Friday, May 13, 2011

Jan Eloise Morris Interview: What it takes to create a historical town tour

The 24th annual Sam Wymore Days are scheduled for June 3 – 5, 2011 in Wymore, Nebraska. One of the highlights of the celebration will be historical bus tours of Wymore presented by Jan Eloise Morris, a native of the Blue Springs and Wymore area. Wymore is located in Gage county.

Jan Eloise Morris
Jan and I have been friends for nearly 30 years. I’ve always known Jan to have a passion for travel, music and history. Jan was my personal host/tour guide when I visited her in Los Angeles for my 50th birthday a few years ago. She made the musical history scene of 1960s L.A. come alive with stories as we visited actual landmarks tied to Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. We also did a drive-by of Brad Pitt’s home near Hollywood. Little did she know at the time that she and Brad share a rich family history.

Jan has made several trips to discover the places where her ancestors lived. Over the years, she has managed to combine her passions into coordinating a variety of travel and tour experiences, the latest of which is the upcoming historical bus tours of Wymore, Nebraska.

The following is an email interview with Jan about her tours:

What are your ties to Wymore?

I grew up a farmer's daughter about five miles east of Blue Springs, Nebraska. I attended elementary school in Blue Springs and graduated from Southern High School in Wymore. After graduation, I moved to Nebraska’s capital, Lincoln, but I still have family in the area.

Tell me a little about your family heritage.

My mother's Scots Irish ancestors left volumes of written family history going back as far as the 17th century, so most of the genealogical research was documented. However, sometimes the documents appeared on their own timeline.

My father's Welsh ancestors' trail is still a mystery before 1800.

I have always approached family history in reverse, I start at the beginning and work my way forward. I think that is because I like to travel far far away.

How did you get involved in planning and conducting tours?

While living in Los Angeles between 1994 and 2006, I coordinated small group tours to France, Italy, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. In 2003, I partnered with a friend to coordinate a festival for 500 people in Los Angeles. All of these tours came out of a love for travel and an interest in history and art (music and movies in particular). It is a wonderful experience to be able to open up new worlds and ways of looking at life to other people, whether it be in a faraway land or the land beneath their feet.

I also travel a great deal alone exploring the lands where my ancestors lived as far away as Northern Ireland and as close as Nebraska. Those journeys are best traveled alone (or with the ghosts of ancestors, some are most insistent about dragging you here and there). No matter what my interests are, travel has always been where I've found the real answers. I guess it goes back to growing up on a farm. You have to walk the land to really experience life where it was created and your ancestral heritage from its very roots.

Tell me more about some of the tours you’ve organized.

On June 29 - July 5, 2011, my long time friend, Kerry Humpherys (, and I are hosting a Jim Morrison 40th Anniversary Tour in Paris, France to commemorate 40 years since Morrison's death. Our tour members are arriving from Australia, Canada, England, California, Nebraska, Utah, Florida, New York and Massachusetts. This will be our fourth tour to Paris and we are looking forward to meeting old friends who gather there from all corners of the earth. Another long time friend, Dave Brock, is touring as the vocalist for the Manzarek/Krieger Band this summer and the band is performing in Paris on July 3. Although we corresponded in the months before, I first met both Kerry and Dave face to face in Paris in December of 1993.

How do you go about researching each trip or tour? What resources do you use?

Whether my tour is local or abroad, the Internet has always been my starting point for research. Where my focus is history or genealogical: national, state and local historical societies are my starting point. I gather as much information as possible in my home office so when I arrive at a destination, I don't waste time floundering with weak leads and looking for the next possible clue.

One of the historic homes of Wymore
I use the same methods of research for historical tours as my personal genealogical travel. However, there is an additional element involved when faced with trying to bring history to life with a group of people who may have never taken the time to think about the history disappearing around them. Many of the buildings in the "glory" years of these small towns are in decline or long gone. I have been, as you know, very fortunate with Blue Springs and Wymore to have photos taken by Joseph Martz during his years in Wymore between 1907 and 1917. This man was an amazing photographer, whose exquisite work documented the grand Victorian buildings of that era in all of their glory and sometimes through their demise into the ashes of great fires in 1910 and 1914. 

[Ed. Note from Susan: the postcard collection of Joseph Martz’s photos to which Jan has been granted access are among the most spectacular historical photos I have ever seen. The collection has been preserved over the years and the postcards are in pristine condition! The details and photo composition are remarkable. This man was a true artist. In recognition of her gracious contribution of these historic photos, Jan is dedicating this tour in Memory of Donna Wilson Berg 1925-2011.]

You mentioned that you use local and county history books to begin the research for your tours.

Small towns usually have town history books that were meticulously written for 100th anniversaries, etc. that are stuffed full of interesting stories and photos. These books are where I start with town historical tours and then my research expands from there to the historical societies. These societies are now flooding the Internet with fully scanned copies of old books, photos and documents.

Prominent citizens often built the main street buildings and I like to tie them together along with some of their grand homes that still stand in the neighborhoods. When I notify the current owners that we will be driving by to talk about their home, the owners love to pass on the history they have learned about it. Also, there are always local historians who make time for a visit to show you their memorabilia. The tour ends up becoming a community affair.

Taylor's Opera House
Wymore, Nebraska
Most of us buy these wonderful little books, leaf through the pages and put them on a shelf for safe keeping. The key to bringing these wonderful stories to life is visual imagery. If you can place people at the place where a vintage photograph was taken and tell them the story of the town during the time of the photograph, suddenly a whole new sense of where we are and who we are evolves. People walk away with a new sense of appreciation for the town and the people who struggle to keep it alive. It is that light of discovery in people's eyes walking away that I find worth every moment of time it takes to put these tours together.

You had quite a trip to Virginia and South Carolina last year. Tell me about that.

Last year I spent 10 days traveling from Virginia down the "Great Wagon Road" that my ancestors traveled down over several years in the 1740s to York County, South Carolina. In York County I spent a couple of days walking the land where my mother's ancestors settled and fought in the Revolutionary War. I arrived with a plat map study of my ancestor’s plantations. These plantations were well researched because they were used by Lord Cornwallis and destroyed after in his army moved on. During a meeting with a local historian, we discovered, quite by chance, a genuine family treasure - a log cabin built by my 5th great grandfather in 1771

Wymore, Nebraska
Train Depot
How spontaneous are your tours?

The only time I am spontaneous is when I hit the ground for a tour ... every moment before is carefully choreographed, meticulously scrutinized, and razor focused.

What can people expect on the Wymore tour?

To be surprised!

More information:

Sam Wymore Days
Wymore Bus Tour schedule
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Sunday, June 5, 2011
1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m.
Leaves from Community Center
115 West E St.
Wymore, Nebraska
Sponsored by the Southern Gage Community Pride Group
$3 per person

Jan’s websites:

Cinetropic and Doors Collector’s Magazine Jim Morrison 40th Anniversary Tour to Paris
bookings closed

Jan’s Hillhouse Family

Thank you, Jan! Your friendship is a lifelong treasure.

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