Response to Omaha–Kipling, Twain, Harte, Sandburg

The following are from Omaha: a Guide to the City and Environs, written and Compiled by The Federal Writers’ Project, Works Progress Administration, State of Nebraska, in 1935. It was part of the American Guide Series.

Rudyard Kipling (1889)

“[In Omaha, Kipling] was shocked at the tricks of the embalming trade, the caskets with plate-glass windows, and the burial garments exhibited to him by the obliging undertaker. ‘Bury me,’ he explained, ‘cased in canvas like a fishing-rod, in the deep sea; burn me on a back-water of the Highli with damp wood and no oil; pin me under a Pullman car and let the lighted stove do its worst; sizzle me with a fallen electric wire or whelm me in the sludge of a broken river dam; but may I never go down to the Pit grinning out of a plate-glass window, in a backless dress-coat, and the front half of a black stuff dressing-gown; not though I were ‘held’ against the ravage of the grave for ever and ever. Amen!'”

Mark Twain

“In 1902 the Omaha Public Library banned Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn from the juvenile department in the library on the grounds that the book was bad for the impressionable minds of small boys. […] In response to a telegram sent by the Omaha World-Herald regarding the ban, Mark Twain wrote, “I am tearfully afraid this noise is doing much harm. It has started a number of hitherto spotless people to reading Huck Finn, out of a natural human curiosity to learn what this is all about—people who had not heard of him before; people whose morals will go to wreck and ruin now. The publishers are glad but it makes me want to borrow a handkerchief and cry. I should be sorry to think it was the publishers themselves that got up this entire little flutter to enable them to unload a book that was taking too much room in their cellars, but you never can tell what a publisher will do. I have been one myself.”

Bret Harte (1874, to his wife)

“As I rode into Omaha this morning the streets were dumb with snow, and winter, savage and pale, looked into the windows of the cars. […] Imagine a hotel as large and finely appointed as the Occidental in San Francisco, and think of there being such a one in Omaha. Yet here I am—in a very pretty furnished parlor of the ‘Grand Central’ on the very outpost of the West, the cars of the Union Pacific starting on their long overland trip but a few blocks away. […] Verily the West is wonderful.”

Sandburg worked briefly as a coal heaver in Omaha.

Carl Sandburg

Omaha (1920)

Red barns and red heiffers spot the green
grass circles around Omaha–the farmers
haul tanks of cream and wagon-loads of
cheese.

Shale hogbacks across the river at Council
Bluffs–and shanties hang by an eyelash to
the hill slants back around Omaha.

A span of steel ties up the kin of Iowa and
Nebraska across the yellow, big-hoofed Missouri
River.

Omaha, the roughneck, feeds armies,
Eats and swears from a dirty face.
Omaha works to get the world a breakfast.

Sunset from Omaha Hotel Window (1918)

Into the blue river hills
The red sun runners go
And the long sand changes
And to-day is a goner
And to-day is not worth haggling over.

Here in Omaha
The gloaming is bitter
As in Chicago
Or Kenosha.

The long sand changes.
To-day is a goner.
Time knocks in another brass nail.
Another yellow plunger shoots the dark.

Constellations
Wheeling over Omaha
As in Chicago
Or Kenosha.

The long sand is gone
and all the talk is stars.
They circle in a dome over Nebraska.

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