Out of the Douglas County Historical Society’s collection of 6 million artifacts and records, the biggest showcase is the General Crook House Museum. The Italianate-style brick home was built in 1878. Now located on Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha campus, the museum is named for its first occupant, Gen. George Crook.
Just inside the museum’s front doors is the reception room, which displays fine objects like Battenberg lace, embossed leather tables, and dried flowers under glass. There are scenic oil paintings depicting simpler times and curious antiques, such as Bohemian ruby glass vases and candlesticks dripping with crystals.
“The reception room would have been a place that servants would have greeted guests,” says Kathy Aultz, director of the Douglas County Historical Society.
Aultz says the reception room is an intimate space where the general’s wife, Mary Crook, might have enjoyed tea or entertained friends. Today, the reception room holds weddings, baby showers, anniversary parties, and is also a popular spot for holiday photo sessions. In recent years, the great-great grandson of Charles Dickens, Gerald Dickens of Oxford, England, greeted fans in the reception room after performing adaptations of his ancestor’s classics.
A silver-plated tray that rests off the entrance hints at the popular Victorian ritual of using calling cards, where guests would leave their cards to see if the lady or the general were accepting visitors.
History indicates that the height of a woman’s card pile might be interpreted as a clue to her social standing. One can just imagine Mary Crook’s calling card pile overflowing, as dignitaries such as President Ulysses S. Grant and President Rutherford B. Hayes visited. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, the founder of Howard University, was also a guest.
Aultz says she loves to sit on the Rococco-style velvet-upholstered loveseat and soak it all in. “The furniture is different than what I am used to. Look at the design. Look at the quality craftsmanship and how it was built. Notice how small the furniture is and how low to the ground it is when you’re sitting on it. That’s because people were just so much smaller then.”
Some pieces in the room are original: the fireplace, the flooring, and the cherry woodwork with maple trim. The room’s focal points are the Regina music box that plays metal disks and the rosewood Steinway square concert grand piano that was brought up the Missouri River by steamboat.
Aultz spearheads the maintenance of the house. She recently ordered new carpet for the stairs from Europe. “We want it to be loomed the exact width that they would have used during the time, and we can’t get the correct width here.”
The Douglas County Historical Society also studied wallpaper authentic to that period from the John Sautter Farmhouse in Papillion. “We used that pattern to have new wallpaper reproduced that would have been paper not only authentic to the period, but also authentic to this area of the country,” she says.
Aultz welcomes volunteers who want to serve as greeters. “We really strive to make people feel like you’re welcome in this house. We’ve done all this work to restore it and preserve it for you to enjoy and see a piece of history of Douglas County.”
Visit douglascohistory.org/visit.html for more information. OmahaHome