15 Things You Might Not Know About Nebraska

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1. The Reuben sandwich, which sticks no small sum of corned beef, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and sauerkraut between two slices of rye bread, is most prominently associated with the cuisine of New York City. But Nebraskans insist that the hefty deli item traces its roots to Omaha, where it was created by Lithuanian-born local Reuben Kulakofsky. The neighborhood grocer was a regular at Blackstone Hotel’s weekly poker games in the 1920s and ‘30s, earning enough acclaim for his makeshift sandwich to land it a spot on the establishment’s menu and, in 1956, a place in a national sandwich competition courtesy of Blackstone waitress Fern Snider.

2. Another famous recipe that dates back to 1920s Nebraska: Kool-Aid. Edwin Perkins, son of Hendley, Nebraska’s general store proprietor, is responsible for a few interesting concoctions, including the fruit drink Fruit-Smack and the tobacco addiction remedy Nix-o-Tine. But Perkins’ most successful innovation came to life in his mother’s kitchen in Hastings around 1927—the dry powder drink mix he’d dub Kool-Ade (renamed “Kool-Aid” in 1934).

3. The very first Arbor Day was celebrated on April 10, 1872, in Nebraska, after journalist and environmentalist J. Sterling Morton proposed the holiday, on which observers would plant trees, to the State Board of Agriculture. Other states caught wind of the practice throughout the 1870s; by ’82, Arbor Day had become a nationwide annual tradition.

4. Considering these roots, it is apropos that Nebraska claims a couple of ecological superlatives. Its Nebraska National Forest is the largest hand-planted forest in America, covering 141,159 acres of land. Additionally, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium boasts the largest indoor rainforest in the country; the Lied Jungle, which opened its doors in 1992, covers one and a half acres of land within an eight-story building and features flora and fauna from the rainforests of Africa, Asia, and South America.

5. Another impressive wildlife exhibit makes its home on the campus of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. The school’s Elephant Hall, a component of the University of Nebraska State Museum, features the largest mammoth fossil showcased anywhere on the planet. The piece, nicknamed “Archie,” was discovered in Lincoln County in 1922, has been identified as the remains of a Columbian mammoth, and reigns as Nebraska’s official state fossil. Archie is just one element of the world’s largest collection of elephant skeletons on display.

6. Forestry and fossils are not particularly unusual subject matter for the focus of museums, but some of Nebraska’s scholarly institutions are dedicated to more esoteric fields of study. For instance, the Museum of the Fur Trade is an exact recreation of James Bordeaux’s 1840s trading post in Chadron. Another example is Elm Creek’s own Chevyland USA Auto Museum, the only museum in the country devoted to a single line of automobile. But the best of the lot is the National Liars Hall of Fame, located in Dannebrog, which celebrates the art of dishonesty via an extensive library as well as live presentations and exhibits.

7. The University of Nebraska at Lincoln holds one more heavy distinction among its academic brethren: its 30,000-square-foot West Stadium Strength Complex is the largest weight room on any college campus in America. 

8. Nebraska hardly seems like a celebrity hotspot, but the state was actually home to Marlon Brando (widely considered the world’s greatest actor), Johnny Carson (widely considered the world’s greatest talk show host), and Fred Astaire (widely considered the world’s greatest tap dancer).

9. The Leon Myers Stamp Center in Omaha attempts to spread the joy of philately (that is, stamp collecting) to its young visitors. The museum’s main attraction is the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps, a 600-pound heap of adhesive postage. In 1953, the Boys Town Stamp Collecting Club set to work on this masterpiece, wrangling 4,655,000 discontinued stamps in the process.

10. Nebraska made sociopolitical history in 1986 when it became the first state in American history to feature a gubernatorial race that faced two women against one another. On May 13, the Democratic and Republican Primaries chose Lincoln Mayor Helen Boosalis and State Treasurer Kay Orr, respectively, to pursue the governor position. The seat ultimately went to Orr, who served one term. 

11. In 1910, the city of Waterloo passed an ordinance that barbers could not consume onions (at least between the hours of 7 a.m. and noon), a humanitarian effort to spare barbershop patrons the fate of up-close-and-personal onion breath.

12. The city of Arthur prides itself on a unique house of worship. The Pilgrim Holiness Church, built in 1928, is composed almost entirely of hay … though a rather impressive stucco job would have you believe otherwise.

13. With six Academy Award nominations, Alexander Payne’s 2013 film Nebraska ties Mississippi Burning for most Oscar nods for any film named after a state.

14. Nebraska may not be especially notable for its EDM scene, but the world of club music owes the state a debt of gratitude. Fremont-born Harold Eugene “Doc” Edgerton invented the strobe light in 1931. The MIT professor developed a stroboscope mechanism in the interest of abetting the study and documentation of moving objects (though we’d wager that he’d be perfectly satisfied knowing that his invention’s primary application is making it more fun to dance to Tiesto).

15. The crime rate must have been mighty low in Arthur County in the early 1900s, as there was barely room for a trial in the diminutive courthouse and jail. The entire building measured a meager 26-by-28 feet, thus making for a particularly uncomfortable ordeal if you happened to land in the slammer on a busy night. Today, the building stands as a museum recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.