Every time we visit Nebraska, Ruth and I find worthwhile, little-known attractions. This year we really liked the newly renovated Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln and the Crane Trust near Grand Island. Last year we discovered the International Quilt Study Center and the town of Broken Bow. Near Kearney this year, we passed under The Archway on I-80, got off at the next exit, and went back to see it. Once was enough.
I should have been suspicious when Archway come-ons emphasized that I could see it all in less than an hour. Ruth glimpsed the price–$12 for adult admission plus tax–and told me to go in without her. This is not unusual. I bought a single ticket and entered the displays with flashing lightning at the top of a long escalator. It felt like I was entering a Hollywood theme park. My problem with the Archway is that it turns history into a stroll through, carnival-like experience. This is, I will admit, the way people want to learn history today. There were plenty of families there, and they seemed to be enjoying the show. Although I admit that some displays had focus-group merit, in general I was done with this attraction in less than an hour.
The Archway arches directly over I-80. I walked 310 feet over unseen traffic, climbed some stairs, and walked back almost to where I started. There were flashy displays on both levels. The theme was 170 years of westward movement and our national freedom of mobility. The journey west began with the first wagon trains along the Platte River in the early 1840s and ended with the development of the Interstate highway system.
Mannequin faces were those of real people in often-interactive displays that animated the impact of settlement on Native Americans, lots of stuff was about Mormons, the railroads, the Pony Express, etc. Nothing was left out. If I hadn’t just kept walking, I could have experienced a buffalo stampede, ridden in a stagecoach, etc. I did pause to examine a broken covered wagon containing a cushioned chair with a wall clock in it.
I learned that between 1841 and 1866 close to 350,000 humans took the Great Platte River Road west, that when the trains began operating I could cross the country one-way for $50, that the 3,389 mile-long, cross-country Lincoln Highway opened for traffic in 1913, and that Henry Ford drove it in 1924 in the 10 Millionth Model T Ford.
If you’d rather go to a theme park Hogwarts and drink butter beer than read the Harry Potter books, you’ll probably like The Archway.