The Gilded Age Plains City

The Great Sheedy Murder Trial and the Booster Ethos of Lincoln, Nebraska


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Spatial Narratives

Interpretation and Narrative

Carlos C. Burr

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As one of Lincoln's most influential lawyers and local politicians, Carlos C. Burr had a great impact on the city's economic, political and legal affairs early in it's history. In March of 1871 Burr was one of the six men to serve on Lincoln's first city council after the city was organized under second-class status. Burr met with Mayor W. F. Chapin and other councilmen at the fire engine house on the west side of South Eleventh Street between M and N streets. The engine house is shown in a photo of the west side of Eleventh Street; it is the small and unornamented third building in from the left side of the photo (Figure 1). The structure housed not only the city fire department, but also the police station, jail, and municipal government. Although Burr served only one year on the council, he returned to city government in 1885 when he was elected as Lincoln's mayor.

As a prominent real estate developer, Burr, along with his brother Lionel, played a critical role in the city's spatial development. He raised thirteen business blocks in Lincoln including the Burr Block (Figure 2) (Figure 3) (Figure 4) (Figure 5) (Figure 6) (Figure 7) (Figure 8) (Figure 9) at the northwest corner of Twelfth and O streets. For many years Burr maintained his law office in room 11, the corner office on the second floor of the famed building. He also owned sections of land on Fourteenth Street about a mile south of downtown in a division he called "Knob Hill."

An active member of Lincoln's social and booster organizations, Burr was one of the early members of the Lincoln Board of Trade which met at many locations over the twenty-two years it worked to expand Lincoln's economy. In the 1880s the group convened in rooms in the Richards Block at 1104 O Street; the building is on the left side of a photo of the north side of O Street. Many Board of Trade meetings also took place in Temple Hall at the State University, the district court room, city hall, and the Commercial Hotel (which became the Capital Hotel). Burr additionally belonged to the Union Club.

Throughout his career, Burr maintained a liminal position between the spaces occupied by the reformists within the city's booster ethos and those areas filled by the more "wide-open" proprietors of alcohol, sex, and gaming related establishments. He was part of the "traditional" booster ethos and worked to secure the continuance of Lincoln's "traditional" sort of businesses. Temperance groups criticized Burr for "standing in with the liquor interests," and one newspaper, calling him a friend and associate of gamblers and thugs, condemned the city government under Burr for allowing gambling halls and brothels to continue operation. Personally he was a frequent patron of saloons and casinos in the Uptown district including John Sheedy's gambling den on the second floor of the Quick Building at 142 North Tenth Street; and, as an owner of racing horses, he most likely was acquainted with the fairgrounds. Although Burr initially signed the call for the formation of the Law and Order League to assist in the prosecution of crimes, he later opposed the work of the group; as mayor he dismissed the League's agent from the police force. For him, businesses, whether legitimate or illegitimate, were sources of revenue and profit that enhanced Lincoln's tax base and generated further growth and development; inside deals, "influence" money, and "arrangements" between the real estate developers, the city council, the police, and members of the demimonde involving monetary "consideration" — occasional paybacks or "rent" to city officials and members of the police department in return for non-prosecution — were all a part of good business and politics. For professional reasons, however, Burr maintained relations with many of the reformist boosters in Lincoln, particularly those attorneys, bankers, and other reformist business owners who kept offices in his various buildings around town.

Burr, Carlos C. [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Burr, Lionel C. [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, John [Narrative] [Brief Biography]

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Directed by Timothy R. Mahoney, Plains Humanities Alliance, in collaboration with the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities.
Funded by the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, the Nebraska Humanities Council, and the Plains Humanities Alliance.
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