Union Pacific Depot Fire of 1915

Written By: nppladmin - Jan• 13•22
Originally published on Facebook November 19, 2021.

Today’s Facebook Friday North Platte history looks at the Union Pacific Depot fire of 1915, which occurred 106 years ago.

The North Platte Semi Weekly Tribune announced that the fire occurred Wednesday, November 17, 1915, and the 46 year old depot, located at Front and Dewey Streets, that served as both a hotel and railroad depot had burned to the ground. It was considered one of the biggest fires in North Platte in over twenty years. You can see in the postcards that the original depot was an all-wood structure.

The paper reported that during the depot’s lifetime, it had caught on fire several times, due to sparks from locomotives. But every time a fire started, alert workers were there to extinguish the flames. The fire that finally took down the Depot was believed to of started from cinder from the stack of a locomotive that fell onto the building around 3:30 pm that afternoon. The live cinder that started the fire was lodged in a crevice between the platform and the siding near the center of the north side of the west wing of the building. The cinder was fanned by a strong wind that ignited the siding. It was then discovered by manager John McDonald after burning a one-foot hole. After using water to extinguish the fire the men went on their way, not realizing that embers had already crept up between the walls and into the attic of the depot. The fire was still smoldering.

An hour later smoke was seen rolling out from under the eaves, and the fire department was called. Once the firemen got there and started putting water on the building the fire broke through the roof and the strong winds caused it to collapse. By eight o’clock, nothing was left standing, except two chimneys. The depot and hotel were completely demolished.

During the fire, people ran into the burning building, trying to save whatever they could. Some of the items saved were: property from the ticket office and baggage room; valuables in the hotel office; and silverware, linen and furnishings from the dining room. When the fire started several railroad workers were asleep in their hotel rooms and all successfully escaped with their belongings. Buildings in the vicinity were carefully watched as the wind was from the northwest blowing cinders/embers across the street towards those buildings.

The Depot that burned down in 1915, was built in 1869 and completed shortly before Christmas that year. That depot was actually the SECOND depot, replacing the first depot which burned down on July 4, 1869.

On April 16, 1912 a new proposal was brought to the attention of North Platte Citizens. The President of the railroad proposed $336,000 for a new round house, coal shuts and other terminal improvements. In that proposal, $85,000 would go for a new depot. He said the citizens of North Platte had to decide what they wanted most. The new Depot or all of the other railroad improvements as he didn’t believe the directors of the railroad would approve the funding for all of his proposal.

On January 29, 1914, the North Platte Telegraph wrote that Senator Hoagland from North Platte had filed a petition before the state railroad commission for the construction of a new depot at North Platte. He demanded an answer by February 9, 1914. Hoaglund stated in his petition that the amount of business that is done in North Platte, by the railroad, required a bigger depot. The old depot was built when North Platte was just a frontier town; with trade and traffic just a fraction as it had grown to be by 1914. He stated that the railroad had built many new shops, switched facilities to handle the increasing number of trains coming through, but has neglected to spend their money on the depot to handle the public usage. North Platte was considered a principal station between Council Bluffs, Iowa and Ogden, Utah. Not only had the amount of baggage that comes through outgrown the size of the baggage room, the waiting room in the depot was like sitting in a “pig-pen.” The toilet facilities were a disgrace. There were no ladies facilities and the waiting room was too small for the amount of passengers arriving each day.

On February 5, 1914, the City Council announced that the petition was to be withdrawn. They stated that the city had recommended that the railroad build a new roundhouse and not a new depot. They trusted that the railroad would in turn supply the city with a new depot when the railroad saw fit.

A year later, the problem was taken care of with the burning of the depot. A new brick structure was constructed as the North Platte Depot and dedicated in March of 1918. It is this is the depot that many of our readers remember . The location of this depot was at 300 East Front Street. The cost to build the new structure in 1917 was $160,000.
If you want to learn more about the North Platte Canteen, please consider reading Bob Greene’s book “Once Upon a town” and James Reisdorff’s book “The North Platte Canteen. In addition, the Lincoln County Museum also has a wonderful Canteen exhibit where you can learn more about the Union Pacific Depot and the History of the North Platte Canteen.

Copies of either book may be borrowed from the North Platte Public Library or purchased from A to Z books or the Lincoln County Historical Museum.

Thank you for reading and we will see you next week for more North Platte History!

Memorial Park

Written By: nppladmin - Jan• 13•22
Originally published to Facebook on November 12, 2021.

Today we pay homage to a notable park in North Platte that has been honoring local soldiers for more than a century. Through the years our community has come together to make this park what it is today.

It wasn’t always called Memorial Park and the most prominent name before 1919 was East End Park. In 1909, a fellow by the name of Wm. E. Shuman (1882-1965) proposed that a tract of 11 acres he possessed, be sold to the City of North Platte for $2,000, payable over 2 years. On July 9, 1909 the North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune reported that the proposition was accepted. The deed stipulated that the tract of land had to be used for park purposes for at least the next ten years.

On October 7, 1919, ten years after purchasing the land, Ordinance No. 109 officially provided the name of “Memorial Park” in memory of the boys from North Platte and Lincoln County who gave their lives in the war (World War I). The land described in the ordinance matches the land purchased from Shuman. The name change from East End Park to Memorial Park was requested by the Twentieth Century Club.

About a month later on November 13, 1919 the North Platte Telegraph reported that W. E. Shuman is suing the City, claiming the East End Park was never used as a park and that he will give back the $2,000 paid to him, if the City returned the land deed to him. This karma would not work in his favor when he ran for mayor in 1921 and an article ran on March 16, 1921 that stated if he was nominated as mayor, he would withdraw the park suit against the City. Before the election counts were finalized, Shuman leveled a libel suit against the North Platte Evening Telegraph’s editor, A. P. Kelly. Soon after losing (871 to 1,507) the mayoral race to E. H. Evans, Shuman announces candidacy for Nebraska 6th District Congressman, he did not win that seat either. Shuman was an attorney in town for over 50 years.

A year after Memorial Park was named, in November of 1920, the American War Mothers group in North Platte decided to build a Memorial Fountain to commemorate the sacrifices made during the Great War. They wanted the fountain to be located in Memorial Park along the Lincoln Highway. Several small fundraisers over a few years helped fund the fountain which was dedicated on May 30, 1924. In December 1920, just a short month after deciding to build a fountain, there appeared an article where youth were cutting down the small trees in the park to make bows for “fighting Indians”. And the War Mothers quickly decided to plant memorial trees to help recover the lost trees. In July 1926, 43 bronze markers were installed on 43 white elm trees in Memorial Park. The markers were provided by the North Platte Women’s Club to honor the 43 Lincoln County boys who gave the ultimate sacrifice in World War I.

In July 1923, a log cabin that had been located on South Dewey was moved to Memorial Park after being purchased by the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) to be used for a museum. It sat there seeing up to 5,000 visitors per year until 1995 when it was relocated to the Lincoln County Historical Museum. In the same month, sparked by the D.A.R. cabin plans, Mr. Frank Cryderman expressed concern for an old canon that used to be fired by soldiers in town at sunrise the morning of each July 4th. He was informed at a Rotary meeting that the D.A.R. has made plans and will relocate the canon to their museum soon. Many more pioneer relics were and continue to be preserved and displayed in the D.A.R. cabin.

The American Legion erected a steel flag pole in Memorial Park on February 25, 1924. The flag was donated by the American Legion Auxiliary.

The sight must have been quite impressive in February 1956. The UP Steam Locomotive 480, a 97 ton locomotive that was in service for over 50 years, was pulled by a D-9 caterpillar. Track was laid on Bryan Street, leading it to its final and current resting place, facing West like the Union Pacific, in Memorial Park. Locomotive 480 was built in 1903 and is of the “Consolidated Type”. Not only is it a standing sentinel to our community’s heritage, but was also intended to be a place for kids to explore up close, a locomotive of by-gone years.

The most recent improvement to Memorial Park, the Betty Keenan Memorial Splash Pad, was dedicated on May 31, 2012. Every hot summer day sees children playing and staying cool on the refreshing splash pad.

The next time you drive by Memorial Park, take notice of how our community has pulled together through various volunteer organizations and generous donors to honor area soldiers who perished in World War I, and provided a park that will hopefully be enjoyed by our community for at least another century.

North Platte Public Library says “Thank You!” to all veterans for your service and sacrifice.

Emil Merscheid – North Platte Floral

Written By: nppladmin - Jan• 13•22
Originally published on Facebook November 5, 2021.

Welcome back to our Friday edition of Facebook Friday North Platte History. Today we are going to feature: Emil Merscheid, owner of North Platte Floral.

Emil Merscheid was born in Winkel am Rhein, Germany on November 29, 1886 to Friedrich Merscheid, a fruit farmer, and Barbara (Lorenz). He was the eldest child of six children, and the only boy. Emil attended Elementary School until the age of fourteen, completing the eighth grade. He then stayed at home throughout his teenage years and helped the family in the vineyards they owned.

At the age of eighteen he was taken to the German Army Service for two years. After that he went into the agriculture business, as he like to work among plants and flowers. He went to the city of Wiesbaden, Germany and attended one of the foremost horticultural schools on the Rhine River. Emil specialized in hybridizing the cyclamen blossoms and produced many different variations.

Emil was also a great reader of books. He was fascinated by the history of the United States and read all the books he could on the Wild West; and books about Buffalo Bill were his favorites.

In 1913, he bought a ticket to America. He arrived in Ellis Island and after getting out of quarantine he made his first purchase in America. He bought a New York newspaper. Looking for employment he searched the “want ads”. He found a wanted advertisement for a grower in a greenhouse, owned by the Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He called Mr. and Mrs. Pabst, finding out they both were German also. They hired him and he bought a ticket to Milwaukee. Once he got to Milwaukee he discovered the Pabst’s also didn’t speak fluent English either; and conversing in German with them was much easier.

The Pabst greenhouse wasn’t very large and they only grew plants and flowers for their own use. Every morning, Mrs. Pabst would tell Emil just what flowers and colors she wanted to use through the home in decorations and for entertainment. This job gave Emil much pleasure, as well as experience in arranging bouquets and center pieces.

After one year of working for them, Emil decided move further west. He bought a Florist Review magazine and saw an advertisement for a grower in North Platte, Nebraska, for the Charles Pass Greenhouse. With his love for anything Buffalo Bill, Emil knew that he needed to go to North Platte. So, he corresponded with Mr. Pass, and he moved to North Platte in 1915. Emil Merscheid worked at the Pass Greenhouse from 1915 to 1917.

Emil made many friends while working for Charlie Pass. One friend was Henry Waltemath, who owned a local saloon. Every evening, after dinner, he would stop in for a beer and a chat with Mr. Waltemath. Both being German, they enjoyed the visits immensely. After having one beer, Emil would leave the saloon and stroll to the North Platte Public Library (Carnegie library, now the North Platte Area Children’s Museum) to read and study English.

Emil was also a friend of Ray Langford, president of the First National Bank, where Emil had put his money into a savings account for future traveling expenses. Emil confided in Langford about his plans to move west as soon as he had enough money.

In January of 1917, Emil was in Waltemath’s saloon and told him about his plans to leave and go west. Waltemath told him that North Platte needed another greenhouse and he would help Emil build one if he wanted to. Emil then went to Langford and found out that Langford was also supportive of him staying and opening his own greenhouse business. So, then, Emil needed to find a lot suitable for a greenhouse. After scouting around North Platte, he found a block for sale on West 12th Street (Rodeo Road), right across the street from the cemetery for $500. <See the business greenhouse photograph and advertisement for North Platte Floral-May 11, 1917>

The North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune announced on February 6, 1917 that Merscheid had bought block 1 of the Bellevue Addition, opposite the cemetery entrance and would engage in truck gardening, growing flowers and shrubs and bedding plants of all kinds and also handle nursery stock, and perennial plants. He would also take orders in advance for cut flowers for Easter and Memorial Day.

Merscheid spent many days cleaning up the lot and removing trash. After that was done and the frost was out of the ground he contacted Mr. Waltemath and ordered ten hot-bed frames with glass covers. By March of 1917 he was ready to start his first garden vegetable plants.

The first summer he planted many flower seeds and sold a lot of flowers. He made enough money that first summer to start looking for a greenhouse to buy. A greenhouse was necessary to winter-over his plants and start seeds. Emil found one he liked, and it was a bargain at $3,000. It measured 30 feet by 100 feet and included a boiler. He told Waltemath to order it and by the end of October he had it up and in good working condition. He slept in the boiler room, keeping it fired up and going to keep his plants alive. That also saved him the cost of lodging.

Living across the road from the cemetery, he started noticing the lack of care for the cemetery. He met with the Chamber of Commerce to discuss how the cemetery should be a place of beauty and not one of disgrace. He partnered up with William Maloney; and the city helped with getting trees and shrubs planted. Maloney was also in favor of having city water piped in, so that trees and shrubs could be watered. Not only did Emil help improve the cemetery, but he also donated much of his money, his labors, and plants to the cause.

Before long his business grew and he needed more greenhouse space. Emil added onto the south of his big greenhouse that measured ten by 100 feet. That is where he started growing chrysanthemums and carnations and his beloved cyclamen plants.

In 1919 Emil met Helen Carolyn Scharmann and they were engaged in 1920. In September of 1920 Emil started building a new house. It was finished in June of 1921. Emil and Helen were married in the First Evangelical Lutheran Church on June 22, 1921. After seven years of marriage and no children, they decided to adopt a baby. A family doctor recommended a six-day old baby girl that needed parents. They adopted the baby, named her Eva June Merscheid, and she brought much happiness to the couple.

As time went on, the business grew, more greenhouses were needed. So Emil build two more greenhouses, each measuring ten feet wide by one hundred feet long.

In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt wanted a “Shelter Belt” planted, reaching through the middle states from Texas to Canada. Merscheid’s reputation of growing trees from seed was well known and they contacted him to see if he was interested. He was. The government gave him a contract for 13 acres to grow the seedlings on. As Emil did not have that much land left at his nursery business, so, he rented thirteen acres from his father in law’s farm, eight miles west of North Platte. The soil at the farm was tested and proved to be good, so the seedlings were planted and they grew them by the thousands that summer.

So distinguished was his work as florist and horticulturist that he was elected to prominent offices in professional groups, including: the Society of American Florists, the Mountain and Plains States Florists Society, the American Association of Nurserymen, and the Florist Telegraph Delivery Association. His particular contribution to his profession was his origination of the Weeping Chinese Elm, gaining for him nationwide recognition.

A year later in 1935 he got the contract for seeding the slope on the reservoir that was being built south of Sutherland. During the seeding of the slope he contracted double pneumonia and died two weeks after starting the planting. Emil died on September 3, 1935, and was buried in the North Platte cemetery on October 3, 1935, with full Masonic honors. It was called one of the biggest funerals ever held in North Platte, as friends from all over Lincoln County came to his service. Emil Merscheid was 48 years old.

Sarah Martin and Joe Cook

Written By: nppladmin - Jan• 13•22
Originally published on Facebook October 29, 2021.

All during the month of October, North Platte History Fridays featured the people who were impacted by Annie Cook. Our last story this month will be Sarah Martin and Joe Cook. Thank you for reading our Facebook Friday History Posts. Consider borrowing the book “Evil Obsession” by Nellie Snyder Yost from the North Platte Public Library! Read on!

Sarah Martin was born on March 1885 in South Dakota. At age 15, she is listed as a student at the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Omaha Nebraska. Sadly, Sarah was orphaned before she had completed her schooling, and went into housekeeping to support herself. Researchers believe that she was a housekeeper until she became pregnant by the married man in the house in which she was working. The unknown married man sent her to a home for unwed mothers in Omaha until her son, Joe Martin, was born. Eventually, Sarah and baby Joe ended up in the North Platte probably around 1921-1922. Because Sarah could not support herself and her son, they lived in the County Poor House. At that time, the County Poor House at that time was being run by Mrs. Emma Pulver. Sarah was a good housekeeper and able to help care for some of the physically challenged Poor House inmates. Then, in 1923, Mrs. Pulver lost the County Contract to Clara Cook. And, Sarah and Joe’s lives became one of misery and torture by Annie’s hand.

Two years later, in 1925, Ada Kelly arranged to take Sarah and Joe away from Annie. You may remember that Ada Kelly was the wife of AP Kelly, North Platte Telegraph editor, who helped Mary escape the Cook Farm. Ada was a kind Christian woman who did everything she could to rehabilitate and help individuals in bad situations.

But the night before Sarah was to leave to go live at Ada Kelly’s house, Sarah Martin mysteriously died. She was forty years old. <see newspaper death announcement>. According to the book Evil Obsession, Sarah mistakenly drank carbolic acid instead of her headache medicine. It is unknown where she is buried, but researchers believe it may be in the Potter’s Field part of the North Platte Cemetery (section of unnamed and unmarked graves). There was nothing printed in the newspapers; no obituary, no coroner’s inquest, just a single sentence: “Mrs. Sarah Martin, aged forty, passed away yesterday at the County Hospital.”

Researchers believe that Sarah’s son, Joseph Martin Cook, was born July 13, 1919 in Omaha, Nebraska. Joe was five years old when his mother died. Annie Cook convinced Joe that Sarah was nothing but a poor deaf dumb woman, and definitely not his mother. Annie did her best to convince Joe that she was his mother. According to Joe’s obituary, he was born to Frank and Annie Cook.

Joe broke free of Annie’s grip, by enlisting in the Army in 1944. He was 24 years old. Of note, on his WWII draft card, he stated under “Employer’s Name: “At home with foster mother on farm, Mrs. Cook, widow. North Platte, Lincoln County Nebraska.” Annie tried her best to keep Joe working for her on the farm. But he finally made his escape, by enlisting in the US Army and serving in the military during World War II.

Much of the book Evil Obsession is based on his interviews with Nellie Snyder Yost. Below is the Joe’s accounting of Sarah’s death.

“The next morning was a Tuesday. I (Joe) went to school as usual. Mom scrubbed my face, neck and ears and combed my hair. I liked school. I’d only been going a week, but it was nice. I got to play with other kids and best of all, Annie wasn’t there whipping me. But that afternoon Clara came and took me out of school. Something was wrong. I asked Clara, but she told me I would find out when I got home. As we drove, I got more and more scared that something really bad had happened. I figured I had done something wrong and that Annie was going to whip me.

When we got there, Annie took me to our room. The blind was down and the room was dark and shadowy. Annie pulled back the sheet and my mom was laying there. Her face was white as a ghost. I was scared to cry because Annie whipped me when I cried. So I asked “What’s the matter with her?”

Annie told me she was dead and pulled the sheet back over her face. Then some men came and took her away in a long wicker basket. I watched as they drove away. I was 5 years old.”

Evil Obsession (1991) by Nellie Snyder Yost, page 105.

Joe was treated like a slave by Annie Cook. She mentally and physically abused him. The book also alludes to sexual abuse as well.

Despite their dysfunctional relationship, Joe did stay in touch with Annie as an adult. Although he didn’t like to stop by the farm to see Annie (as Annie immediately put him to work), she could manipulate him into dropping by.

Joe was a member of the Berean Fundamental Church and worked for the Union Pacific Railroad for forty years. He was a member in the Brotherhood of Locomotive and Engineers as well as the American Legion. Joe married and had several children (both biological and adopted). He died on October 21, 1991 in Kansas City, Missouri at the age of 72. Joseph Martin Cook is buried at Floral Lawns Cemetery.

See you next week for another North Platte History post!

William R. Maloney

Written By: nppladmin - Jan• 13•22
Originally published on Facebook October 22, 2021.

All during the month of October, North Platte History Fridays are going to feature the people who were impacted by Annie Cook. Today, we are looking at someone who was definitely knew and worked with Annie Cook when she needed him; and that person is: William R. Maloney, Businessman, Coroner and Undertaker in Lincoln County.

William Robert Maloney was born in Green County, Iowa, on September 18, 1882 to William and Hannah “Barrow” Maloney. The Maloney family came to North Platte Nebraska in 1898, when William was 16 years old.

Once they arrived in North Platte, William went to work at the Union Pacific Railroad as a brakeman for 2 years. In 1900, Williams entered a clerkship in the C.A. Howe furniture and hardware store. After a period of time, he got into the undertaking business (funeral home), making $28 per month. Mr. Howe was so impressed with William, that he sent him to the Hohenschuh School of Embalming in Omaha to improve his skills. William graduated in 1904 and returned to North Platte, where he had full charge of the undertaking branch of Howe’s business. In 1905, William bought one-eighth of the business, and continued buying stock from time to time, until he had the controlling interest and became the general manager of the store.

After Mr. Howe’s death in 1913, William bought the remaining shares of the stock, the business now being known as the W. R. Maloney Company. Mr. Maloney was a very well-respected member of the community and very involved in all matters of the city, county and state.

Seriously, who could manage a hardware, furniture, and undertaking business all under one roof? William Maloney could and did!

On March 16, 1910, William married Erma Vincent Dye. They had one child, Maureen Mildred. The family lived in the house located at 504 West 4th Street (formerly known as the “pink house”). <see photograph>The Maloney’s were Catholic and William belonged to the Knights of Columbus. For two years, he was the war-time district deputy for western Nebraska. He was honored by the Democratic Party as a city councilman, and for nine years, he was coroner of Lincoln County. For three years, he was president of the Nebraska Board of Embalmers in connection with his business as an undertaker.

Being very involved in community affairs meant he was also knew Annie Cook. According to the book, “Evil Obsession,” William was a regular visitor out at the County Poor Farm. Maloney took care of many of the mysterious deaths that occurred at the farm.

As mentioned last week, William Maloney surely would have seen the mark on Clara’s head where the stove handle hit her, but the death certificate listed “poisoning” as the cause of death. And his certification meant that the newspapers printed the announcement as he told it to them. In this researcher’s opinion, this one fact truly implicates Mr. Maloney in the coverup for Annie Cook. And if he covered this up, what else did he “take care of” for Annie Cook?

Mr. Maloney was also chairman of the North Platte Cemetery Association and was well-known for his style of “cutting corners” when it came to burying the poor residents of our community. In addition, Annie Cook bought a household full of furniture and goods, mainly from W R Maloney Company Store.

William R. Maloney died June 1, 1945 of a heart attack after struggling with heart health issues for about one year. He was 61 years old and retired.

Mr. Maloney was the original director, organizer and Vice President of the Platte Valley Public Power and Irrigation District. In June of 1946 a dedication ceremony was held at the lake south of North Platte in honor of William Maloney’s service. Lake Maloney was named in his honor.

Civic Leader? Businessman? Humanitarian? Undertaker? Part of the Annie Cook inner Circle? Was there an under-handed side to William R. Maloney? Researchers have their suspicions that Maloney was definitely under Annie’s influence. Although he certainly held a good standing in the community, the book Evil Obsession reported that Poor Farm inmates simply disappeared. Maloney would certainly been a key factor in helping make human remains disappear.

We may never know the truth. Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for one more Annie Cook story next Friday! And be sure to read “Evil Obsession” by Nellie Snyder Yost if you want to read more about Annie Cook.