What if I told you that you knew of at least three famous people from Norfolk, Nebraska? Would you doubt me? Of course you would. Because, in reality, there are at least five famous people from the area. And you likely know who they are.
The Elkhorn Valley Museum has a great display of Norfolk residents who went on to the big time. Try these names on for size: Joyce Hall, Thurl Ravenscroft, Rosie O’Neill, Orville Carlisle and John Carson. Add on a few more names – Rollie Hall, William Hall and Dick Carson. Sound familiar?
Of course you know the Carson boys. Johnny, as the long-time host of “The Tonight Show.” Dick was a long-time director of shows, including “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.”
The Carsons were born in Iowa, but lived most of their youth in Norfolk. Johnny is the more famous one, but Dick starred in a commercial highlighting siblings of stars. Johnny Carson’s 30-year run on the late-night hit NBC show earned him six Emmy Awards and a ton of other honors.
Ever hear of a Kewpie doll? They were created by Rosie O’Neill. O’Neill was an artist and writer, who created the Kewpie dolls as comic strip characters in the early 1900s. A German toy company started manufacturing the dolls, and soon, they sold like hot cakes. They were among the first mass-marketed toys in American history.
O’Neill’s family moved from Pennsylvania to Norfolk when she was three. O’Neill went on to write novels. She was also active in the women’s suffrage movement.
You’ve heard this man’s voice over several decades. If you’ve ever eaten a bowl of Frosted Flakes, you’ve likely quoted him. “They’re Grrrreattt!” was spoken by Thurl Ravenscroft for more than 50 years as the voice of Tony the Tiger.
Ravenscroft, born in Norfolk in 1914, headed west to California at the age of 19. He performed in bands during the Big Band era. His band, the Mellomen, backed up Bing Crosby, Spike Jones and Rosemary Clooney. The band even performed in Disney movies, including the original “Pocahontas.” Later, Ravenscroft voiced Disneyland attractions, including the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and the Haunted Mansion. He was the lead voice of the singing busts in the mansion.
Now, say you’ve never seen a Tony the Tiger commercial or been to Disneyland, it’s still likely you’ve likely heard Ravenscroft’s voice on television. Ever seen “The Grinch who Stole Christmas?” Do you think that’s Boris Karloff singing “You’re a Mean One Lisa Grinch?” Err, “Mr. Grinch.” Nope. It’s Nebraska’s own Thurl Ravenscroft. His name was accidentally left out of the credits. He also sang “No Dogs Allowed” for the “Peanuts” movie, “Snoopy, Come Home.”
Have you ever launched a model rocket? Ever watched one being launched? The inventor of the model rocket hails from Norfolk. Orville Carlisle is credited with being the founder of the model rocket. Born in 1917, he was fascinated with space travel as the world started working its way there. Two of his original “Rock-A-Chute” models are on display at the National Air and Space Museum.
The final group of Norfolk residents who went on to fame are the three Hall brothers. What did they do? Well, in 1908, they bought a store in Norfolk and started selling postcards. In 1910, they realized they had a limited market in the northeast Nebraska community. So, youngest brother Joyce packed up a shoebox full of postcards, hopped a train and landed himself in Kansas City, Missouri.
He went drug store to drug store, gift shop to gift shop. He tried marketing to book stores, even wholesalers. Then, in 1915, he lost his inventory of postcards to a fire. Well, that took care of that, huh?
The Hall brothers secured a loan and bought an engraving firm. Then, a couple years later, brother William sold the shop in Norfolk and relocated to KC. The brothers launched a new company – the Hall Brothers. You know them as Hallmark, maker of greeting cards, ornaments and sentimental holiday movies.
All this fame from a small rural city in Nebraska. That is truly impressive. There are large cities that turn out a handful of famous people.
The Elkhorn Valley Museum celebrates more than its famous brethren. It’s home to the first square-turning tractor in the world. Invented in 1911, the tractor allowed the driver to make a 90-degree turn. Farmers could work closer to the fence line. A few hundred were manufactured. The museum obtained one of them.
The museum takes a look at the history of the region – from prehistoric times to contemporary days. You can see fossils found in the area of mammoths and other creatures.
Area Native American tribes recognized in the museum include the Santee, which is my tribe. Other tribes include the Ponca and the Winnebago.
The museum documents the explorers and pioneers, who visited the area.
A gallery – Grandma’s Kitchen – contains a variety of older household items.
The Norfolk museum is a nice place to visit. It does a good job of tracking the history of the region and recognizing major events and people. It’s definitely worth a visit when in the area.
For more information on the museum, please visit www.elkhornvalleymuseum.com.