Omaha received national attention when the Hollywood movie Boys Town, starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney, was released in 1938. Today Tracy's Academy Award Oscar is on display in the Hall of History Museum on the Boys Town campus. The Hall traces the history of the country's most famous institution for the care of homeless children, presenting exhibits on the history of juvenile delinquency and of social programs designed to address it.
The PhilaMatic Museum exhibits stamp, coin, and currency collections for the hobbyist. General Crook House, a restored Victorian house on the grounds of Ft. Omaha, was the home of General George Crook, head of the Army of the Platte, who gained fame for his testimony in the trial of Chief Standing Bear. The Gerald Ford Birthplace, an outdoor park and rose garden, contains a replica of the home where former President Ford was born as well as memorabilia from his White House years and is often used for weddings.
The U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command Museum, located in nearby Mahoney State Park, charts the history of the United States Air Force in indoor and outdoor exhibits; the $29.5 million museum displays 31 vintage and modern airplanes year round. The Henry Doorly Zoo has been ranked the country's number one zoo by Family magazine and attracts about 1.6 million visitors annually. Species include rare white Siberian tigers. The zoo's aviary is the second largest in the world with 500 exotic species, and its indoor rain forest is the world's largest. The Lied Jungle at the zoo, winner of Time magazine's 1992 design award, was described by the magazine as "architecturally stupendous . . . and zoologically thrilling." It features a half-mile maze of trails offering views of exotica such as Malayan tapirs and pygmy hippos in an authentic rain forest atmosphere. In 2002 an indoor desert, the world's largest, was constructed and features plant and animal life from deserts in Africa, Australia, and the United States. The Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom wildlife pavilion presents the theme of animal adaptation for survival. Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium, the only aquarium between Chicago and the West Coast, is open year-round and exhibits 50 species of fresh-water fish.
The Mutual of Omaha Dome exhibits memorabilia from the Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" television program; the Dome is an underground facility topped by a large glass dome. Completely redesigned, the Union Pacific Historical Museum at the Union Pacific Railroad's headquarters building traces the history of the company's railroad.
Twenty-five miles north of Omaha, the 7,800-acre DeSoto Bend National Wildlife Refuge offers opportunities in the spring and fall to view thousands of migrating birds that use the Missouri Valley flyway for their seasonal migration. Fontenelle Forest in North Bellevue is a 1,300-acre sylvan area within the city. Peony Park, Nebraska's largest amusement park, combines amusement park rides, shows in an outdoor amphitheater, and the state's largest swimming pool.
Arts and Culture
Omaha Community Playhouse, founded in 1924, is one of the nation's largest and most recognized community theaters—whose alumni include Henry Fonda and Dorothy McGuire—and schedules year-round productions. Main-stage productions as well as studio and experimental theater are presented in what is physically the largest amateur theater facility in the country. Omaha Theater Company for Young People is a professional company offering original adaptations of classic children's literature. At Diner Theater, original drama written by an Omaha native is produced in a real diner.
The Omaha Symphony plays a season of classical, pop, and chamber music; and Opera Omaha sponsors three productions
The Joslyn Art Museum, built in 1931 in honor of business leader George Joslyn, is an Art Deco facility on three levels that houses a permanent collection emphasizing European, American, and Western art. The Durham Western Heritage Museum is housed in the restored Union Station depot. The museum charts the city's history from pioneer days to the 1950s and features a vintage soda fountain manned by volunteer soda jerks. The Great Plains Black History Museum chronicles the contributions and achievements of African Americans in the Midwest. Designed for children to interact with the exhibits, the Omaha Children's Museum features art projects that complement the displays. John Raimondi's Dance of the Cranes at Eppley Airfield, the largest bronze sculpture in North America, is a five-story, 15-ton sculpture depicting sandhill cranes in a ritual dance.
Festivals and Holidays
Omaha sponsors festivals and special indoor and outdoor events year round. The major cultural institutions of the city host many of these festivals in honor of the city's heritage. During the second weekend in February a softball tournament held throughout the city raises money for the March of Dimes. In mid-March Triumph of Agriculture Exposition, one of the largest farm equipment shows in the world, draws participants to the Qwest Convention Center.
Nearly 200 artists and crafters are featured at the Summer Arts Festival, held at the Gene Leahy Mall for three days in late June. The Nebraska Shakespeare Festival is presented outdoors in Elmwood Park on weekends through June and July. In August the Offutt Air Force Base open house and air show enjoys the participation of the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. The Omaha Federation of Labor sponsors Septemberfest in honor of Omaha's working men and women over Labor Day weekend at the Qwest Center. This is also when La Festa Italiana brings music, dance, and food to a celebration at Roncalli High School.
Ak-Sar-Ben Rodeo and Livestock Exposition in October is the world's largest 4-H livestock show; the rodeo attracts the nation's top rodeo competitors. Dickens in the Market takes place the first weekend in December at Old Market and features costumed entertainers performing holiday music and vignettes of Charles Dickens' novels.
Sports for the Spectator
Omaha hosts the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) College baseball World Series each June at Rosenblatt Stadium. The Omaha Golden Spikes, the Triple-A farm team of professional baseball's American League Kansas City Royals, compete in the International League and play their home season at Rosenblatt Stadium. Bluffs Run in Council Bluffs offers greyhound dog racing with individual televisions in the clubhouse for viewing each race.
Late-model stock car racing takes place at Little Sunset Speed-way at the I-80 Speedway from May through October. College sports are played by the Creighton Bluejays and the University of Nebraska at Omaha Mavericks; the Mavericks rank high among the nation's most competitive wrestling teams.
Sports for the Participant
The Omaha Parks and Recreation Department administers more than 200 city parks on 8,300 acres of land, 14 neighborhood recreation centers, and various recreational leagues. The most popular is the summer softball program; Omaha claims the title of "Softball Capital of the World" with 2,500 teams and 60 fields. The metropolitan area boasts 50 golf courses, 19 public pools along with several private pools, outdoor and indoor tennis courts, and facilities for hockey and ice skating. Three figure-skating clubs offer instruction. One downhill skiing facility operates in nearby Crescent, Iowa though the area's relative flatness lends well to cross-country skiing trails at Elmwood Park and N.P. Dodge Park.
Shopping and Dining
Omaha's Old Market in its earliest days was a warehouse district where pioneers purchased the goods they needed for the journey to the West. In 1968 Old Market began renovation, first converting to an artists colony; today it is a thriving shopping and restaurant district as well as a fruit and vegetable marketplace. A number of downtown locations have been renovated into malls as part of the revitalization of Omaha's downtown commercial district. The Crossroads Mall and Oak View Mall both house around 100 stores on about 875,000 square feet of shopping space. Omaha claims the largest retail jewelry store in the United States. Possibly the city's most visited store is the Nebraska Furniture Mart, which records the nation's largest volume of furniture sales.
Some of the best beefsteaks in the world are served in Omaha restaurants; the city is also noted for catfish caught in the Missouri River, and for Continental, French, East Indian, and Creole cuisine. Food and Wine magazine named Omaha's Le Cafe de Paris a "Distinguished Restaurant of North America." A local Chinese restaurant replicates Beijing's imperial palace. "Runza," a dough pocket filled with ground beef and cabbage, is a local specialty served at Runza Hut. Godfather's Pizza, one of the largest pizza chains in the country, originated in Omaha.
Visitor Information: Greater Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1001 Farnam St., Ste. 200, Omaha, NE 68102; telephone (402)444-4660; toll-free (866)937-6624; fax (402)444-4511
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