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Nebraska Cultural Symbols

Nebraska has eight official “cultural symbols” that vary from cool to downright weird.

Cultural Symbols  
Soft Drink Kool-Aid 1998
Beverage milk Redundant Symbol 1998
Baseball Capital Capital Wakefield 1997
Historic Baseball Capital Capital St. Paul 1997
Village of Lights Cody 1997
Ballad A Place Like Nebraska 1997
American Folk Dance square dance Redundant Symbol 1997
Language English Redundant Symbol 1923
Nebraska Cultural Symbols

What could be cooler than Kool-Aid, the official soft drink?

Kool-Aid is a brand of flavored drink mix invented by Edwin Perkins in Hastings, Nebraska in 1927. Working in his mother’s kitchen, Perkins discovered a way to remove the liquid from a liquid concentrate called Fruit Smack. He called the powder Kool-Ade, a name that evolved into Kool-Aid.

Kool-Aid became the most popular item sold by Perkins Products Company. As the company continued to grow, it adopted a mascot known as Kool-Aid Man—a smiling pitcher full of Kool-Aid. A popular rite of passage for children growing up in Nebraska and neighboring South Dakota was Kool-Aid popsicles.

Kool-Aid got some bad publicity in 1978, when over 900 people died after allegedly drinking it. Or did they?

The people were members of a bizarre cult run by Jim Jones in Guyana, South America. They followed instructions to drink something laced with cyanide and prescription drugs. Although Kool-Aid was apparently found in their compound, it isn’t know with certainty if that’s what they drank.

Even today, millions of ignorant people believe lying politicians and the media. More intelligent people often say, “They drank the Kool-Aid.” However, Kool-Aid is generally harmless. Then again, in this age of corporate food manipulation, who really knows?

Hastings celebrates a yearly summer festival called Kool-Aid Days (kool-aiddays.com) on the second weekend in August.

Nebraska also calls milk, the square dance, and English its official beverage, dance and language. All three symbols represent far too many states to really represent any state. The worst is English.

During the World War I era, propagandists worked hard to make Americans hate Germans. The irony is that many U.S. citizens were themselves German. (My great grandparents were of German origin.)

Laws were even passed making it illegal to speak German in public. In 1920, Nebraska became the second state to make English its official language. (Louisiana apparently made English its official language for different reasons much earlier.)

For a time, teachers weren’t even allowed to teach German in school. That’s one of the reasons so many Americans can speak just one language and are so clueless about the world around them.

Although Nebraska is famous for its football team, it instead has an official baseball capital (Wakefield) and historic baseball capital (St. Paul).

Nebraska has few official symbols of the arts.

Its state song, “Beautiful Nebraska,” was reportedly written by a Russian refugee named Jim Fras in a pasture, in just one hour. It was later challenged by “I Love Nebraska,” a song written by Ginger ten Bensel, the 1981 Miss Rodeo Nebraska.

Bensel wrote the song in 2002, the same year Fras died. It allegedly came to her while she was riding a horse in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She said she created both the words and tune in just two minutes. Even more amazing, her horse was galloping in the same rhythm.

Perhaps this musical horse should be designated Nebraska’s official wonder horse, complementing Missouri’s official wonder dog.

However, “Beautiful Nebraska”—which has been described as a poetic serenade—is still Nebraska’s state song. Nebraskans also later adopted an official ballad, “A Place Like Nebraska.”

One of Nebraska’s oddest symbols is its official village of lights, Cody. What is a “village of lights”? Very little has been written about this symbol.

Cody is a small town in rural Nebraska. Residents enjoy decorating their homes with Christmas lights. In fact, they started a Christmas lighting contest in 1993. The beautiful displays caught the attention of people driving down the nearby highway.

Before you know it, Cody was a state symbol.

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