Find in Trench Dusts Off Exposition Questions


Find in Trench Dusts Off Exposition Questions

By Michael Kelly World-Herald Staff Writer

A couple of weeks ago, a construction foreman digging a sewer trench in Kountze Park made an interesting find—possibly, some remains from the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition.

The State Historical Society sent an archeologist and an architect to Omaha. Historic preservationists became interested.

The exposition—a world's fair that attracted 2.6 million persons to Omaha—had been on the site.

Questions arose: Is there more underground? Were the buildings all buried there? Is it worth further digging?

Information obtained since then appears to cast doubt on the idea that diggers would find a great deal.

Moved to Chicago

Leonard Owen and Gene Mueller, Omahans who are Trans-Mississippi buffs, say most of the demolished material was carted off to Chicago.

A Sept. 15, 1899 article in the Chicago Daily News re-ported that the Chicago House Wrecking Co. planned to use 2,000 freight cars to carry the salvaged material.

Owen, a maintenance electrician for the Omaha School District, and Mueller, an order-filler for McKesson Drug Co., disagreed on what the construction foreman found two weeks ago in the park.

"My opinion is that none of the stuff from the expo itself was used as land fill," Owen said.

The exposition had a lagoon where the trench was being dug, and Owen said a lagoon remained in the park at least into the 1920s.

Mueller, however, said the pieces found are of plaster and are "undoubtedly from the exposition."

"Filling the lagoon was the last phase of the exposition demolition and much of the unsalvageable plaster material probably ended up as part of the fill," Mueller said.

The park lagoon and the exposition lagoon might not

World-Herald/Richard Janda Structure at Storz mansion...From 1898 exposition?
have covered the same area.

Among the pieces found at Kountze Park were the top of an Ionic column. Mueller said it matches the tops of columns seen in old photographs.

Owen and Mueller agree that the buildings were temporary and had plaster exteriors. They weren't substantial structures, although they look magnificent in old photographs.

State and city officials say no plans are being made for an immediate dig at the park. David Murphy, historical society architect who visited the site, said more research is needed.

The exposition covered 184 acres. The main tract was bounded by 16th, 24th and Binney Streets, and Ames Avenue.

The question remains: What happened to the hundreds of statues and other salvaged material?

No Chicago Wrecking Co. is listed in the Chicago telephone directory today. Murphy and others say they don't know where the statues or other items ended up.

Owen said an old fountain from the exposition remains in the courtyard of the Terrace Garden Apartments, 2024 N. 16th St., near the eastern edge of the exposition. Today, the apartments are owned by Omaha landlord Otis Glebe.

They were built by Robert Strehlow, who had been active in the exposition.

Apparently, the only remaining building that may have been from the exposition is in the yard of the old Storz mansion, 3708 Farnam St.

Similar to Gazebo

It is an eight-sided wooden structure with screens, and looks like a gazebo. It is 10 feet in diameter and about l0 feet high.

Owen and Mueller said they have doubts it is from the Trans-Mississippi. "I've looked at hundreds of photographs of the exposition," Mueller said, "and I've never seen it in any of them."

Arthur Storz Jr., who lives at the mansion, said his late father often mentioned that the structure was from theexposition. It was a "bierstube," Storz Jr. said, and was part of the display of the Omaha Brewing Association, predecessor of Storz Brewing Co.

The brewery was founded by his grandfather, Gottlieb Storz.

Robert Storz, uncle of Arthur Jr., said through a spokesman that he is "pretty certain" the structure is from theTrans-Mississippi.