Many people realize that Lincoln is more than just a city surrounded by cows and corn. They know it as the home of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team. But it is also more than just a football city. With a variety of museums, parks and nature centers, Lincoln is a fun place for kids and adults alike. In addition to the well-known attractions of the city, such as Memorial Stadium and Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln has many other sites worthy of a visit. If you’re new to town or just here for a vacation, there are a few places you must visit before you leave.
University of Nebraska State Museum at Morrill Hall
One of the region’s top natural history museums, the University of Nebraska State Museum is located on the UNL campus in Morrill Hall, sometimes fondly called Elephant Hall. This museum has many interactive exhibits that are just as fun as they are educational. The museum’s famous Elephant Hall contains the world’s premier collection of preserved mammoth, mastodon and four-tusker skeletons along with stunning murals by Mark Marcuson.
Other features include Tree of Life, an interactive exhibit about earth’s evolutionary relationships and the Hall of Nebraska Wildlife, a gallery of 16 dioramas and interactive exhibits. Besides these and other permanent exhibits, bring the family to enjoy Sunday with a Scientist—a different topic is scheduled for the third Sunday of each month. On any weekend, the Mueller Planetarium’s multimedia shows make use of an immersive fulldome projection system that offers 360-degree views. Visit www.museum.unl.edu.
Mueller Planetarium, located inside the University of Nebraska State Museum, though small, is a very educational, and well worth the visit. You can enjoy full dome, digital shows as you immerse yourself in high-tech adventures in a 360-degree space. The Planetarium was the seventh location in the world to adopt the Space Telescope Science Institute’s ViewSpace outreach program. As a direct computer link with STScI, the Planetarium was a pioneer in trial testing ViewSpace programing and its content.
Hyde Memorial Observatory
Located at Holmes Park in South Lincoln, it is, as far as we know, the only observatory anywhere that is built, furnished and operated entirely by donations, and devoted exclusively to public viewing. It is completely free of charge, and staffed only by volunteers. Hyde is open every Saturday evening, year round. Featuring views of the night skies through three telescopes. There is an Astronomy Presentation every Saturday Night! Check the website for seasonal times: www.hydeobservatory.info.
Nebraska History Museum
The stories of all the Plains people—Native Americans and explorers, fur-traders and homesteaders, farmers and patriots—can be experienced at the Nebraska History Museum, located at 15th and P Streets. The museum also has an Investigation Station, where visitors can explore Nebraska’s past by examining historical documents, photographs, artifacts, and the wisdom of elders. The four permanent stations include a Native American tipi, a one quarter scale prairie schooner, a Build-a-Town table and a 1920s auto-touring campsite. Past exhibits have included Quilting for a Cause, about Nebraska’s fundraising quilts, Pioneering Aviators from Flyover Country and Nebraska Cowboys: Lives, Legends & Legacies, and an exhibit on the first 10,000 years of Native American life on the Plains. Admission is free. Learn more at www.nebraskahistory.org/sites/mnh/index.htm.
Constructed between 1922 and 1932 for the frugal price of $10 million, the State Capitol, designed by Bertram Goodhue, is described by architects and historians as the nation’s first truly vernacular state capitol. This tower of the plains was the first to break the federal-style mold and include symbolic motifs in every facet of the building. The building’s majestic 400-foot domed tower can be seen from miles away. Get more information at www.capitol.org.
Directly across the street, the beautiful Governor’s Residence is more than just home to the Governor. The classic architectural brick building offers enjoyable guided tours. One of its main features is the doll collection replicating Nebraska’s First Ladies in their inaugural gowns. Call 402-471-3466 for more information. Try the virtual tour at www.governorsresidence.ne.gov.
The Kennard House
A stately mansion at the corner of 17th and H Streets, the Kennard House is the oldest surviving building in the city. Home of Nebraska’s first Secretary of State, it has period furniture and mementos that offer an interesting perspective on Nebraska’s history. Open by appointment only. Visit www.nebraskahistory.org/sites/kennard/index.htm for details. And see our story on page 93.
Museum of American Speed
Founded in 1992 by “Speedy” Bill and Joyce Smith, the Smith Collection Museum of American Speed is dedicated to preserving, interpreting and displaying physical items significant in racing and automotive history. Automobile Magazine says, “Here in the heartland of the United States is the very best racing museum in the country.” The museum currently encompasses more than 135,000 sq. ft. on over three levels. The amazing and unusual collection results from the Smiths’ personal involvement in racing and hot rodding for more than six decades. You can visit the museum on Monday through Friday (May through September) at 2 p.m. for a guided tour of this incredible collection of historic automotive artifacts. www.museumofamericanspeed.com.
Frank H. Woods Telephone Historical Museum
The Frank H. Woods Telephone Historical Museum offers an impressive display of vintage phones and equipment that predate the 20th century. The exhibit communicates the colorful beginnings of what would grow to become one of the largest independent telephone companies in the country (Lincoln Telephone Co.). Located at 2047 M St., the museum is open Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. with guided hands-on tours available. Call 402-436-4640 for more information. The museum’s building will soon make way for community development, but we are all hopeful that the museum will find a new location.
William Jennings Bryan’s Home, Fairview
Another historical home worth visiting is Fairview on the Bryan East Campus. This was the stately home of William Jennings Bryan, former congressman and three-time Democratic candidate for president. Bryan also served as prosecuting attorney for the Scopes ‘Monkey’ trial, which he won just days before his death. Call 402-483-8303 for tour information.
National Museum of Roller Skating
Featured in Smithsonian magazine, the National Museum of Roller Skating houses the largest collection of roller skates and roller skating memorabilia in the world, including a gas-powered skate. Interactive exhibits include “How to Build a Roller Skate” and “Evolution of the Wheel.” For more information, visit www.rollerskatingmuseum.com.
Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum
Agriculture buffs won’t want to pass up a visit to the Lester Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum on UNL’s East Campus. Located in the first tractor test laboratory in the world, the museum tells the story of tractor testing in Nebraska. It has many examples of tractors that were tested between 1919 and 1980, as well as one of the original test cars, a dynamometer, and a children’s area with a large tractor cab. Tractor testing is unique to Nebraska and the story the Larsen Tractor Test & Power Museum tells is unlike any you will find elsewhere in the country. Visit tractormuseum.unl.edu for details.
American Historical Society of Germans from Russia Museum
The American Historical Society of Germans from Russia Museum commemorates the local population of Germans who immigrated to Lincoln from Russia during the 19th century. As international headquarters, the museum includes a library, archives and special displays. Numerous buildings within the city block area are a part of the exhibit, including two houses that are furnished as common homes of early 1900s. Visit www.ahsgr.org for more information.
Lincoln Children’s Zoo
The perfect outing for the younger set, this zoo features reindeers, lemurs, penguins and other animals. Kids love the pony rides, outdoor café with its trash-eating lion, and the ZO&O Railroad. It’s currently expanding and in 2019, the Zoo will open with four new areas—involving a giraffe, tiger, monkeys and a stream. Get details at www.lincolnchildrenszoo.org.
Lincoln Children’s Museum
Frequently lauded as one of the best children’s museums in the Midwest, the Lincoln Children’s Museum gives kids tons of hands-on experiences. Children are encouraged to learn through play, exploration and discovery. The three floor, 23,300 square foot museum isn’t just fun for children, it’s fun for their parents as well. Call 402-477-4000 or visit www.lincolnchildrensmuseum.org.