Formed of clay and hardened by fire, the humble brick has been the building block of choice on the prairies and plains of Nebraska over the past century-and-a-half.
In Tribland communities like Hastings and Guide Rock and Superior, millions upon millions of them have given shape and strength to everything from small private dwellings to the largest schools, churches, offices and factories.
But strange as it might seem, a brick also can carry a message — and the wall it helps to form can hold that message in secrecy for generations.
One day eight decades or more ago, a young man working in one of Hastings' several brickyards — a serious-minded sort, the son of immigrants, with hopes of a better future for himself — took a raw, soft brick and etched his name and address into one of its sides:
John Blum, 317 E. So. Str., Hastings, Nebraska.
Once the brick left Blum's hands, it moved on to the kiln, the rail car, and an unknown future. Most likely, he never expected to see or hear of it again.
Blum died more than 22 years ago at the age of 80. But now, thanks to a demolition project in Guide Rock and a Superior contractor's sharp eyes, Blum's long-forgotten calling card to the universe — red in color, weighing around 4 pounds and measuring 8 inches by 3 1/2 inches by 2 inches in size — is back in circulation.
Blum's widow, Gertrude, now 98 and still living in Hastings, had no idea the brick existed. Neither did the couple's son, John W. "Jack" Blum, now 77, retired and living just two doors down from the South Street address his father had listed.