The moment I walked into this building I knew I’d return time and time again.
This is Omaha’s Union Station, finished in 1931 and operating as the city’s hub for passenger train travel until its closure in 1971. Given to the city in 1973 and extensively renovated in 1996, it now houses the Durham Museum and is one of our country’s finest examples of Art Deco Architecture.
It is beautifully preserved and each detail evokes a time when designers refused to let beauty take a back seat to function.
However, what I love most about this museum is its ability to transport me back to the WWII era. Interactive statues have been placed here and there in the main lobby….soldiers and sailors exchanging stories, a young couple spending last moments together, a woman buying a ticket, a man with a suitcase looking at the schedule board….all of them frozen in time and each of them with recorded voices that tell their stories.
My imagination easily fills in the thousands of people who moved through these spaces during those years and the countless lives affected by their leaving.
My father left from a similar station in Cincinnati and in a letter to his father, dated 3 March 1945, he says, “The trip out here was very pleasant and was my first encounter with a troop sleeper. The seats were longer than a standard Pullman and make up into three berths. It is a little rougher than the standard Pullman but I slept like a log all night.”
“I can’t tell you what camp we are at or when we are leaving or where we are going. I can, however, tell you that I am in the best of health and spirits and am eagerly awaiting the new experience ahead, so don’t worry about me.”
My oldest sister would have been a few years younger than this when my father came home from the war but I can imagine see her patiently waiting for him to arrive, full of quiet anticipation.
I’m often awakened at night by the sound of train whistles and although I know the trains that pass by my home no longer carry passengers, that sound will always remind me of once bustling stations and the young voice of my father who rode the rails to get to the planes and boats that took him into the war.