75th anniversary of the Reconstruction Jubilee

Monday, October 25, 2010

1935 saw probably the worst disaster ever to occur in the Republican Valley of Nebraska and Kansas. The region suffered an unprecedented flood on Memorial Day weekend, followed by a devastating tornado. The twin disasters claimed the lives of more than 100 people in the Republican River Valley, and did many million of dollars damage to personal property, livestock, bridges, roads and rail lines. Though citizens grieved the loss of life and property, reconstruction was unbelievably swift in the region, and by fall people were ready to celebrate the revitalization of the valley.

The result was a gigantic party, proclaimed by Nebraska Gov. Roy Cochran, the "Republican Valley Reconstruction Jubilee" in McCook on Oct. 23-24-25, 1935.

Gov. Cochran announced that he would be in McCook for the first two days of the celebration. What was more, he said that Gov. Edwin Johnson, Col., Gov. Clyde Herring, Iowa, and Kansas Gov., Alf Landon would also attend the Jubilee.

The governors were joined on the reviewing stand by mayors of most of the towns in the Republican River Valley. At various times during the celebration other dignitaries graced McCook, including former U.S. Vice President Charles G. Dawes, Ambassador F.B. Kellogg, Gen. Robert Wood, Burlington President Ralph Budd, and other political, railroad and Hollywood notables.

In his proclamation Gov. Cochran said, "... the event would celebrate the remarkable stamina and courage in reconstructing homes and property damaged by the Republican River flood ... It would pay tribute to the people who reconstructed homes, railroads, communication and power line, roads, bridges and farmsteads; and pay tribute to the rebirth of the pioneer spirit ... The celebration would call attention of the nation of the completion of the vast amount of the recovery of the valley -- and urged the people of the state to recognize and acclaim the spirit of hardihood of the Valley citizens that all may find renewed faith and courage in the future of their great democracy."

A great number of note-worthy events were announced by the overall chairman of the Jubilee, Frank Hamilton (manager of Northwestern Bell Telephone Co.):

Troops of the 4th Cavalry, numbering more than 100 men and 68 horses set up their camp at the fairgrounds. The unit, one of the most colorful mounted outfits in the US Army, with a dismounted military band, gave demonstrations each afternoon.

The Fort Riley '36 Olympic Equestrian team gave daily shows at the Fairgrounds, featuring demonstrations of dressage and jumping.

Four National Guard airplanes further demonstrated the Army military strength.

The 17th Infantry unit, out of Fort Crook, gave a rousing reenactment of a World War I battle each day at the Fairgrounds. All of the military units, plus the 17th Regimental Band marched daily at the 10 o'clock parade.

The Army units were not the only marchers at the parades. There were Indians in colorful dress -- dozens of High School bands, the Hastings Crack Drum and Bugle Corps, the Tehama Shrine Band and Patrol, plus the popular Burlington Band, bolstered by a score of former Burlington Band members marched in some or all of the parades. Virtually every town and city in the valley entered a band or float, or both in the parades.

One of the key attractions for the Jubilee was the nightly performance of "The Passion Play, Oberammergau on the Prairie" at Kelley Park, presented by the Rev. David A. Johnson, of Kearney. Bulldozers carved a stage in the east bank of the canyon, and the audience, sitting on lawn chairs or blankets, watched from the other bank of the canyon. Nebraska Light and Power Co., which had been badly damaged in the flood, arranged, as part of their "City of Lights" campaign, to install floodlights and loud speakers for the production. The play was promoted as having a cast of 1,000 performers. McCook's John Hubert, a boy of 7 at the time, remembers that each evening there were swarms of strange people, in beards and bathrobes, streaming by his house on the way to the performance. Crowds were difficult to count, but 25,000 viewers, over 3 performances, were said to have watched the extravaganza -- to rave reviews.

Visitors to the Jubilee streamed into McCook from the Tri-State area. Motels and hotels in McCook and surrounding towns quickly filled up. Several Pullman cars were pulled into place west of the depot, where berths were available for $1 and $2.

On north Main at O Street, Legion City, a tent city for 10,000 veterans was erected, consisting of several large, communal tents and many smaller tents. The "city" proved to be convention center for veterans, with nightly Camp Fires for those who "desire to reminisce and sing songs."

"The Streets of Paris" revue (three shows daily), featured a cast of 35, "The original eye opener, with dance by Madame Peacock Alley." The Chow Chow Chow Café offered "Food that will Tickle the Palate" Each night there was a "Grand Promenade Dance, Whoopee -- Whoopee and More Whoopee."

It all added up to be "The Greatest Attraction Ever Assembled in a Tent City!"

The Columbia Broadcasting System sent a crew to McCook, which sent out daily broadcasts to a nation-wide audience, telling stories of Flood and Reconstruction.

The Burlington RR had been severely damaged in the '35 flood, "the greatest disaster in the history of the RR". Yet the reconstruction of the railroad's tracks and property had taken place with unbelievable swiftness. Before the rains had even stopped construction crews had sped to the area, even while telegraph operators sat at their posts alerting the outside world of the tragedy. In just three weeks an army of workers had repaired roadbeds and replaced track so that passenger and freight service could move along the 200 miles of the Republican River Valley. Burlington President, Ralph Budd paid tribute to his people at a Burlington Picnic in the park.

The Mark Twain, one of the Burlington's new diesel Zephyrs, was chosen to set to eclipse the German held rail speed mark during the celebration, going from McCook to Oxford. For the historic run only dignitaries and reporters were allowed to ride the train. Another, steam driven train, was to follow with passengers, and to bring dignitaries back to McCook, while the Mark Twain continued on to regular service out of St. Louis.

The Mark Twain did all that was asked of it. The trip to Oxford was made in 45 minutes, easily establishing a new rail speed record, while attaining speeds of 122 miles per hour. This was all duly noted by newspaper and radio reporters. For a day McCook was the center of nationwide newspaper and radio coverage.

What was not reported was that the steam powered train, consisting of three passenger cars and one baggage car that was following the Zephyr on its record setting run (Mark Scott, Engineer and Fireman, Sid Hubert, John's father) was actually overtaking the Mark Twain during that run and had to slow down to keep from catching the Zephyr. Glory went to the sleek new diesel, not to the "outdated" steam locomotive.

Chairman Hamilton summed up McCook's celebration, "...it represented a lot of hard work by a lot of people, but it was a celebration that will be hard to beat!' It never has.

Source: Rep. Valley Jubilee poster (thanks to John Hubert), McCook Gazette stories.

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