I will be honest, it has been a rough winter, both indoors and out. I have always loved winter. A frosty-day detection, sliding around town on icy streets with a camera, notepad and a big Stanley of coffee normally brings me great delight. But after the death of my beloved cat, whom we shall call Four, during the writing of my last mystery, Mysteries of Omaha: 9301 West Dodge Road, I have found it difficult to don my trusty houndstooth deerstalker cap or even enter the ol’ detective’s office. Then there was that miserable matter of WordPress changing their format to Gutenberg Editor in early December, which caught me completely unawares. Mail has piled up everywhere (you might know this if you have written and wondered why my correspondence has fallen away) and so have the dossiers of investigations I was thick in the middle of. All now teetering in a dusty pile on the desk. The trail has gone cold, literally. I haven’t seen Mr. Cross in many months and at times I can barely conjure him.
Although Four was quickly succeeded by the quite energetic and adorable twins, Six and Seven, my fervor for architecture, hidden buildings and Strange Omaha began to show the loss of His Magic Presence. Four was the best writing partner I have ever known. Even Mr. Cassette appears to have been very nearly quilted by his own affliction–a gardener’s queer strain of cabin fever. He has given up carving a footpath to the compost pile and longingly stares out the frosted windows like a sad Liver Roan Pointer missing the hunt. I am sure many in this crowd of green-thumbed obsessives understand his buried garden lament. To make matters all the more woeful, the half cord of firewood, (or was it a quarter cord?), was depleted long ago and Mr. Cassette has been reduced to picking up bagged, filling station logs out of desperation. Please realize, I am keenly aware as I type that I have now crossed over from somewhat morosely poetic into openly whining. ahem. Mr. Cassette builds and tends a beautiful, roaring fire on these snowy weekend nights and I am grateful to him. Pots of hot tea, good books, old Bill Evans’ pieces, Glenn Miller and Lonnie Liston Smith records help. I have taken to wearing a vintage, gray Persian Lamb hat that seems to fit the general mood in these parts. Many of you feel just the same and it eases the mind, somewhat, to remember that this is a time to hibernate. And stumble through the snow, occasionally, to a good friend’s house. At least that’s how we got through the blizzards of the 1970s in Benson.
But there are really only so many ways to decorate a home with pine cones, red lanterns and glowing little lights before one loses all sense of reality. Not to worry, friends. Soon I will be Secret Agent Cassette again, slinking around an abandoned Georgian Mansion or Unknown Shingled Estate not too far away. And you will be there with me. Until then…I hope you are warm and well.
The Birthday Party
I acknowledge I have gotten this missive off on a darkened cloud course, so allow me to right the occasion with some good cheer–a celebration of sorts. Dear Detective Friends, today, March 2, 2019, My Omaha Obsession is celebrating a three-year birthday online. What started out as fairly quiet investigation into the Arms & Ammo building on 60th and Pacific Mysteries of Omaha: Arms & Ammo has grown into a fantastic mass of detectives and shared, often strange, Omaha history. And I have you to thank for that.
To all of my wonderful Omaha Enthusiasts: Finding people that understood my interest in Omaha, my wanderings, my imaginings, great buildings and detective journeys has really been the most gratifying thing. If you like to stray, then you already understood My Omaha Obsession straightaway. The fact that we have found each other—with our collective recreation invested in memories, architecture, Omaha history, fascinating people, photos of the past, ghosts, winding off-the-beaten-path brick paths and little buildings long forgotten is important. We needed to talk. For those of you who have taken the time to write me emails, sharing your family histories, photos of houses and loved ones and telling me your stories–this expression has meant the world to me. Those of you who have sent me tips, included me in your neighborhood association communication and invited me into your homes–I am so grateful. The incredible emails sent by Complete Stranger Sisters all over the country cheering me on makes my eyes water. I champion your architectural and family history investigations. A spirit of Nancy Drew curiosity and beginner’s mind seems to reverberate between all history loving female detectives. May we always search and never know. Thank you.
The Big News
The My Omaha Obsession book was completed this summer and turned in to my editor, the ever-patient Rob Taylor and the staff of University of Nebraska Press. I have been cajoling Mr. Cassette to complete my book cover design, which I have envisioned as a sort of Nancy Drew meets 1940s mystery-detective vintage paper book homage. I have been assured my investigations are being (whittled down and prettied) edited and the book will be released this coming fall of 2019. My sainted aunt, if the investigations were that tangled and complicated for my part, I cannot imagine what the editing process is like for Rob. Fingers Crossed.
Although the writing of the book consumed the majority of this last year, I was able to complete a few explorations after. Thunder! did some of those tales become Quite Obsessive. They were so much fun to investigate and surprisingly some of the most widely read articles I have written. It turns out people do take the time to settle in and pore over long-read format. Or maybe they’re just looking for vintage photos? Regardless, one of my favorite stories of all time came from this time period: The Secrets of 302 South 56th Street. As a number of you have pointed out, the study had a happy ending, which is always a surprising treat in a town that likes to tear things down. I am also personally smitten with the past inhabitants of The Ballad of Balla Machree mystery. Clearly the biggest draws of the last twelve months were the Cuming Street tale and the Mysteries of Omaha: 9301 West Dodge Road. Mid-Century Modern architecture continues to dazzle and we have all been dying to know what was going on behind the iron gate—at least that is how I rationalize these successes. The site’s most popular story of all time remains that of Bishop’s Buffet. For the Love of Bishop’s Buffet: Why, Oh Why, Did They Close? Online searches for the elusive recipe of the life-changing Chocolate Ambrosia Pie continue to send unsuspecting visitors to our door year after year.
The Big Dreams
Currently I am working to shift all of the Little Stories, originally written only for the Facebook page, over to the My Omaha Obsession website, as most of our friends are not on Facebook. I am hoping to migrate these investigations over without spamming your mailboxes too often. I plan on resuming all of the sleuthing missions I had started before this harsh winter—one is over nine years old! Of course I’ve got a gazillion little scrawled papers all about the detective office with ideas and properties I am obsessed with. I daydream of moving into video investigations as well, even if they are just shorts to bolster an article. I think it would give an entertaining visual for those of our group who are no longer living in Omaha and don’t have the option to just toodle over to the latest fixation site. Oddly we’ve got a collection of detectives who have never even been to the Midwest, let alone Omaha. Isn’t that wonderfully weird? And some say I have a compulsion. Another dream plan is to get the website mapped out through GIS. The fifth big, big dream would be to begin work on a second book. Stay tuned.
I would like to formally thank Martha Grenzeback, Lynn Sullivan, Mark Sorensen and the incredible librarians at the W. Dale Clark Library in Downtown Omaha both for their time, attention, wisdom and like-minded obsessiveness. Their collective humanitarian action in helping everyone who walks through their doors, with professionalism and compassion is inspiring. I continue to learn from you. Long Live Public Libraries!!
Stephen Sheehan, Jesse Hutmaker, Ryan Roenfeld, Jody Lovallo and The Omaha History Club FaceBook Group, Bruce Karlquist, John Jordan, Jana Faust, Lynda Clause, Zoe Drakulich, Syd Reinarz and Jim Hofmann for ongoing encouragement and continued supportive words. Thanks to all of my very best galpals and our cherished, sanity-boosting coffee dates. Your support and super-sleuther sisterhood mean everything to me. I love my dear Mothers of Miss Cassette and Fathers of Miss Cassette and our whole family.
A kind thanks to all fellow history lovers who offered opportunities by way of invitations and speaking engagements. I regret that my professional career and private life prevent me from taking part in a truly public forum. In another world, it would have been divine to have accepted these invitations, shucked this whole privacy matter and unreservedly branded myself. At some point, I may.
I would have no book or website without our forebears-the local journalists and historians of Omaha’s past, which I quote freely in my writing. I am so grateful. A toast to the incredible foresight and keen vision of the Omaha photographers, mostly deceased, who captured the breathtaking architectural images that continue to draw us in. Thanks to the Durham Museum, various county and state historical societies and UNO archives, we have these glorious photographic collections. But I shower specific attention and praise upon Bill Gonzalez, dear friend and Keeper of the Durham Museum Photo Archives—someone whom I enjoy very much. I have treasured our conversations, his wealth of knowledge, his compassion and his assurance that “What is said at the Durham stays at the Durham.”
With utmost respect and admiration to those who compiled current and historical data for the various Reconnaissance Surveys of Omaha Neighborhoods studies, particularly the Nebraska State Historical Society, Omaha City Planning Department and various architecture firms–the reports from architects at Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture stand out. Outstanding ovation to those architects and aids who wrote the numerous National Register of Historical Places registration form documents. What a city treasure.
Scott Barnes, Mary Barnes, Susanna Nunes and all Omaha staff at the Register of Deeds Office for tolerating my pesty, inquisitive ways. They have been more than generous with their time and have a collective treasure trove of information. Taylor Korensky and the Appsky team for helping to design and maintain my website. They can be found at http://appsky.io.
Kristine Gerber, previously of Restoration Exchange Omaha for her incredible books (a true gift to Omaha), knowledge and generosity. Ron Hunter for his great photographs, for sharing both his insight and the historic Sun Newspaper with me during the writing of my book. Thank you Michael Leahy for legal counsel and fun Omaha lore. Michelle Gullett, intellectual property manager at the Omaha World Herald, for help with photo permission for the book and the blog in the last year. Much appreciated.
Amy C. Schindler, Director of Archives & Special Collections at University of Nebraska at Omaha for her time and zest in helping me with my newest diversions. Gail Knapp and Mike Schonlau of the Omaha City Planning GIS department. Martha Miller of the Nebraska State Historical Society for her patience and help. Matt Piersol and all of the Nebraska State Historical Society team for continued contributions. Joseph A. Knapp with Historic Preservation at the City of Omaha Planning Department for spending time to help me dig and dig further into my passion. Lynn Meyer, my personal Omaha photographer obsession, now retired Omaha planner, photographer and preservation advocate. Your photos inspire!
This has been a great year and I have treasured all that you have shared with me. I shall never forget our collaborative mysteries. Thank You, Detectives. Miss Cassette
I welcome your feedback and comments. Let us hear from you. Please share your additional clues to the story in the “Comments,” as we know more together. Everyone would love to read what you have to say and it makes the sharing of Omaha history more fun. You can use an anonymous smokescreen name if need be. We want to hear from you.
You can keep up with my latest investigations by joining my email group. Click on “Contact” then look for “Sign me up for the Newsletter!” Enter your email address. You will get sent email updates every time I have written a new article. Also feel free to join My Omaha Obsession on Facebook. Thank you, Omaha friends. Miss Cassette
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