Omaha’s Union Station turns 80

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January 19th, 2011

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The Durham Museum is marking Union Station's 80th year with a year-long exhibit showing off its rich and busy history (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Lincoln, NE – In the Great Hall of Omaha’s Durham Museum, there’s a display that celebrates a time when this building was one of the busiest railroad stations in the country. A statue of a woman traveling with two small children, talking with a red-capped bellhop marks the era, as their recorded dialogue plays through a nearby speaker.

In real life, Bob Fahey was one of those red capped-bellhops.

“The peak of the travel was in 1944, when we had 64 trains a day on the seven railroads coming in to the station,” Fahey recalled. “So it was just wall-to-wall people.”

Fahey started working at the station toward the end of World War II, still a fresh-faced student at Omaha Tech High School. He worked his way up from mail room to manager. Along the way, he’d meet traveling celebrities like the radio actors who played Fibber McGee and Molly, and he’d meet his wife.

“She worked for the Army transportation corps,” he said. “Her desk was right there where the redcaps unloaded the baggage. You know, she was a pretty cute lookin’ chick out of Iowa, so I got to talkin’ to her and one thing led to another.”

Fahey also learned to love the station itself. A gleaming art deco creation, designed by well-known National Park lodge architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood. Shawna Forsberg, marketing director for the Durham Museum, said Union Pacific was headquartered in Omaha. “So they really wanted this building to make a statement. They hired Underwood as the architect. And he was very well known and had not built a railway station before. They wanted somebody that was going to do something that was very unique.”

Although freight trains still roll by, Union Station, which first opened its doors January 15, 1931, stopped serving railroad customers in 1971. The building is now home to the Durham Museum. Inside and out, it still looks like it did during the heyday of railroad travel. And you’ll still find 80-something Bob Fahey at the station, now a museum volunteer.

“It’s kinda nice to explain to people just what it was back then.”

Learn more about the history of Union Station in an exhibit on display at the Durham that continues through the year.

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