers ran April 18, 1954. Written by Omahan Val Teal, the play for youths delved into the city’s history through a family’s covered-wagon trip west.
C.J. Sparks holds up a copy of the Cherry County Republican that was unearthed from the walls of a doctor’s office being torn down in Valentine, Nebraska. The newspaper is dated April 22, 1886, only a couple of years after Valentine was founded. The eight-page section, which gave no writers or editors, mostly read as laudatory promotion of Cherry County, describing it as a Garden of Eden without the serpent. “They must have been trying to get some city slickers to come out from the East,” said Sparks, a lumberman whose relatives were pioneers in the area. “Talk about press agentry. This was it.” This photo ran with a story on April 23, 1954.
They were the Races of the Century! On June 25, 1954, kids between 3½ and 6 years old raced their pedal cars and tricycles down Douglas between 15th and 16th Streets. Officials started the races with green and checkered flags and judged the finishes, and a loud speaker played sounds from the Indianapolis Speedway. But the kids provided all the entertainment: One child was well in the lead until he stopped a foot shy of the finish line. Another got lost and ran into the crowd. In the race here, Richard Margritz, pedaling a dump truck at right, won.
Elsa Lundgren, a librarian at the Council Bluffs Public Library. An Oct. 19, 1954, story talks about the thousands of questions that pour into the library each year and the pace Lundgren must keep to find the books to answer them. Among the inquiries: How do you cook a raccoon? How do you cut down an upright piano? Where do holes in cheese come from?
Douglas County’s biggest polio vaccination program began on May 2, 1955, with no difficulties as teams of doctors, nurses and PTA volunteers set up production lines at schools to vaccinate children. This one was at Dundee School, and that’s Dr. Lynn MacQuiddy administering the shots. According to The World-Herald’s account of the effort, some parents were reluctant to have their kids vaccinated because of reports that some children had developed polio after getting a vaccination. But Dr. J. Harry Murphy, a Creighton University Medical School professor and polio researcher, said those cases appeared to have been developing before the shots were given. “I have been advising my patients to go ahead with the shots,” he said. “I’ll stand behind that.” Other doctors also spoke in favor of having children vaccinated. And Dr. MacQuiddy gave a shot to his 8-year-old daughter, Mary, that day at Dundee School.
Little 6-year-old Stanley Kiser has a tough time choosing a pumpkin as he prepares for the hobgoblin parade for Halloween in 1955.
The West Lanes Bowlatorium at 151 N. 72nd St. in Omaha in 1955. Crossroads Mall had not been built across the street at that time.
Some things never change: Rush-hour traffic crowds Dodge Street in Omaha in June 1955.
A crowd of 17,991 watch as Bienville, Sure Time and Brown Miracle lead the fourth horse race at Ak-Sar-Ben on May 31, 1956.
Norbert Steinauer stands at the door of the hundred-year-old cabin his grandfather Joseph built. Joseph was one of the tree Steinauer brothers who came from Switzerland in 1852 and established the town of Steinauer, Nebraska. This photo ran in the newspaper on Oct. 15, 1956.
Nine-year-old John Mefford blows a bubble while coach Leonard Hawkins laces his glove for a bout with Dennis Miller. Hawkins and Paul Jefferson opened a junior boxing organization at the City Mission Gym in Omaha in the fall of 1956.
Flagpole painter Edgar Russell of Chester, Illinois, had a bird’s-eye view of downtown Omaha while he worked in 1957.
In December 1957, Ralston’s 85-foot water tower – a landmark for nearly half a century – was toppled to make way for progress.
The historic Bank of Florence, 8502 N. 30th St., is seen in February 1957. The building was built in 1855. Here it is being used as "Fashion Cleaners."
Judy Priborsky and David Dickinson, both 17, at the Benson High School’s ROTC military ball on Feb. 8, 1957 at Peony Park. Dickinson was named cadet lieutenant colonel of Benson’s ROTC Battalion, and Priborsky was named honorary lieutenant colonel. Priborsky had another honor: one of the biggest hoop skirts at the dance. The hemline’s diameter was nearly 8 feet, and it included 100 yards of sequins, rhinestones and pearls. The dress took her mother about 200 hours to make it.
The Omaha Benson bench explodes on March 7, 1957, when a victory over Fremont in the North Omaha Class AA Regional Basketball Tournament was cemented. The Bunnies, who had won two of 16 games going into the matchup, won 53-40 over Fremont, which was No. 1 in the state. “Benson’s crafty coach” Scotty Orcutt is at right. THE WORLD-HERALD
The Northwestern Bell Telephone Company buildings side by side in Omaha in 1957. The old is on the left and the new is on the right. The company served 2,130,000 telephones in five states at the time.
To call Helen Worley a do-gooder wouldn’t be doing her justice. In November 1958, she was awarded the Omaha Exchange Club’s third annual Golden Deed Award. The following February, she received an Omaha Good Neighbor Award. Among her works: She collected furniture and clothing for those in need; she helped an Omaha soldier overseas break through the red tape and return home to his dying mother; and while working as a matron in the city and county jails, she arranged medical aid and help for the women prisoners.
To the glee of a few boys, two “mermaids” were on hand for the March 1958 groundbreaking of the Ralston Recreation Association swimming pool. The girls are Alice Miller, left, and Gloria Schomer, and the bulldozer operator is Gifford Grabe.
Surprisingly, in this photo that ran June 20, 1958, Martin Luther King Jr., just right of center, wasn’t the focus. Dr. O. Clay Maxwell, a 73-year-old New York City pastor, center, had just been elected president of the National Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress in an election at the Civic Auditorium. King, who was 29 at the time, had taken over leadership of the congress when the previous president died a few months earlier. King gave the seconding speech for Maxwell at the election. The newspaper caption referencing the two men read, “Age and youth combine.”
My, don’t they grow up so quickly. Members of Mrs. Margaret Olsen’s preschool class don caps and gowns at the end of their school year in May 1958. They are, from left, Patty Lee, Richie Moore, Lindy Willson and Mike O’Brien.
Mr. and Mrs. W.G. (Bill) Clayton of Grand Island, Nebraska, with 10 feet of tickets after they traveled around the world in 79 days in 1958.
In December 1958, the second annual “Operation Santa Claus” of the Nebraska Civil Air Patrol was ready to take flight. Before the flight, Santa (Maj. Harry A. Wakefield, Air Force Liaison Officer) was handed a bag of candy by two sprightly elves, Michele Jones, left, and Pat Limas. Santa was to use the candy to barter for old toys with children in several small Nebraska towns. The toys were to be used for charity.
In 1958, Omaha earned the title of “All-America City.” Leo A. Daly Jr. was appointed general chairman of the committee to commemorate the honor. He practices hanging a flag on the roof of the electric building prior to a flag-raising ceremony on Jan. 10, 1958.
For four days, “Mom” Gebbie, 38, of Bellevue got a real taste of life as a soldier by joining the Iowa-Nebraska National Guard at Camp Ripley in Minnesota. Described in the Aug. 5, 1958, story as “a blonde, willowy mother of five,” Gebbie wanted to get a “mother’s-eye look” at Army field training to see if it was good for their sons. After swapping her dress for pants and boots, eating from a mess kit and sweating it out in a hot tank turret, she said, “It definitely is. I’m really impressed.”
Omaha Central High School students were all smiles on March 14, 1958, as they boarded buses headed for Lincoln to watch the basketball team in the state tournament — Central’s first appearance there since 1941. About 500 students took the 12 special buses chaperoned by the PTA and faculty, while hundreds others traveled by car and train.
Employees Wesley Laugel and Glen Brooks at the message service center of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company in Red Oak, Iowa, in 1958.
This road resurfacing crew found an oasis on Sept. 8, 1959, when three young girls began giving away coffee and soft drinks. Cynthia, 8, Kathleen Tollander, 7, and Linda Spain, 8, set up shop on the 6100 block of North 24th Street. Among their customers: Russ Fisher, left, laydown foreman, and Paul Craig, city inspector. “This type of thing doesn’t happen often,” Craig said, “but it certainly makes you feel good, and it’s appreciated.”
A roller coaster from Playland Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa, is reflected in a water hole at Dodge Park in October 1959.
Lake Street? More like River Street. A water main break near 22nd and Lake Streets on March 8, 1959, left the streets drenched in up to 4 feet of water. The break in the 36-inch feeder main sent water high into the air, tossing a car parked at the curb. “I saw this spout just bust out of the ground,” said one man. “The car was sitting right on top of it, way up in the air.” Witnesses said the car was tossed around a couple more times before disappearing into a 12-foot hole dug by the geyser. (The geyser can still be seen in the background of this photo.) The Metropolitan Utilities District estimated that 10 million gallons of water escaped. Officials at the (very wet) scene said that it might be the most extensive flooding of its kind up until that point.
For the second year in a row, Judy Stork, second from left, was the district winner of the Make-It-Yourself-With-Wool Contest in October 1959. Winners and runners-up from the district competition, who moved on to the state contest in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, included, from left, Frances Nelson, senior division runner-up; Stork, senior division winner; Jo Ann Peters, junior division runner-up; and Ruth Mencke, junior division winner.