Ollie the Trolley uncovers rich history of Magic City

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July 14th, 2011

Omaha, NE- South Omaha has a rich, diverse history that is often untold. Now, Ollie the Trolley is traveling back in time to tour the old neighborhoods of the “Magic City.”

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South Omaha was once its own city, nicknamed “The Magic City.” It was founded in 1884, and annexed by Omaha in 1915. Gary Kastrick is a tour guide for the Durham Museum’s River City History tour.

“It was like magic!,” Kastrick said. “It went from 30 people of Irish, German and Swedish descent to about 10,000 people in about six to seven years.”

Durham’s River City History Tours include trips around the “Magic City” of South Omaha, which includes the city's anchor: the old Livestock Exchange Building. (Photo credit Wikimedia Commons)

Kastrick is a retired history teacher from the area, and he grew up in South Omaha. While on the tour, the trolley stopped in a parking lot between two brick buildings overlooking the Kennedy Freeway.

“Now, this is South Omaha,” Kastrick said. “If you look over there, you see the giant, magnificent, fantastic, beautiful building called the Livestock Exchange Building.”

The Omaha Livestock Exchange Building, as it stands today. (Photo credit Wikimedia Commons)

With the creation of the Union Stockyards in the early 1900’s, many immigrants came to the community to work at the different packinghouses and breweries. But by the 1990’s, the plants had closed. Kastrick said immigrants have lived in South Omaha since its beginning, and he said today, new rounds of immigrants call the area home.

“This has always been an area of different cultures,” Kastrick said. “The difference, of course, is that now we have one dominant culture.”

“And that’s what people are afraid of,” he said. “They don’t realize that they are no different than the other immigrants that came in here: hard working people.” Kastrick said he would often tell his Hispanic students at Omaha South High School “in a loving way… When you come here, learn the history. Learn to appreciate what was here before. That’s really important to me: history.”

Durham’s River City History tours include trips around Omaha’s Gritty City, North and South Gold Coasts, and the jazz town of North Omaha. These time-traveling tours are now running through the end of September.

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