Saturday, September 12, 2009

Kimmel Harding Nelson Residency: Day 6

Cincinnati House; Nebraska City

Working Papers

The Cincinnati House is a charming craft, candle, and home goods store, located not far from the KHN Center. On Friday afternoon, I purchased some Nebraska City postcards there and, at the register, struck up a pleasant conversation with the proprietress. She moved to Nebraska City and opened the boutique after retiring from a career in Omaha.

Upon learning that my time at the residency is principally given to musings on American and natural history, she announced with a smile, "If you're interested in history, you might like to know that this building used to be a brothel." I allowed as how, yes, I would like to know more about that history, and she provided me with the abridged version.

Although the narrative's specifics were not especially titillating, the Cincinnati House story did cause me to wonder why historical prostitution, unlike its present day trade or the institution of slavery, is so often romanticized or discussed with a wink and a smile? This fact seems especially odd considering that, were genealogical records better kept and people more honest, a significant percentage of European Americans would have one or more "working girls" in their family tree.

After bidding the owner a good afternoon, I made my way to the door. Hung on the wall nearby the exit, I noticed a framed license for prostitution, an artifact of the building's 19th century function.

Soybean field; Nebraska City

Suspicious Activity

Living in New York City, I sometimes forget that my not owning a vehicle is patently un-American. New York City's exemplary public transportation system makes carlessness possible (even preferable), and I'm fond of long walks, in any case.

Most Nebraska City residents, by contrast, aren't fond of walking and the town's plentiful dogs aren't accustomed to walkers. I was hounded, yesterday afternoon, as I tramped about the town's eastern edge in search of attractive river views. I walked on city streets or, where it exists, the lonely sidewalk, and I didn't trespass on private property. Still, although dogs failed to chase or bark at any of the passing cars or pickup trucks, they accosted me with sometimes intimidating territorial displays. At least one of the other KHN residents has experienced similar canine antagonism, and I've concluded that the dogs are alarmed, above all, by our unorthodox mode of locomotion.

Similarly, the town's human residents seem a bit suspicious of walkers. I feel, making my way from place to place, as though I shouldn't let my eyes linger on an open garage door or lawn ornament, lest I appear to be "casing the joint." If not burglary, what other reason would I have for walking?

Missouri River landing; Nebraska City

Photo credits: all photos, Hungry Hyaena, 2009