Clowns, roller skates, Bigfoot, and a M*A*S*H display: From the strange to the historical, Nebraska’s museums offer a different look at Americana. From the hometown of Johnny Carson to America’s pastime of baseball, here’s a look at 11 incredibly special museums across the Cornhusker State.
1. Bone Creek Museum Of Agrarian Art, David City
Passing through Nebraska’s rural highways, you see cornfields, soybean fields, grazing cattle, and maybe even a few hog pens. But to some artists, they see the elegance of Nebraska’s agricultural story. You’ll find paintings of giant cornstalks and of farmers on vintage tractors in farm houses around the state. David City embraces rural beauty at the Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art. Opened in 2007, Bone Creek is the only museum in the United States focused on agriculture art. Located in the hometown of noted artist Dale Nichols, who died in 1995 and is considered one of the most important regional artists of his time, the museum showcases his collection of landscape paintings, as well as other pieces of his work. Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art also features artwork of contemporary agrarian artists.
Pro Tip: For a truly Nebraska experience, following your visit to Bone Creek, order lunch or dinner at the indoor drive-thru at Runza, home of Nebraska’s handmade bierock sandwiches.
2. Clayton Museum Of Ancient History, York
Explore the life of an ancient Roman soldier and the Fall of Rome at the Clayton Museum of Ancient History at York College. The museum, which is home to a collection of artifacts that its donor believed proves the Bible to be an accurate source of history, includes Roman soldiers’ helmets, tokens, and weapons dating back to about 750 BC. While most of the museum focuses on Rome and its soldiers, other exhibits explore the history of religion and the Bible. An exhibit offers a look at a replica of the Western Wall, the lone remaining piece of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which was destroyed by Romans. Visitors are encouraged to leave a written prayer in the wall, as people do at the original in Israel. Visitors can also find exhibits focusing on early editions of the Bible, including a King James version from 1612.
3. Bigfoot Crossroads Of America Museum And Research Center, Hastings
After spotting her first Bigfoot in northeast Nebraska, Harriett McFeely, aka The Bigfoot Lady, was determined to share the existence of the ancient giant being popular to folklore in the Pacific Northwest. Some people have dedicated their lives to the search for Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti, or whatever name you choose to call it. McFeely’s belief has been supported by others who claim to have seen the behemoth creature in different parts of Nebraska. The Bigfoot Crossroads Of America Museum And Research Center showcases skulls, photos, and other evidence that supporters believe prove the existence of Bigfoot. Whether you’re a believer, skeptic, or somewhere in-between, everyone is welcome to visit the Hastings museum, whose exhibits cover two buildings and a garden. You’ll find mannequins dressed as Bigfoot in these exhibits. The museum hosts an annual Bigfoot conference that has attracted up to 700 people.
Pro Tip: Kool-Aid was invented in Nebraska. The Hastings Museum is home to a must-see exhibit that explores the sweet drink’s history, including the colorful marketing campaigns, as well as costumes worn by the Kool-Aid Man.
4. Klown Doll Museum, Plainview
With more than 7,000 clowns, the Klown Doll Museum in Plainview is home to the world’s largest collection of clown-related memorabilia. What started with a single clown doll donated to the local chamber of commerce has grown into an international attraction. The museum has received donations of individual collections featuring more than 1,100 clowns. From dolls and figurines to paintings and plates, the Klown Doll Museum showcases a collection starring Emmett Kelly. The museum also has replicas of paintings created by comedian and clown Red Skelton. The museum adopted using the K from the Klown Band, a community group that has performed around the state.
5. Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village, Minden
Travel back in time with a visit to Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village. With 28 buildings located over 20 acres, the living history museum includes a sod house, one-room schoolhouse, stockade, blacksmith shop, and military fort. In addition to the living history attraction, another 12 buildings house hundreds of exhibits, including antique cars and trucks. You can tour Nebraska’s transportation history from covered wagons to the automobile. You’ll also find airplanes, tractors, and motorcycles. The museum features an eclectic collection, such as vintage dolls and salt and pepper shakers. Pioneer Village, as it’s known locally, is also home to a replica of the office once used by Senator Carl Curtis. The Minden native served in the United States Senate for 24 years following 16 years in the House of Representatives.
6. Petrified Wood Gallery, Ogallala
Twin brothers Harvey and Howard Kenfield collected old arrowheads as children. As adults, they maintained their hobby of collecting Native American memorabilia. Eventually, the brothers turned their talents to creating art from petrified wood they found near Ogallala. They created crosses, cabins, and other Western-themed pieces. The Kenfields opened the Petrified Wood Gallery in 1980, and their art continues to attract visitors to the western Nebraska community. Today, the gallery continues to showcase their artwork, as well as featuring the works of contemporary artists.
7. International Quilt Museum, Lincoln
Did you know that quilting dates back to the 1600s? This fun fact and more can be learned during a visit to the International Quilt Museum. With exhibits from more than 60 countries, the museum — located on the east campus of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln — has a collection exceeding 6,000 quilts. While not all are on display, visitors see quilts with impressive and colorful designs, including classic Amish, abstract, and log cabin styles. The museum hosts a series of traveling exhibits during the year, such as a Ken Burns collection. The documentary producer’s collection explores quilts’ history and impact on the American story. The museum also conducts international conferences. Outside the modern-designed museum stands Reverie, a unique art piece made of white ribbon-like material resembling a quilt blowing in the wind.
8. Heartland Museum Of Military Vehicles, Lexington
M*A*S*H television series fans will love popping in at the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles. Located off of Interstate 80 in Lexington, the museum has a tribute with replicas of the M*A*S*H 4077th, with the doctors’ tent — the Swamp — including the still used to create their moonshine martinis. You’ll find a surgery tent, ambulance, and, of course, Radar’s teddy bear. Since it’s a military museum, you’ll want to check out about 100 military vehicles, ranging from World War II through the Middle East conflicts. Among the vehicles are tanks, jeeps, and trucks, as well as two German vehicles used during desert warfare during World War II.
9. Museum Of Nebraska Major League Baseball, St. Paul
Calling St. Paul home during the offseason and following his Hall-of-Fame baseball career, Grover Cleveland Alexander retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons with 373 wins, and remains tied for the most victories in the National League. The pitcher also won a World Series title with the St. Louis Cardinals. Alexander was the inspiration for creating the Museum of Nebraska Major League Baseball. The museum honors the state’s seven players named to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, with displays featuring items such as gloves, cleats, and caps. It also includes exhibits on Nebraskans who have enjoyed solid careers in Major League Baseball, including Alex Gordon and Joba Chamberlain. A third room features displays recognizing each player with Nebraska connections who has appeared in a major league game.
10. National Museum Of Roller Skating, Lincoln
From an inline skate dating back to the 1700s through modern hockey and figure skating, roller skating is celebrated at the National Museum of Roller Skating in Lincoln. Located inside the headquarters for USA Roller Sports, the museum features exhibits on the history of roller skates, including the invention of four-wheeled skates in the 1800s. The museum also includes unique displays, such as a pair of cowboy boots on skates. Roller sports have grown over the years, and include soccer, basketball, and hockey. You’ll find an outfit worn by Tara Lipinski when she competed as a roller skate dancer before winning a gold medal in women’s ice figure skating at the 1988 Nagano Winter Olympics.
Pro Tip: The museum, with free admission, is open Monday-Friday.
11. Elkhorn Valley Museum, Norfolk
Heeere’s Johnny! Or at least an exhibit of the personal collection donated to the Elkhorn Valley Museum by Johnny Carson, the Emmy-winning host of The Tonight Show. Born in Corning, Iowa, Carson considered Norfolk his hometown, having lived there during most of his childhood through his college years at the University of Nebraska. The Johnny Carson Gallery includes his television show set, complete with the multi-colored curtains, Emmy trophies, photos, and more. Norfolk was also the hometown for several celebrities and public figures who are recognized at the museum, including the Hall brothers, who created Hallmark cards, Thurl Ravenscroft, who sang You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch and was the voice of Tony the Tiger for Frosted Flakes commercials, Rosie O’Neill, who created the Kewpie Doll, and Orville Carlisle, who invented the model rocket.