Friday, October 22, 2010

Camels and Elephants in Nebraska?

This morning we drove the short distance from Omaha to Lincoln, the capitol of Nebraska, and, as we usually do first in a state capitol, we took a tour of the capitol building. This massive stone building was completed in 1932, and is full of wonderful mosaics, and intricate ceilings, unique chandeliers. We had a great tour guide, a young man who was very well informed and enthusiastic.

The tour started at the front doors, and he explained much of the symbolism incorporated in the doors, floors, walls and ceiling.

This wonderful dome was over the entrance. The mosaic in the ceiling includes various types of tiles, including metallic tiles. The center of the dome signifies the sun, as there is no life without the sun. The metal spokes separating the ring of lightbulbs around the chandelier (48 to represent the 48 states at the time Nebraska entered the union) are in the form of arrows, signifying the first nations. There are words around the edge of the circle, telling how the settlers brought thanks for the gifts of the earth, the fruits in their seasons. The arches surround the dome have many symbols of agriculture, culture, education and recreation.

In the hallway leading from the entrance are several wonderful mosaics. These are rather high up on the walls, and are very large. One of my favorites is this one, depicting a young (15 yrs old) rural school teacher leading her students to safety in the horrendous blizzard of 1888. The dark areas are the darkness of the storm, the light areas are the snow, and the glittering metallic tiles show the figure of the young woman leading the little children, all tied together by a rope, to safety at her boarding house, 1/2 mile from the school. They all made it to safety. You can see her figure quite well in the center, but the much smaller figures of the children are not clearly visible in this picture. The scattered bright tiles at the lower part of the mosaic are in memory of the 100 + people who perished in the storm. The day had started out mild, +50º and around noon, in the space of an hour, the temperature fell to -40º and the snow and wind howled in.

There are mosaics in the floors, also, and this particular one, under the dome is showing the state fossil of Nebraska: the mastodon.

I didn't realize that Nebraska is so rich in fossils, but we went next to the Morrell (not sure of that spelling) Museum on the campus of the University of Nebraska, a museum of natural history. It was loaded with fossils and casts and explanations of the rich deposits of fossils in Nebraska.

Long ago there were several species of elephants (proto elephants, I guess), camels, rhinoceruses (or rhinoceri), plus creatures dating even further back: a huge pleiosaur skeleton. Marvels too many to keep track of were displayed there, with lots to read about how they were discovered and preserved. Very interesting!

By the way, did you know that the word "Nebraska" is an English corruption of a first nations word meaning, "flat water," much the same as the French name for the most prominent river, the Platte. (I always enjoy learning the derivation of a word!)

We didn't have a very good map of Lincoln, and got pretty lost on our way back to the motel. Finally found it, and the went across the road to a Perkins Family Restaurant and had a perfectly delicious pot roast dinner.

P.S. I have no idea why the first paragraph is underlined and dark print. That happened once before, and then, too, I didn't have a clue!

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