Romance of Omaha, Chapter XXVII
All through the years from the beginning of the frontier hamlet on the western banks of the Missouri river, Omaha has been advancing steadily and rapidly in a material way, yet the cultural side of life has not been neglected.
The earliest settlers in Omaha brought with them from their eastern and southern homes a taste for music, art and the drama they did not lose in the new land.
At first the people of Omaha were thrown almost entirely on their own resources. Lack of transportation facilities prevented the western towns from getting entertainment from the outside. That lack, however, did not deprive the pioneer men and women of cultural pleasure.
Among the newcomers were men and women of unusual attainments, drawn to the frontier by the desire for greater freedom and the prospects of building new homes in the west.
Only Local Talent
During the first few years of the city's life musical entertainments, concerts, lectures and even plays were presented by the talented citizens of the new town. If accounts of those early events are to be depended upon, local talent of those days was the equal of all but the very best of professional entertainers and musicians.
The ability to provide entertainment, amusement and instruction by the men and women of Omaha has not been lost in the years that are past. One need only think of the Omaha Symphony orchestra, the Community Playhouse and the scores of talented musicians and local authorities on many subjects to realize that if necessary Omaha could today, as it did 70 years ago, provide entertainment of distinction without the aid of outside talent.
However, as the years passed and Omaha was connected more closely with the east and south, an era of brilliant entertainment was ushered in.
Stars of Theater
The completion of the Union Pacific railroad made it possible and profitable for the great and near-great in the world of music, drama and art to visit Omaha on their way to the east or the west.
Omaha became almost over night one of the cultural centers of the country. A list of theatrical stars appearing in one year along in the 70s reads like a "Who's Who" of the theater. Modjeska, Booth, Mansfield and Bernhardt were the "headliners" of that year. Patti was brought here at least twice and each time sang to packed houses. Through the years almost every musician of renown has appeared in Omaha.
The beginning of "art" in Omaha, so far as available records run, was the formation of what was called a "sketch" class in 1877 by a Mrs. C.F. Catlin. She had as pupils the leading women of Omaha. The men did not seem to take to the idea.
First Art Exhibits
The first big art exhibit was held by the women of Trinity cathedral in 1879. More than 1,000 exhibits were on display of which nearly 300 were paintings.
The Social Art club flourished in the early 80s and brought Oscar Wilde, then at the height of his fame, to Omaha for a lecture. Omaha's largest organization devoted to art was the Western Art association formed in 1888, with the late George W. Lininger as president. At one time it had 1,000 members and held several art exhibits. At one exhibition held in 1890 almost 500 exhibits were made, including paintings valued at from $1,000 to $50,000.
Women Are Leaders
Although in those earlier years the men of Omaha seemed to take more interest in art and music and lectures than the men of today it is to the women of Omaha that the credit must go for keeping alive the cultural life of the city.
The Omaha woman's club, the Society of Fine Arts, the Drama league, the Tuesday Musical society, the Friends of Music, the women's division of the Chamber of Commerce, the City Concert club, and the many music, art and lecture organizations of the city from the very beginning have been kept alive and made successful largely through the untiring work of women.
It is a woman, Mrs. George A. Joslyn, who is giving Omaha, a magnificent art center, a memorial to her husband.
Through the more than 35 years of its existence the Omaha Woman's club has been active in all things that have tended to make Omaha a better city in which to live. It has encouraged all the arts. The Tuesday Musical club for 37 years has been bringing great musicians to Omaha. The drama league, undismayed by the virtual abandonment of Omaha by theatrical companies, has brought many fine attractions here.
The women's division of the chamber of commerce has made a great success of the Omaha Symphony orchestra and has realized the dream of the women who founded the City Concert club - which was to establish a permanent orchestra in the city. For years, the City Concert club staged outdoor and indoor concerts with little reward, except the gratitude of music lovers, which was mostly unexpressed.
German and Scandinavian singing societies have contributed their full share of entertainment for the music-loving people of Omaha. The Saengerfest of some years ago brought great musicians to Omaha.
Many local organizations of musicians have at various periods of the city's history held prominent places in the entertainment world.
Omaha has produced notable musicians, artists and scientists. Today the Omaha Art institute and the Community Playhouse each has a part in the city's life that helps to make Omaha a community of higher ideals. Both have been given high praise in authoritative magazines.
The constant aim of the cultural organizations in Omaha, of recent years at least, has been to provide entertainment of a high order at a cost that may be afforded by the humblest citizen.
As a result the productions given here have been enjoyed by thousands of persons who otherwise would have been deprived of an opportunity to hear great musicians and lecturers.
The cultural future of Omaha seems as certain of greatness as the commercial future. The building of the Joslyn Art memorial will be a great stride forward. The Symphony orchestra, the Art institute, the Community Playhouse and other organizations are on firm foundations and Omaha is destined to be not only a bigger, but a better city, both financially and culturally.
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