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Jim McKee: A big undertaking for Lincoln
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MEMORIES & MOMENTS

Jim McKee: A big undertaking for Lincoln

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Shortly after Umberger’s Mortuary built its building at 1110 Q St. they acquired the new hearse pictured here. The red brick building, later State Printing Company, had apartments above and stood until it was razed for the construction of the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

As early as the 1850s the Oregon Tail, which snaked across Nebraska, was termed a 2,000 mile cemetery, averaging over 20 graves per mile, of travelers who primarily died of cholera and accidental gunshots.

As soon as settlers appeared in Lancaster, which preceded the city of Lincoln, deaths occurred and, with no official cemetery in existence, an informal burial site began at around 7th and G streets. The G Street site continued in use until 1881 when it was declared a public nuisance with such graves as could be located, moved to Wyuka, the state-owned cemetery, which received its first burial in 1869 when Hugina Morrison was interred. As the population began to grow, undertakers began practicing their trade.

The first Lincoln city directory, published in 1873, listed no undertakers but did show furniture dealer H. W. Hardy had located here from New York and had set up a store on the east side of 10th Street between N and O streets. Because early undertakers often made their own coffins, it is easily assumed that Hardy, later becoming an undertaker in addition to selling furniture, also supplied caskets. Later, in 1873, E. S. Roberts began an undertaking business but too late for the 1873 directory.

The 1880 city directory listed two undertakers. Hardy & Hartley, formed with the arrival of A. A. and A. B. Hartley from New York in addition to E. T. Roberts who, like Hardy, also sold furniture at his store opposite government square where he advertised a stock of “metallic, bronze and cloth caskets.”

Scarcely a year later the Hartleys left Lincoln. In 1889 Hardy concentrated strictly on the furniture business, then known as Hardy & Pitcher but Roberts then partnered with A. Z. Palmer as Roberts & Palmer, adding James Heaton’s mortuary which was located in the I.O.O.F. Building at 342 S. 11th as well as O. B. Howell’s at 241 S. 11th Street.

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Floyd E. Umberger was born in 1893 in Oak Precinct of Lancaster County, later attending Umberger School District 135, before becoming a farmer. His daughter Betty was born in 1922. After an accident in 1924, the farm was sold, with Umberger moving to Lincoln, living at 2625 Dudley.

In 1925 Umberger joined Roy (Ray) Knoblen, an embalmer at Splain & Schnell and Harry Goldstein, a contractor, to form a funeral home. Goldstein immediately began plans for a brick two-story building at 1110, 12, 14 Q Street to replace a frame building they had acquired. The new structure, pictured above, was completed in 1927 with their mortuary on the first floor and six apartments on the upper floor, which also enabled staff to move from the old garage/apartment behind when it was razed and replaced.

Betty Umberger studied at the University of Mortuary Science in California in 1941 and five years later married attorney Roy Sheaff of Lexington, with the couple moving to Lincoln where she became the third female to receive a mortician’s license in Nebraska, then became president of Umberger, and later Umberger Sheaff Mortuary. Betty and Roy moved into apartment No. 2 above the mortuary with Roy being elected to the Lincoln City Council in 1949 and 1951.

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In 1952 the Stuarts incorporated KFOR TV as Channel 12 in Lincoln, associated with the Dumont Network and built a two-story studio on the southwest corner of 48th and Vine streets. Channel 12 went on the air in 1953 but the following year assumed Channel 10, giving Channel 12 to the University of Nebraska as the beginning of the Nebraska Educational Television. Channel 10 moved to a new building at 42nd and Vine in 1957. Umberger Sheaff Mortuary then sold their 1110 Q St. property and in turn purchased the 48th and Vine building.

A year later the 48th and Vine Street studio was converted to apartments on part of the first and most of the second floor with the old TV studio renovated as the mortuary. The mortuary also then established satellite chapels in Hallam and Waverly while purchasing Alba Brown’s downtown mortuary. Brown himself, then in his 90s, worked briefly at the Vine Street location.

In 1856 the Nebraska Territorial Legislature briefly considered moving the capital from Omaha to Chester, which, though it was reported that a grist mill had been erected there in a supposedly thriving village, there was in fact no population and no buildings whatsoever. In 1957 the general area of Chester became the privately owned Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery, which, in 1979, purchased the Umberger Sheaff Mortuary, renaming it the Lincoln Memorial Funeral Home, located on the cemetery’s grounds.

The Q Street building existed for a time as State Printing Co. and Umberger Apartments, but it was ultimately razed along with Nebraska Book Company’s buildings becoming the current site of the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

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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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