Monday, August 22, 2016

Black Elk-Neihardt Park

Nowadays if you mention the Tower of the Four Winds, most people might think of Disney, or a video game, (Sorry, fantasy roll-play.) but the concept of the Four Winds, or the Four Elements, is tens of thousands of years old, and way up on top of a hill, the highest hill, in Blair Nebraska is Black Elk-Neihardt Park and in Black Elk-Neihardt Park you will find one such Tower of the Four Winds.

Blair is the first town you come to in Nebraska when following the modern day Lincoln Highway west out of Iowa.

Black Elk was second cousin to Crazy Horse, witnessed the battle of Little Big Horn when he was 13, and lived until 1950

Neihardt was Nebraska's Poet Laureate and after a long series of interviews with Black Elk, in 1931 wrote the book, Black Elk Speaks.

Artist Bill Thomsen, with the encouragement of Neihardt, interpreted some of the visions and scenes from that book in pastels.

 The Tower of the Four Winds is a mosaic interpretation of one of those pastels, which Thomsen described as a message of brotherhood, peace and compassion.

For a city of only 8,000 Black Elk-Neihardt Park is pretty big, covering some 80 acres, well appointed and impeccably maintained, as the following photos will show, but I have to say, it was also one of the weirdest, maybe even creepiest, parks I've ever been in.

But more about that later.

In front of the Tower of the Four Winds there are plaques that flesh out Black Elk's interpretation of each of those winds. Following his interpretation I've included a Celtic/Pagan interpretation of the four elements.  (I'm fascinated by the confluence of legends, stories and symbolism that threads consistently through centuries of beliefs.)

North: Where the Great White Giant lives in power and the source of the cold and mighty winds which gave strength and endurance.

North: Mother Earth: the source of life; power and fertility:

East: the source of the light of day and where the morning star lives. From the light of the east come wisdom and understanding, and from understanding, peace.

East: Air: the breath of life; knowledge and wisdom

South: The source of summer and the power to grow.

South: Fire: the spark of life; strength and passion

West: Where the thunder beings live. The thunder beings have the power to send rain or lightning, the power to bring life or to destroy.

West: Water: the nectar of life; purification and new beginnings

But there's more to this park than the tower.

Besides the usual picnic and playground facilities,  there's a nature trail, though to my thinking it was less a trail and more of a paved path to wander around the park on.

And there's a 9 hole disk-golf course.

For a city park the infrastructure of the golf course is top of the line with concrete tee's, both men's and women's,  pretty much indestructible information plaques at every hole, well groomed grounds and equally well maintained targets. Even without a bag of Frisbee's over my shoulder, it was a very pleasant amble to walk the course.

And if a group event is in your future, the park has a really cool pavilion with tables, fire pit (You can see the funnel shaped chimney near the center of the pavilion.) and bathrooms, all under the cantilevered roof

which looks out across the park.

So what's so weird about all that???

Well have you noticed that I managed to take every single photo without getting someone into the frame??

 That's because there was no one there, not a single person, dog, screaming kid, nobody, other than me!!

And this is a fine sunny Saturday afternoon we're talking about here!

It's not like the park is isolated either. When you drive up the hill to get here you are going through a residential area with houses and driveways lining the road right up to the turn into the park, and town is right there at the bottom of the hill.

Now you know I'm not one to complain about lack of crowds, but - well - it was a little creepy!!!!


  1. I have a friend that went to Dana College. I'll have to ask her about the park. That is strange, and I can't remember a time where I have been to a park with no people there. Hard to believe it was a Saturday. You should have camped there until the first person or dog showed up ... lol

    1. Since it's just down the hill, maybe if college had been in session there would have been people at the park.

      As it was I kept getting the feeling that maybe the entire town was empty and I just never got the word to stay away. . . So I wasn't entirely reluctant to get my ass out of there!

  2. When I attended DANA college between 1993 and 1996, I would walk in that park every single day-in all kinds of weather, and at all times, including the middle of the night-and no one was ever in that park when I was there, except once. I think maybe most of the students exercised in the gym, or were into sports and didn't need to walk like I did, or, maybe they felt the park was a little creepy too. I remember getting funny looks when people heard I walked in there alone at night. It was beautiful during the day--and in late summer there were so many dragon flies--I'd never seen that many as I was from New York. When I walked there at night, I swear it always looked like someone was coming towards me in the dark--a dark shape--that sort of looked like the outline of a native american --Black Elk? Maybe his spirit hung around that park. I know when I dormed on the first floor of Rasmussen during Tech Camp, when I was a counselor in the summers, I got a little freaked because the window of the dorm was only a hundred feet down a hill you could take to get into the park. I kept the window shut and turned on the air conditioner those nights. I felt like Black Elk might wander right past my window. One night, when walking, I ran into one of the resident assistant's and his girl friend--thank God it wasn't Black Elk's spirit. Not sure why I was so afraid of him, though. I would get angry at myself for getting spooked, and I would make myself walk at least three times around the park, the same number of times I'd walk around Argyle Lake in Babylon, NY, no matter how cold I was, or how freaked I was. I attended an evening picnic there with classmates before graduation. I often think of that park, especially every time I see a dragon fly. Wish we had one as nice as that in NY-and empty except for a few spirits so I can get some peace and quiet again!

    1. Mary, it sounds like the park hasn't changed all that much since you were there which, in my book anyway, is a good thing when it comes to spaces, spiritual spaces, like this. I've had my share of encounters with spirits but I guess Black Elk was taking the day off when I was there.

      I had to look Babylon up. Yikes! I expect that it is difficult to find peace and quiet around there. How did you ever end up at DANA?