January is typically a month of renewal, celebration, and growth for most of us. Everyone is getting back into the swing of their routine after the hustle and bustle of the holidays. On January 9, 2016, an explosion and fire blazed through M’s Pub, clothing store, Nouvelle Eve, and surrounding apartments and condominiums. The full story on the cause of the fire, the aftermath, and Omaha’s response.
“The past was what we carried with us, threaded to the future, and we decided whether to keep it close or let it go. Fate was both what we were given and what we made for ourselves.” -Alice Hoffman, The Museum of Extraordinary Things
When I first heard about the fire at Old Market, many flocked downtown to document the tragedy-to see their beloved icons encased in ice. These poor people, I thought. Many residents were not only locked out of their homes, but were separated from pets. Cats were trapped inside of the apartments for days! I considered my own pets, and could not fathom how terrified I would be for them. The business owners worked tirelessly, pouring everything into their businesses only to watch it turn ash in the night. Employees found themselves out of jobs right after the financial strain of the holidays. One fire directly impacted the entire community. There was a benefit in late January to raise money for the assistance for the employees, and an emergency assistance fund has been created by the Salvation Army for those who would like to donate to those effected by the fire. I did not want to disrespect anyone by taking photographs myself. I worried they would be misconstrued.
I approached a handful of local shops about selling my work. One woman in particular asked me to capture some photographs of M’s Pub and the surrounding area after the fire. She insisted if I captured the building before they began to rebuild, her clientele would be interested in the photographs. In spite of my reluctance about exploiting those involved in the fire, I headed downtown. I had been on crutches since December 24th, and this was my first attempt at walking without them. Barricades still kept vehicles from entering, so my husband had to drop me off.
I stood rooted to the sidewalk, my Canon dangling uselessly from my neck as I stared at the front of M’s. Christmas wreaths still clung to the awnings, their needles brittle and brown. This is someone’s everything, I thought. This is someone’s dream. The knot in my gut twisted tighter, and I strained to see through the tears in my eyes. I gripped my camera and started snapping photos.
One of the apartment windows still had a Christmas tree standing, bare waiting for the residents to come back. The statue of Liberty kept watch over her neighborhood, silently from another window. Mannequins peered out of the dark over racks of clothes and sales signs from Nouvelle Eve.
Nouvelle Eve, a clothing store centered around empowering women, was established in 1973. Owner, Susie Keuck, who remembers every detail of the night of the fire, promises the store will return. M’s Pub was also one of the oldest restaurants in the Old Market, and has been a part of the community since 1973. I have also heard rumors they plan to rebuild as well.
When we finished downtown, we headed out to the country to enjoy the sunset. I wanted to add some of those pictures as well.
The best thing we can do for our city is to continue to visit the Old Market, spend your money locally and show your support to your community.
Trish Eklund is the owner and creator of Abandoned, Forgotten, & Decayed, and Family Fusion Community, an online resource for blended families of all types. Trish’s photography has been featured on Only in Nebraska, ListVerse, Nature Takes Over and Pocket Abandoned. Check out the new Bonanza Store for AFD merchandise! Follow on Instagram and Facebook. Trish is regularly featured on The Mighty, Huffington Post Divorce, and Her View From Home. She has also been featured on Making Midlife Matter, and The Five Moms, and has an essay in the anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz.