The signs have welcomed you home — and greeted newcomers to Nebraska — for nearly 50 years.
They come in three sizes and five designs, the largest more than 200 square feet. The words are always the same, and always in that same groovy ’70s type style — “Nebraska … the good life. Home of Arbor Day” — but some show the Sower, some the Capitol, others Chimney Rock, Buffalo Bill, Arbor Day Lodge.
Until recently, you’d see them only at the 60 or so highways that lead into Nebraska. But now the iconic state-line signs are spreading across the country as miniature replicas sold by History Nebraska.
“It’s been fantastic,” said Chris Goforth, the department’s marketing and sales director. “Not only are we seeing people in the state buy them, we’re seeing Nebraskans who no longer live in the state wanting to bring a piece of the state home with them.”
History Nebraska doesn’t know anything about the origins of the original signs, Goforth said, only that they’ve always seemed to stand at the border.
“As a kid, I remember traveling and seeing them. You always knew you were almost home.”
And the state Department of Transportation didn’t have many historical details, either, said spokeswoman Jeni Campana. Just this: The state installed the Good Life signs in the early 1970s, and added the Arbor Day line along the bottom years ago.
The state routinely replaces stolen highway signs, but Campana couldn’t recall any of the border signs disappearing as souvenirs.
“They are enormous. They’re higher than you think, the posts are pretty large and they’re fastened on there pretty good.”
The biggest, reserved for the interstate, measures 220 square feet. But even the smallest, planted along state highways, are 40 square feet.
History Nebraska’s version isn’t nearly as big, just 1 foot high, 2 feet wide. But it’s made by Cornhusker Industries, which also produces the state signs.
“When we say these signs are tough, they are made with the same materials and the same processes as the signs you see on the highway,” Goforth said.
His department came up with the idea 18 months ago, while brainstorming merchandise ideas. With a green light from the Department of Transportation, it started selling the steel signs at the state museum and historical site gift shops.
And visitors started making special trips just to buy them.
“It’s one of the few items we have that has drawn traffic to our sites, rather than just being an item on the shelf for purchase.”
Melissa Lindell Kozak, a Beatrice native and former KLKN-TV news producer now working at Clarkson University in upstate New York, bought one last year while home visiting family.
“I told my parents, ‘We’ve got to go to the Historical Society to get one of these signs to put up in my office,” she said. “I thought it was a nice piece of home, 1,500 miles away.”
The familiar sign means something to her, whether it’s a replica or it’s real. She was reminded of that this summer, when she made the 20-hour drive back to Nebraska to see a sick relative.
“Crossing into Omaha where the sign was, it was like, ‘Yes, I’m home.’”
A few weeks ago, History Nebraska started offering the signs online at $50 apiece, and sales exploded. It expects even more demand during the holiday shopping season.
“I’d say we have easily sold 100s of them,” Goforth said. “They’ve been a huge success.”
The Good Life is good enough for his department, he said. It doesn’t have any plans to try to capitalize on the state’s latest slogan.
“We’re going to leave the ‘It’s not for everyone’ with Nebraska Tourism at this point.”
MUST-SEE STATE AND NATIONAL PARK GEMS IN NEBRASKA
30 must-see Nebraska state and national park gems
Pine Ridge National Recreation Area
Snake River Falls
Ashfall Fossil Beds
Nebraska National Forest
Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area
Agate Fossil Beds
Box Butte State Recreation Area
Bridgeport State Recreation Area
Cub Creek Recreation Area
Chadron State Park
Gavins Point Dam
Courthouse and Jail Rocks
Toadstool Geologic Park
Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge
Louisville State Recreation Area
Ponca State Park
Platte River State Park
Scotts Bluff National Monument
Indian Cave State Park
Niobrara National Scenic River
Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area
Lewis and Clark Lake State Recreation Area
Halsey Lookout Tower
Smith Falls State Park
Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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