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Halloween frights an opportunity for learning at Howling Homestead

Creepy-crawlies, things that go bump in the night and other spooky goings-on all make for eerie Halloween fun, but at the Homestead National Monument, they’re turning the scary stuff into something educational.

On Saturday, Oct. 28, the Homesteadwill host its annual Howling Homestead event starting at 6 p.m. in and around the monument’s Heritage Center.

The night will feature live birds of prey, spiders, insects and snakes, an encounter with a mad scientist, nighttime nature walks, storytellers, refreshments and the first 100 kids who come to the monument for Howling Homestead get a free pumpkin, courtesy of Friends of the Homestead.

The Howling Homestead isn’t about scaring you, said park superintendent Mark Engler, it’s about engaging with the natural world around us. It’s a family friendly event, he said, and a learning experience with a Halloween backdrop.

“While we may be thinking about Halloween and scary things,” Engler said, “This will let us look at these things in a different light.”

Things like live owls, courtesy of the Fontenelle Forest’s Raptor Recovery program and programs from the Lincoln Children’s Zoo. The Prairie Astronomy Club from Lincoln will be on hand as well with telescopes for a little stargazing.

Visitors travel around the park in groups, stopping for about 15 minutes per station and, toward the end, they’ll have a chance to enjoy some fall-themed refreshments.

Since the event is in mid-autumn, Engler said, it’s important to dress for the occasion.

“We ask people coming to it, leave your costumes at home,” he said. “We also ask that they take into consideration the weather. If it's going to be a cool evening, make sure you dress for a cool temperature since part of it is outside and part of it is inside.”

The event typically attracts hundreds of kids and their families, Engler said, and it’s something people tend to come back to. It’s a fun evening but—like broccoli smothered in cheese—it’s about sneaking a little learning into something fun.

“We have a person we call a mad scientist,” Engler said of the Educational Service Unit’s contribution. “But actually, they're sharing with us fun experiments that help people better understand our natural world and the science behind different things.”

In the mean time, the Homestead National Monument’s latest art exhibition “The Legacy of Nebraska” opened on Friday and will run through the beginning of January.

A collection of oil paintings of southeast Nebraska scenes by Nebraskan painter Todd A. Williams, The Legacy of Nebraska is an exhibit that’s spent the last few months touring the state in celebration of the Nebraska sesquicentennial.

Williams’ paintings have almost a feathery, dream-like look about them and feature the people, places and things that have made Nebraska what it is today.

“I would say that they show our state's rich history,” Engler said. They also are a source of pride for Nebraskans. Seeing some of these features and landmarks from different places in Nebraska, I think it would be cool for people to see them through the eyes of Todd Williams.”

Williams will be on hand, along with author David Hendee, for a presentation and book signing on Nov. 5 at 1 p.m.

Both the presentation and the Howling Homestead events are free to attend.


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Model train show chugs into Beatrice

Freight trains, passenger trains, steam, diesel and electric locomotives all made their way into the Beatrice City Auditorium on Friday afternoon.

The Beatrice Area Railroad Enthusiasts Model Train Show opens on Saturday, and groups from around the area were setting up their meticulously designed displays and trains on Friday.

It was held at the Beatrice Holiday Inn for the last few years, but with more clubs wanting to display and more vendors wanting to sell, the show outgrew its old location and moved into the gymnasium of the city auditorium.

Main Street Beatrice furnished mats to cover the wooden floors of the auditorium this year, and the show will host around 50 tables worth of vendors selling various train cars, locomotives and structures for long-time model railroaders, as well as the budding enthusiasts.

Two clubs from Lincoln, one from Kansas and the Beatrice Area Railroad Enthusiasts will all be strutting their stuff for the event, which will feature at least four different scales of model railroad.

All the way from the 1:22 G-scale—which got its name from the German word groß for big—to the tiny 1:160 N-Scale trains which are just a little bigger than a pencil, there’s a train sure to please just about any hobbyist.

Rich Rischling, one of the Beatrice Area Railroad Enthusiast organizers of the event said they see people who are at all model railroad levels from beginner to old hand.

“It's kind of a mix between the two,” Rischling said. “Some of the clubs, the guys have been doing it for years and years. They also have new members who are just getting started in the hobby.”

On Friday, exhibitors with custom-made trailers, built just to haul model train layouts, backed into the auditorium’s driveway and started unloading. Some sections measured about six feet long were fully built up with trees, buildings, people and, of course, lots of track. Others brought modular units, bolted together with sheets of plywood. These were the pros who’d spent plenty of time getting everything perfect.

With elaborate layouts and vendors offering nearly anything train-related a collector could imagine, the show tends to draw a crowd, said fellow organizer Craig Cherry.

“Last year, we had close to or a little over 1,000, I think,” Cherry said. “It has varied.”

Admission to the show is $5 for adults and kids 12 and under are free with an adult admission. The show runs Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and the displays at the Beatrice Area Railroad Enthusiasts building on Court Street will be running during the show as well.

There will also be a canteen set up with pulled pork sandwiches, hot dogs and other concessions for hungry visitors.

Rischling described himself as being a bit computer illiterate, but that’s kind of helped with his interest, he said.

“I think you kind of have to be born with it,” Rischling said. “It's kind of in your blood.”


Annual senior fair to be held Saturday

A variety of services will be available for seniors Saturday at the annual senior fair.

This year marks the 13th year of the event, which is sponsored by the Daily Sun.

The event will be Saturday, Oct. 21 from 8-11 a.m. at the Beatrice Senior Center, located at 101 N. 25th St.

The event features several products and services, aimed to make the lives of senior citizens easier.

Patrick Ethridge, publisher of the Daily Sun, said the event has historically been well attended by seniors eager to take advantage of the offerings, and attendance is expected to remain strong in 2017.

“The senior fair has been a great event with a lot to offer seniors in our area,” he said. “We hope to have another great turnout and see lots of people at the event.”

Some of the health services available include free balance assessments, general health assessments, free hearing exams, flu shots and blood pressure checks.

Additionally, Bingo games will be held and there will drawings for prizes.

Refreshments will be provided, and many local vendors will be on site with information and demonstrations for those interested.

There is no cost to attend the event.


Nebraska prisons to continue double-bunking solitary inmates

The Nebraska corrections director says he plans to continue double-bunking inmates in solitary confinement despite the inspector general's call to suspend the practice out of concern it increases dangers for inmates and staff.

Inspector General of Corrections Doug Koebernick recently called on the state to suspend and review the practice of bunking two inmates in a solitary cell. He cited studies concluding that placing two troubled inmates in a small cell designed for one increases danger and tension for inmates and staff.

But State Corrections Director Scott Frakes rejected suspending the practice. He said the department has reviewed the practice and will continue it, along with screening cellmates for compatibility. Nebraska has double-bunked cells in solitary confinement at four state prisons because of overcrowding

Frakes acknowledged that no academic studies exist to prove that double-bunking is a positive practice that improves behavior, but said his 35 years of corrections experience shows it can be safe.

Solitary confinement, or "restrictive housing," is where disruptive and dangerous inmates are sent when they violate rules or are a threat to themselves or others. Double-bunking is seen nationally as a risky decision, though several states and county jails do it to deal with overcrowding and slim budgets.

Koebernick's call was in response to the April slaying of inmate Terry Berry Jr. in a double-bunked cell at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. Frakes blamed Berry's death solely on his cellmate, Patrick Schroeder, who was serving life in prison for murder.

"Mr. Schroeder had multiple avenues with which to address any concerns about his living situation and chose, instead, to kill Mr. Berry," Frakes said.

Koebernick's report details interviews he had with Tecumseh staff who said Schroeder did not want to have a cellmate and that staff was concerned about the two inmates being placed together though they did not expect a murder to take place.

After Berry’s death, a Tecumseh staff member filed an incident report that detailed her concerns about the placement of the two inmates in the same cell. She wrote she was made aware in the early afternoon of April 10 that Berry was being placed in the cell with Schroeder.

She described Schroeder as “an inmate known for his temper.” She wrote that when she heard the information she felt it was not the best idea, since Berry was known to be “very talkative and bothersome,” and an inmate in for life, with a temper, would not want someone like Berry in his cell.

She said she called a lieutenant’s office and spoke to a staff member and was told there wasn’t much that could be done unless she called the person responsible for making the decision at their home. She also wrote that she talked to two other staff members about her concerns. Only one confirmed their conversation took place, Koebernick said.