(upbeat music) [Narrator] Coming up on "Nebraska Stories," the myths and mystique behind Lincoln's legendary Robber's Cave.
The iconic sandstone columns of Pioneers Park.
Omaha's BLUEBARN Theatre with a stage all its own.
(upbeat music) The craft of making good hats (upbeat music) and the fresh bounty at the Norfolk Farmers Market.
(guitar music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (train engine chugging in distance) (train engine chugging in distance) (keys jingling) (keys rattling in lock) (urban noises) (soft dramatic music) (light switch clicks) (light switch clicks) [Joel] There's just kind of a mystique about Robber's Cave with it being so strange.
In Nebraska, you think of the plains, you don't think of caves.
[Narrator] For more than 150 years, one of Lincoln's most timeless relics has been right below its feet.
Robber's Cave has long been the subject of speculation, myth, and rumors.
A popular site for clandestine meetings romantic interludes, and curious explorers.
Joel Green is one of those curious explorers.
[Joel] We've got quite the eclectic mix in the wall.
V V C December 13th, 1901, not far from a college party from the eighties, Beta Sigma Psi 87.
[Narrator] Fascinated by the cave since his childhood, he spent years researching the history behind Robber's Cave, including how it got its name.
Jesse James is the outlaw the cave is named for whether he was here or not.
Something that'd be pretty impossible to prove, I think.
But there's no documented evidence that he ever hid out in Robber's Cave.
I've learned that almost any cave you visit in the Midwest has Jesse James folklore tied to it.
And this one is no different [Narrator] Whether this local lore is true or not, the earliest recorded use of the cave was as a brewery warehouse.
[Joel] Robber's Cave is a 5,600 square feet cave located in Lincoln, Nebraska.
It's all made out of Dakota Sandstone.
There was kind of a natural portion of the cave that started as a little pock in the bluff of sandstone.
It removed the cap rock and then in 1869 brewers from Waukesha, Wisconsin and Red Wing, Minnesota came to Lincoln to build Lincoln's first brewery.
[Narrator] During the next few years, worker Jacob Andra armed with only a pickax, shovel, and wheelbarrow extended the cavern with 500 feet of tunnels.
Once the brewery closed people began using the caves for all kinds of activity.
(old time peppy music) (old time peppy music) [Joel] You just had these abandoned caves.
The tunnels began to be used for things like horse thievery, gambling, a lot of seedy behavior.
After that, the cave was kind of used for anything and everything.
[Narrator] Beginning in 1906 and through most of the 20th century the largest manmade landmark was open to the public and became a popular tourist attraction.
[Joel] It was a place where social organizations, bands, college parties, they came and and just created memories and left their mark on the sandstone walls.
[Narrator] Joel's research spans the caves more than 150 year history, and with that research he uncovered some uncomfortable truths.
I even found a reference of the Ku Klux Klan using the cave in the twenties.
The Klan was at their height in Nebraska in the 1920s.
There was a reference in a paper of the Klan using the cave coming all the way from Indiana for initiations.
[Narrator] The cave was also a popular concert venue.
[Joel] I've got a list of bands in the book that played it here over the years.
There used to be a stage in the back of the second tunnel.
[Narrator] Even with all of his knowledge there are things about the cave Joel can't easily explain.
[Joel] When I came in to get the lights up for the tour and they weren't flashing on and off nobody was back here playing a joke on me.
When I walked into the tunnels all the light bulbs started to go in waves like this up and down the cave, and I'd never seen it do that before.
So I got the phone out started recording everything right away.
I didn't think anybody'd believe me but I had tours to do and I'm like, great how am I gonna fix this?
Well, I made it halfway down to right about here where the steps begin and they all shut off.
I was just standing here in the dark recording with my phone, and I remember it like it was yesterday.
I looked left, nothing.
I checked back here, everything's blacked out.
A couple of seconds go by.
Bloom, one light bulb pops up in the whole cave and it was this one right next to where I was standing, and that's when I left.
(laughs) [Narrator] Since the publication of his book "Robber's Cave, Truth, Legends, Recollections" Joel continues to gather information on Robber's Cave.
One way he learns new stories is through hosting guided tours of the cave.
[Joel] I've got a lot of photographs before and after tours from guests and also on the tours people will share stories.
And so I'm always accumulating more and more photographs and I'm always accumulating more and more stories to share and incorporate on the tours.
For example, a guy named Rick he came and he had long white hair and glasses and I remember him wearing a tie dye shirt and he was telling me how he used to run around in here.
[Narrator] Like the many people who've shared their wistful memories of Robber's Cave with Joel, he too is forever entangled with the history of this sandy underground chamber.
A place where fact and fiction gave birth to epic tales of Lincoln's past.
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So, can we rewind like this?
Rewind for a second, I know it's kinda crazy, but that's alright, we're getting there.
NARRATOR: It is just two weeks away from an opening night that has been decades in the making.
And The Blue Barn Th eater's artistic director Susan Clement is st retching her creative wings in new ways.
SUSAN: This form is just not right.
I want you to try and to go here.
There is an aesthetic.
And it is the approach-slash-process of going into a rehearsal period it's still really grassroots.
So, let's go and do that same thing-- NARRATOR: She's directing The Grown Up, The Blue Barn's debut production in their first ever, very own theater space.
SUSAN: I've been wanting to do this show for a long time, and it fit, it's about growth, it's about jumping off into new worlds that you don't know what's gonna happen.
NARRATOR: After 27 years of rental spaces, highs and lows, the theater co mpany is all grown up.
SUSAN: Artistically, we've always been sound.
Business-wise, we've always been, we were just, we're a bunch of actors, you know?
(laughs) I think finally, along the way, we've balanced those two sides of the coin.
Shannon Walenta and I work really well together as a team on the business side.
Blue Barn would not be where it is if she was not on board, along with me.
(bass music) NARRATOR: Founded in 1989 by a group of East Coast theater grads, Su san joined them in Omaha a year later, and is the on ly remaining staff member from those early years.
But the artistic mission remains the same.
ACTOR 1: Nine, ten.
ACTOR 2: Put the knob on the door.
SUSAN: We're an intimate off-Broadway, New York-style theater, you know, that's what we are, that's our identity.
We always have chosen our shows because they make an impact on us emotionally.
NARRATOR: And the work im pacted others as well.
Inspiring a local philanthropist to donate a piece of land and seed funding for the ex perimental theater company to build their own space.
SUSAN: To have somebody and also a group of people change your course of your life, your art form, your city, your personal life, in such a dramatic way is astounding.
NARRATOR: While there is still great affection for their former home, some th ings they won't miss.
SUSAN: We have air conditioning and heat that work, which is exciting.
We have restrooms for our patrons and also backstage for our actors, which sounds really kind of silly for me to say, but it isn't, after having to manage patrons and actors using the same restroom.
This is our light booth, which is-- We have theatrical lights that we know we have the power to run them.
It will certainly be nice for me not to have to flip the breaker in the middle of a show because the lights went out.
Just the simple things in life, and that we will really appreciate.
NARRATOR: But the last thing Susan wanted for the progressive, ri sk-taking theater company was to move into a sterile, new building.
Instead, the theater is brimming with artistic embellishments yo u won't find anywhere else.
(welding) SUSAN: To have artists work on this building and create things that are truly unique to Blue Barn's identity.
I mean, it's like a big capsule of art.
NARRATOR: The space is art-driven, from the bricks in the en tryway and the front logo, welded just hours ahead of a ribbon-cutting, the hand-milled wood beams in the lobby and lining the theater.
DAN TOBERER: What's ironic is these things fell into our lap.
Instead of going to the landfill or getting burned or, you know, just being cast off in the dumpster, we were able to collect these things and kind of tap their own creative aesthetic.
NARRATOR: Another unique fe ature allows the theater to open the back wall to an other performance space.
SUSAN: They have been lovingly named "The Big Damn Doors," and they are magnificent.
Nils, can you come over, end up here?
NARRATOR: Appearing in the first production in the new theater he helped st art so many years ago, actor and founding member Ni ls Haaland is still trying to take it all in.
NILS HAALAND: I can't believe it.
It's still really wonderful, coming in here, because it's, well, it's such a dream come true.
(piano music) CAROL WISNER: Two weeks ago, there wasn't a lighting instrument hung in this place, and we got it all up, and we made art, and we got inspired by the ability to do more with more, I guess you could say, instead of always doing more with less.
(laughs) ACTOR: So, you wanna tell me about this, you wanna tell me this thing of yours.
SUSAN: Alright, so we are going to give birth to our first show here in our new space, and it's really awesome to have all of you here to, (crying) I was gonna get through this.
To help us breathe life into our stage and into our work.
So I thank you so much for being here.
It is a show about savoring our moments, savoring experiences and being grateful.
And I am truly grateful.
(applause) (shouting) ACTOR: The first mate's shook from the wheel.
The whole sky red now!
(shouts indistinctly) NARRATOR: Now that The Bl ue Barn has a permanent home, there is a new goal.
SUSAN: To become a nationally-known, professional theater, a destination spot that people come to see kick-ass theater.
I never thought that I would ever be here in Omaha, sitting in a brand new, incredibly, beautiful space.
There is no other space like this in the country, and I want people from all over to wanna come here and experience what we put on our stage.
ACTOR: You're gonna man the crow's next, you're gonna have to learn to see better!
NARRATOR: The Blue Barn is now a key anchor in Omaha's revitalized So uth 10th Street corridor.
Perhaps it was always de stined to be right here.
SUSAN: It's cool at night right now, when I shut all the lights off and I leave the Blue Barn sign on behind me, cause it glows as you drive by, and it feels like home, which is really incredible.
(machine thumping) KAYCEE HOFFMAN: I primarily build for the working cowboys where we live.
A hat is more than a hat.
It's not only a fashion statement, but it's a tool for the purpose wearing it.
(steaming hat) The grease stains, the sweat stains, it symbolizes the American cowboy.
Their work hat is dirty and it just shows so much character, but it shows their lifestyle, it shows where they come from.
Sometimes the wives are very happy with me, 'cause I have to be the bearer of bad news and tell them their hat's gotta go, that they need a new one (laughs).
Bar None Hat Company was established in 2003, right after I graduated from Colorado State University with a Ag business degree, and really I started it in my parents barn.
Bar None is my family's cattle brand in Colorado that dates back to the 1800's.
It just seemed logical to me to not only brand cattle, but also brand hats as well.
It takes generally speaking 8 to 10 hours, but there's a lot of heating and cooling that goes on when making a hat, so when one's cooling, you're working on other hats.
Your lower quality hats are made out of rabbit.
It's pounced rabbit fur, and then it goes like the beaver blend which would be half rabbit, half beaver.
Then the 100X is pure beaver, which is made out of 100% beaver fur.
The reason they use beaver is because beaver lives near water, so their hair's acclimated and it sheds the water a little bit better than rabbit fur.
When I get the hat blanks in, they're still kinda hairy.
(sander whirring) There's a lot of sanding that goes on.
It is physical, but that's the neat part about it, is you're creating something with your hands.
There is less than 60 hat makers left in the nation.
I've always been very appreciative of my aunts, because if it wouldn't have been for them, I don't think I would have been able to be a hat maker.
It's a trade of secrets, so a lot of hat makers don't wanna share their secrets.
My Aunt Susie kind of taught me.
My Aunt Colleen helped me find the equipment.
The equipment is really hard to find, and if you do find it, it may not even work.
So my hat shop got started with just a guy's leftover stuff.
It wasn't like I went out and bought a hat shop.
I've had to piece it together.
Hat making equipment is very, very rare.
There's several pieces of equipment that are no longer made.
I have a piece of equipment that they call a comformeter, that gives me a head pattern, and that was made probably in the late 1800's over in Paris, France.
There's a crown iron that's very rare, as well as this phalange bag.
So, the average age of the equipment I would say in the hat shop probably is around early 1900's.
It's just a very old trade and old equipment.
It's kind of a whole different way of building a hat.
The first thing I always do when somebody walks through the door is look at their profile, their face shape, and then I kinda evaluate them in my head, what I would put on them.
I'll ask them if it's a good hat or a work hat, 'cause that can determine the color.
A work hat, you could go with darker colors and it's not gonna show as bad.
A good hat, it can last a lifetime.
If you're using it for an everyday work hat, they'll last five to seven years, maybe longer.
It just depends on how many, how many cows you're swatting at with it and what not, but they'll last a while, you bet.
I have a couple of different stories.
One that I heard about, there was two fellows on an airplane coming from California, and one told the other, "Hey, that's a nice hat."
And the guy takes it off and says, "Oh, this is a Bar None hat."
And the other guys says, "Hey, so is mine."
That's been one of my favorite stories.
There's been a couple of times where guys who have passed want buried in their Bar None hat.
A signature part of my hat is I have a purple liner, and my granddad's favorite color is purple, 'cause it's the color of a champion.
(sewing machine) I build about 100 hats a year.
Really, it kinda comes down to word of mouth.
I mean, that's the majority where my customers come from.
With each hat that goes out the door, there's a piece of me that goes with it.
It's not a hundred other workers that put that hat together.
It comes down to me.
It really brings me great joy.
(guitar playing) (guitar playing) [Narrator] River Point Square is lined with vendors each summer for the Norfolk Farmer's Market.
(guitar playing) Out of 2 [Narrator] There you'll find sisters Stacy and Sandy Dieckman who got their start at the market.
Growing up we always wanted to live out in the country.
We did a lot of gardening at my grandfather's house.
When we graduated from college, we actually bought a house in town together.
Kind of a fixer-upper.
Fixed that up and then sold it and used the down payment money to buy the farm.
The place that we ended up buying had produce grown on it at one time, and so we decided that this was something that we wanted to try.
[Stacy] The farmer's market was in the parking lot where I used to work, and so stopped at the parking lot and talked to the vendors there and just got started.
[Customer] You got any more of the sourdough left or?
Sourdough, I think we do.
We do, yes.
I'll take one of those.
[Narrator] North Fork Bread Company, another local favorite, also got their start at the Norfolk Farmer's Market.
I started baking bread as a hobby probably about six or seven years ago.
When I was in grad school, actually, and I would make it just for my just my friends and, and my wife.
I had started selling at the Norfolk Farmer's Market four years ago the summer of 2018, and that was the original plan at at first was just to do the farmer's market and and just kind of take, take the winters off or sell individually here and there.
(upbeat music) (upbeat music) [Sandy] I think that the, the most fun thing to grow is the pumpkins and the gourds because like, especially like the gourds when you start picking 'em you never know what you're gonna find.
They always come in, in the different oddest shapes.
We like to do green beans.
There's just nothing better than fresh green beans.
(upbeat music) (upbeat music) They're morning buns.
They're very popular.
That combination of that croissant dough with the with the orange peel plus the the brown sugar and all that, makes for and cinnamon, makes for a really good combination.
[Narrator] Caleb, Stacy and Sandy started selling to just a few customers, but quickly expanded.
The city invited us a year ago to come down here and start selling here at, at the River Point and so that's been a really good move for us.
When the farmer's market moved downtown that really exploded our business for us.
I wanted to keep that momentum going.
This bakery came up for sale and I said, well, it's a good opportunity.
I feel like it's, it's been presented to me and so I feel like I need to go ahead and and take the plunge and, and go for it full-time.
[Narrator] As these vendors continue to grow they will always find a sense of home at River Point Square.
[Caleb] The farmer's market was such a great way to just get to know the community.
I mean, it was my first introduction to to the city of Norfolk.
Really connecting with people one-on-one.
[Stacy] You get the same customers come back to you all the time, talk to you they tell you about their kids, they tell you their stories.
[Sandy] I love being around the people here at market.
I enjoy planting things and seeing things grow and I don't think I would ever quit for a long time.
The best part of Farmer's Market is you're kinda like a family.
What do you say Paolo?
Say thank you.
(kid mumbling) Thank you.
(laughter) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) Watch more "Nebraska Stories" on our website, Facebook and YouTube.
(upbeat music) "Nebraska Stories" is funded in part by the Margaret and Martha Thomas Foundation, and Humanities Nebraska, and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment.
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