Kate M. Woolsey: Children’s Librarian

Written By: nppladmin - Aug• 27•21
Originally published to facebook.com/NorthPlattePL on August 27, 2021.

Today’s Friday history looks at a beloved librarian, that many of our readers will remember. Enjoy!

Kate M. Woolsey was born July 25, 1880 in North Platte. She graduated from Peru College in 1899 and began teaching school, first at Echo School, then in Sutherland, Hershey, and finally at Washington School in North Platte from 1904 until her marriage in 1910. Following her marriage she moved to Portland, Oregon and remained there until 1932, when she returned to North Platte. She and her husband had two children. Kate’s passion for bringing children and books together left a legacy to the North Platte community. When the new North Platte Public Library, located at 120 W 4th Street was formally dedicated, in November 1967, the Library honored her by naming the children’s area, “The Kate Woolsey Children’s Room.”

The following excerpts are from an article written by Sharron W. Hollen and appeared in the November 27, 1968 edition of the North Platte Telegraph.

“When Kate Woolsey started out, libraries were for adults. No one thought of making special places for children, especially for children who couldn’t even read. But Kate Woolsey loved children as well as books. She also had a great deal of determination and managed to corner a basement room; and then a whole basement in the old North Platte Public Library <the “old Carnegie Library”, which now hosts the North Platte Area Children’s Museum>.

As a result, thousands of North Platte youngsters have been introduced to books and the Library over the past 35 years, with Kate Woolsey doing the introducing. Kate was a library helper when she began working in the North Platte Library in 1933. “We were just a library then,” Kate said, “There was no special provision for children. I’ve been batty about kids all my life and the same way about books; and I thought there should be something special about the library for youngsters.”

Miss Eleanor Wheeler was head librarian when Kate first proposed what seemed to be a rather preposterous dream. “It took an awful lot of persuasion on my part to talk Miss Wheeler into letting me have a room in the basement for children. She thought it would never succeed. I was determined it would. By the time they learned to read, the Children’s Library room was an old friend. The books they read introduced them to new friends and faraway places.” That single room grew into two rooms, and finally the entire basement. A one woman operation soon called for assistants.

Bennett Cerf once said, “The most unfortunate people in the world are those who have never learned the soul-satisfying pleasure of reading good books.” Thanks to one woman’s love and determination, there are thousands of youngsters from North Platte and the area who are not among Cerf’s classification of “the most unfortunate.”

Thank you for reading! And if you were lucky enough to have known Kate Woolsey, or have been inspired to read by a librarian or teacher, count yourself blessed!

See you next week for more North Platte History!

Paul Holley, a Pearl Harbor Hero

Written By: nppladmin - Aug• 27•21
Originally published to facebook.com/NorthPlattePL on August 20, 2021.

Today’s North Platte Friday History Series salutes all those persons who are currently, or have ever served in the military.

Paul Holley was born in 1918 in St Albert, Missouri to John and Everine Holley. John was serving his country during World War I when his son, Paul was born. They moved to North Platte when Paul was 11 months old and the Holley family lived at 415 West B Street. Paul attended school in North Platte and graduated from North Platte High School in 1937. Paul and his brother, Errette, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1938 after Errette’s graduation from high school. The brothers were both assigned to the USS California and were stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. <See the brother’s NPHS photographs>

At dawn on December 7, 1941, the 23-year-old NPHS graduate was on duty on board the USS California as a gunner. At 7:50 a.m., the first Japanese bombers appeared in the sky. The attack lasted two hours, and hit other military bases and sections of the island. Twenty-one ships were heavily damaged and 323 aircraft were damaged or destroyed.

The California, a flagship of the battle force, was hit fore and aft by two Japanese torpedoes in the early minutes of the raid. The ship was later hit by a bomb; and nearly missed by another, both of which caused massive flooding. A large mass of burning oil drifting down “Battleship Row” threatened to set the wounded ship afire. She was ordered abandoned.

Errette followed the abandon ship order and jumped overboard into the oily burning sea. He and other surviving crewmen were picked up by a PT boat and immediately put to work trying to extinguish and control the fires that threatened to destroy the ships. They took the crewmen back to other ships to fight fires. When the crew returned to the California, they extinguished the fires and counter-flooded the vessel to correct a 16 degree tilt. Errette desperately looked for his brother. Finally, someone told him Paul was dead. Paul died passing ammunition during the battle, likely when one of the torpedoes struck the California.

Despite the crew’s best efforts to keep the ship afloat, the California settled on the bottom of the bay on December 10th, three whole days after the attack. When the ship sank, the bodies were removed from the hull and all the surrounding water. Almost one hundred officers and men from the ship were killed during the attack. Many were never identified. Paul Holley was one of those men.

At that time, the nation didn’t have the man-power or resources to identify all the bodies right away. The Country was at war. Most of the unidentified were buried in two different cemeteries in Hawaii. There were 647 unidentified from Pearl Harbor in graves marked “unknown”.

Holley’s parents received a telegram about their son’s death. Paul’s father, John, didn’t take his death well. He fell ill and passed away in July of 1943. Paul’s mother passed away in 1990. Errette left the Navy, got married and moved to New Columbia, Pennsylvania. Before Errette died in 2001, he told his wife that if they ever found Paul, he wanted the remains to stay in Hawaii.

In June of 2020, researchers believe that Paul Holley’s remains were positively identified. Per his family wish, his remains are still in Hawaii.

Thank you for reading Paul Holley’s North Platte story.

Walter A. Stevens and His Lost Medal

Written By: nppladmin - Aug• 27•21
Originally published to facebook.com/NorthPlattePL on August 13, 2021.

If you liked the “History Detectives” television program that aired on PBS a few years ago, then you will really enjoy today’s North Platte History! Read on…

Several years ago, a medal was uncovered from a residential yard here in North Platte. The man who uncovered it, was a hobbyist metal detector and loved searching for buried treasures. <see photograph of medal>

Inscribed on the medal was “Walter A. Stevens, 1st Lt. No. 589.” Around that inscription, the medal reads: “Santiago Campaign June 14-July 17.” And the lettering on the front reads: “Society of The Army of Santiago 1898.” That year, plus the inscription “Army of Santiago” tracks that medal to the Spanish-American War.

The man who found the medal tried to find a descendent of Walter A. Stevens, but wasn’t successful in his search. Before he passed away he asked his daughter to see if she could find anyone who knew something about Stevens. The daughter, who was a patron of the North Platte Public Library, thought, “I bet the library could help!” So, she brought the medal in and asked for our assistance in tracking down some descendants. Library staff members Kaycee Anderson and Sara Aden found a good deal of information about Stevens, but couldn’t track down any living relatives. So, Anderson posted a message on Rootsweb.com, specifically on the message board for the Spanish American War. Rootsweb is a genealogical online resource and we hoped that somebody would see our message about Walter Stevens. Months passed and nothing. No response. From anybody.

Approximately 16 months later, Anderson opened up her email and BAM! She received an email stating that someone had responded to her message about Stevens on Rootsweb.com. Opening up that message gave them all the information they had been looking for, not to mention bringing life back to that unsolved history mystery! Not only did they learn about Steven’s family history; but that he had a granddaughter who shared several photographs of medals he won during the war, as well as a lot of personal information about his life.

Walter A. Stevens was a first sergeant in Company C, 22nd Infantry Regiment from 1898 to 1899. They traveled from Fort Crook, Nebraska (near Omaha/now a part of Offutt Air Force Base) to San Francisco, California, on January 27, 1898. Then to the Philippines, according to records from the National Archives army records, and a genealogical web site. Stevens saw serious action with the 22nd Regiment during the Spanish-American war. His regiment was the first American troops to land in Cuba, according to an account on spanamwar.com. The men struggled against artillery fire, snipers, heat, disease and lack of food; as they fought its way into Santiago, Cuba. Supply blunders left the soldiers in their winter uniforms for the training in Florida and during their campaign in Cuba. Summer uniforms were finally issued as they boarded their ship for Montauk Point, New York, in August. Out of the 513 officers and men who left Camp Crook, some four months earlier, only 165 returned home.

The records from the archives stated that Stevens enlisted in the United States Army on December 9, 1896, he was 22 years old. Stevens served 3 years and was discharged on Dec. 20, 1899. His character was rated as “Excellent.” It also stated he was born in London, England.

Stevens volunteered again when America entered World War I. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and later advanced to first lieutenant. He was discharged Sept. 30, 1919 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Stevens passed away in 1950 and is buried at Chagrin Falls, Ohio.

So what does this have to do with North Platte and how on earth did this medal get buried in a residential yard? No one knows.

Stevens’ granddaughter said she doesn’t think Walter was ever in Nebraska; except for the time they left Fort Crook heading for San Francisco. Chances are pretty good that the train came through North Platte. Even if it did and the train stopped, it would have been before Stevens fought in the battle of Santiago, before he was awarded the medal. So we still have a little mystery on our hands, but I think that our research trail has now run dry.

Thank you for reading and we’ll see you next Friday for more North Platte history!

Pawnee Drive-In Theater

Written By: nppladmin - Aug• 27•21
Originally published to facebook.com/NorthPlattePL on August 6, 2021.

If you are of a certain age, I bet you remember a drive in theater. Today’s North Platte History looks back at the Pawnee Drive-In Theater.

The two drive-in outings I remember the most were, “Paint your Wagon” (1969) and “The Towering Inferno” (1974). I remember going there as a child with my family, in a station wagon (of course!). I vaguely remember playing on the playground equipment as we waited for it to get dark; and I also remember falling asleep somewhere during the first film of the night (never could make it past about 10:30pm). Mind you, most drive-in theaters didn’t start showing the first movie until 9:45pm. Later on, I remember, as a high school student, packing as many teenagers as we could into a pickup to get in on a $5.00/vehicle night. And, of course, as a teenager, I had no problem staying up and watching double or triple feature movie nights, until 1am-2am.

This was a unique way to spend time with your family, a safe and fun way for teens to hang together as a group and see a movie. Not to mention a romantic getaway for couples! Drive-In theaters were in their prime in the 1950’s and 1960’s. By the time VHS tapes came around in the 1970’s most all of the drive-in theaters had closed; and families and couples had “movie night” at home, with a rented VHS tape.

If you aren’t quite old enough to remember a drive in theater, well, it was a very large outdoor space with an outdoor movie screen, a projection booth, a concession stand, and a large parking area for automobiles. Customers could view movies from the privacy and comfort of their automobile. The screen could have been as simple as a wall that was painted white. Originally, the movie’s sound was provided by a speaker that hung from the window of your car, which were attached to a small pole by a wire. Later speaker systems used micro-broadcasting to utilize the car radio to obtain the sound for the movie.

Many readers will remember the Pawnee Drive-In Theater located at 4426 Rodeo Road or just off of West Highway 30. We would love for you to share your memories, and the movies you remember seeing out there in the comment section below.

The Pawnee Drive in opened on September 18, 1948 and could accommodate up to 350 cars. Not only did it have a playground for children, but during the 1950’s, it also had a petting zoo, driving range, and miniature golf course.

Sadly, the Pawnee Drive-In was demolished around 2009. Oddly enough, drive-in theaters have been experiencing a slight revival in 2020 to 2021. During COVID, citizens have enjoyed watching movies in the safe environment of their own car.

Drive-In theaters STILL IN OPERATION in Western Nebraska are:

  • Sandhills Drive-In, located in Alliance, NE. Showing “Mortal Combat” on August 6-7, and “Two Mules for Sister Sara” on August 8;
  • TK/Starlite Drive-In, located in Neligh, NE (closed for the season).
  • Midwest Skyview Drive-In, located in Scottsbluff, NE. Showing “Disney’s Jungle Cruise!” on August 6 and “Charming the Hearts of Men” on August 13.

Enjoy our photos and newspaper articles from North Platte’s very own drive-in theater; and we’ll see you back here next week for more North Platte History! Thanks for reading!

Cole Bros. Circus

Written By: nppladmin - Aug• 27•21
Originally published to facebook.com/NorthPlattePL on July 30, 2021.

While now controversial and almost non-existent, a Circus coming to town in the latter part of the twentieth century was an affordable event for everyone to attend. Children dreamed of running away to become a circus performer. And North Platte in 1940 was no exception.

Here is what the North Platte Daily Bulletin article dated (7/25/1940) had to say when the circus came to town:

Fond memories of youth will tug at the hearts of many North Platte folk Friday – for it will be circus day. The huge Cole Brothers Circus, one of the two largest in America will pitch its “big-top” at Seventh and Willow Streets at an early hour Friday morning.

It’s seldom that the word “circus” does not bring retrospect to those who are now middle-aged and to those in the older stages of life. What a thrill it gave you when the youngsters yelled, “the circle is in town!”

Popcorn and peanuts – munching gobs of taffy – watching the breath-taking displays – the laughable antics of the clowns and the trumpeting of elephants – the somersaulting equestrians – and the blaring of the circus band – who can escape its lure?

To the youth of North Platte, it will be another thrill –the first in three years and which will be remembered indefinitely. And, –to the grownups, it will be retrospect. Besides the gigantic big-top, there will be scores of others hoisted when the big show arrives. There will be the big double-sided show top and the dining department tent, where more than 2,000 square meals are served each day. Then, there will be he blacksmith top, the traveling hospital tents, the commissary tents, and the six long draft horse tents. And too, the concert band headquarters tent and the elephant trainer’s top, and the dozen of more private dressing tents for the stars and featured performers, not forgetting the tents that house the mechanical departments and those used by the circus business staff. A total of 26 tents of varying sizes will be hoisted early tomorrow for the one day stay.

Two performances will be given. The first at 2 p.m. and the last one at 8 p.m. The gates will open one hour earlier in each instance allowing leisurely inspection of the huge menagerie before the performances begin.

Ken Maynard, the world famous Western motion picture star heads the list of features, from among the more than 250 men and women stars and performers assembled from all parts of the world for this year’s mighty program.

The photograph of the tent with elephant in front of it was actually taken at West 7th and Jeffers Streets at the U.P. Show Grounds in North Platte around July 25, 1940.

This researcher was unfamiliar with the name “Ken Maynard” and did a little research on him. <see photograph> Ken Maynard (July 21, 1895-March 23, 1973) was an American actor and producer. He was mostly active from the 1920s to the 1940s and considered one of the biggest Western stars in Hollywood. He first appeared in silent motion pictures as a stuntman or supporting actor. In 1924, he began working in western features, where his horsemanship and rugged good looks made him a cowboy star. Maynard made a successful transition to talking pictures, but eventually turned his back on the movies and started making appearances at state fairs and rodeos. He owned his own small circus operation featuring rodeo riders, and eventually became a part of the Cole Bros Circus.

The roots of the Cole Bros Show went back to the early 1800’s. It all began with a contortionist named William H. Cole and his wife, the tightrope walker and equestrienne Mary Ann Cooke. Their son, William Washington Cole (1847-1915), founded W.W. Cole’s New Colossal Shows in 1884. In 1906, the brand was purchased by a Canadian entrepreneur and altered to “Cole Brothers Circus.” During the teens and nineteen-twenties, Cole Brothers kept absorbing smaller circuses and growing their own circus company. By the mid-1930’s, it took 35 train cars to move the circus. By the time it came to North Platte—the circus was in its finest time. By 2016, Cole Bros Circus was essentially defunct, largely in response to animal rights activists advocating against the use of animals for live performances.

Thank you for looking back at our North Platte History today on an event that brought smiles to thousands, and is now a thing of the past. See you next week for another look at our North Platte history.