Walking into the cavernous room, my shoes echoed off every surface…
Click, click, click.
I craned my neck, trying to take in all the grandeur of the once proud train station. It seemed so fitting for a museum that I could not imagine it as a part of everyday life. The statues did not help, although they were meant to. They felt like shadows. As if I was in a sci-fi movie where two different time periods were overlapping on the same plain. They were going about their lives in the 20th century while I was living mine in the 21st. And yet, I could see, even hear them. Walking up to them, they struck up a conversation, giving me a glimpse of what everyday life meant to them.
An old fashioned soda fountain further added to the ambiance. Strolling through the history of cameras, I found myself looking out over the rail yard as I descended the steps into the basement of the museum. Leaning slightly over the railing, I took in one of the museums’s largest and most famous set pieces: a Union Pacific train, featuring an engine, passenger cars, a dining car, and more. Walking through the dining car, I could not help but smile as I imagined myself solving the murder on the Orient Express.
The view out the window was of an old country store, which led into the history of Omaha and western settlement. From an earth lodge to decadent chandeliers to coins and guns, every artifact told a piece of the story. The latest exhibit even connects the past to the present with an exhibit on the recently christened U.S.S. Omaha, an Independence-class littoral combat ship, currently in use by the United States Navy and named after Omaha, Nebraska.
I knew I was a few weeks early, the hundred-foot Christmas tree would not dominate the Great Hall just yet, but I did not want to miss the limited engagement exploring how Rock n’ Roll has influenced politics over the years.
Chords echoed down the hall as Adele belted on one screen and Freddie Mercury called to the crowd on another. From a pair of Stevie Wonder’s glasses to a special edition Fender guitar made in memory of the firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11, the exhibit touched on Rock n’ Roll’s influence throughout the decades.
Pushing boundaries and reshaping society’s views, Rock n’ Roll often faced adversity and many artists were even forced to defend their songs in court as society pushed back, mainly through censorship. Living in 2019, it was hard for me to imagine an artist like John Denver needing to defend his music in court. But change can be difficult to accept and the same freedoms that have brought so many people to America’s shores, have also torn many apart. Bono described music as “…either maintaining the status quo or challenging it.”
Unfortunately, that very polar message is what most people hear and remember from many music movements. We so often think of these legendary artists as figures on a stage, photos on album covers, or models wearing a jacket for one night before being locked in a glass case for the rest of time.
When, in fact, they are people. People like you or me who wholeheartedly believe in a better tomorrow. People whose dreams and hopes for the future go on a napkin at a restaurant and later set to music, rather than a tweet. People whose intense passion leads them to take action. They are just like your friend who ran for class president or your neighbor who started a recycle campaign.
And while at first, this realization may seem like a disappointment, it is actually a comfort. A quiet assurance that there are no gods and mortals. An assurance that we are not so different after all and nothing is truly unattainable.