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Jim McKee: The story of a ghost zoo in Loup City
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MEMORIES & MOMENTS

Jim McKee: The story of a ghost zoo in Loup City

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The above photo, taken from one of Jenner’s Park’s printed brochures, about 1925, shows the Egyptian House with Jenner and a white horse in front.

In many of Nebraska’s small towns a single event like a U.S. presidential whistle stop speech may be the biggest newsworthy story in its history.

Loup City is an example of that kind of national prominence when, on June 14, Flag Day, in 1934, Ella “Mother” Bloor, an outsider and member of the American Communist Party, arrived after workers at the poultry division of the Fairmont creamery there threatened to strike for higher wages.

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“Mother” Bloor joined the demonstration on the Sherman County Courthouse steps and participated in a march, earning her great publicity and a 30-day jail sentence. Loup City however was the site of a far more positive and long-lasting organization, though memories of it are quickly fading.

Sherman County was created by the Nebraska Legislature in 1871, organized in 1873, and that April, Loup City was declared the county seat, and, on August 26, the post office opened.

Loup City was named for the Wolf/Skidi band of the Pawnee with Loup being the French translation for wolf. The Omaha & Republican Valley Railroad, a branch of the Union Pacific, arrived in May of 1886, and the following month the telegraph was completed with the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad arriving in 1887.

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The first Sherman County fair was held at Loup City in 1879 with races, athletic sports and amusements and deemed “quite a success.” In 1892 the first “amusement” park in the county was established in Ashton as Knutzen’s Park.

A creek was dammed for a lake, then baseball, bowling, refreshment stand, merry-go-round with eight horses and a pavilion/dancehall “with a piano” were added. Meantime Robert Jenner had introduced a new sporting event to the county fair, “wrestling on horseback,” but it was dropped after Robert won the event four years running.

Henry Jenner was born in London in 1861 to a wealthy family of brewers. After attending King’s College in London, he immigrated to Nebraska in 1883 and was joined a few months later by his brother Robert.

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Around 1910 Henry purchased a tract of land on Dead Horse Creek east of Loup City. Remembering London’s many parks, he dedicated seven acres of his land, which had a natural amphitheater, and dammed the creek forming a small lake as the beginning of Jenner’s Park.

The grounds also featured penned animals of every description in an ever-growing number from a kinkajou to baboons. The park opened to the public, probably in June of 1903, charging a 10-cent admission fee.

The Mummy House with a stalactite cave opened in 1909 and featured two mummies with sarcophaguses purchased from a collector in Omaha. The first was an oil-embalmed Egyptian mummy entombed at Thebes from 2,300 to 2,500 BC, the second a pitch-embalmed specimen from Memphis, Egypt, from the period 1575 to 1359 BC. The building also contained embalmed/mummified birds and animals. Also exhibited was an 1853 wooden McCormick mower.

In 1910 there was no Sherman County fair, so the brothers established a Harvest Festival in the park as a replacement, which reappeared whenever the county fair was not held.

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Several times over the years The Official Guide to Jenner’s Zoological, Educational and Amusement Park was published. In the 1925 edition it included an announcement that the brothers desired to retire and noted the “park with or without the curios, ball park, nine-room house, barn, winter quarters and all equipment was for sale.”

The 88-page booklet included dozens of photos and lengthy list of collections. The park’s description showed the entrance gates “at the end of Main Street, five blocks east of the courthouse” and went on to describe the swings and “various riding devices,” lunch rooms, 1924 Chinese pagoda/monkey house, various athletic grounds, fountains, flower gardens, box ball court, open-air theatre, pavilion/dance hall, horse shoe courts, Ocean Wave/circle swing with a “Degan Electric four octave Una-Fon,” museum of curios, 1912 vaudeville theatre and grounds illuminated by “hundreds of colored electric lights.”

Robert died in 1942, and Henry began selling the animals as there was no one in the family to take on the park’s operation. The park, which had opened about 1903, began its annual seasons each June and in 1934 said its daily attendance that year averaged 3,000 with a peak attendance of about 7,000 on one day in 1927.

The park was offered to Loup City in 1950 but declined. Most of the collections and moveable objects had been sold or auctioned by Henry Jenner’s 92nd birthday on March 17, 1952, when the park land was sold for use as a pasture. In 1972 the pasture was obtained and annexed by Loup City as Jenner’s Park.

Loup City, whose population peaked at 1,675 in 1940, is now around 1,000, operates the park, which is listed as one of Nebraska’s haunted sites, and features a disc golf course. The stone entrance gates and remnants of animal cages and flower beds are said to be slightly visible if one is willing to search them out, but for all intents, little remains but memories and photos at the Sherman County Historical Society.

Historian Jim McKee, who still writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him in care of the Journal Star or at jim@leebooksellers.com

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