Every place has its urban legends, some quite famous. The Tower of London, as an example, has a group of ravens, and an urban legend to accompany them: If they ever leave, the story goes, the crown of Britain will fall.
Omaha has its share of unusual tales—perhaps more than its share. There doesn’t seem to be an old house or a building in Omaha without its own haunting. Everybody has an ancestor, it would seem, who was connected with a notorious crime in some way.
It’s understandable. Omaha was a frontier town, one in which vice was a major industry and a gambler ran the city as a crime boss for three decades. This memory lingers, and encourages tall tales, but some of the city’s most noted urban legends are outside the realm of the underworld.
Take the stories of Hummel Park north of the city, which is such a locus of fanciful speculation that it is the subject of a new book, The Legend of Hummel Park and Other Stories, by Jeremy Morong. The entry to the park, we are told, has trees that bend inward, a reminder of an era when lynchings were common in the park.
There is, however, no credible evidence that anyone was ever lynched there. Neither is there evidence of Satanic ritual murder, another popular Hummel legend. One of the oddest stories about the park is the presence of an “albino farm.” This one has been kicked around since at least 1966, according to Omaha World-Herald clippings. The idea of a band of feral albinos living in the park is likely an Ozark legend that migrated north as there are also stories of an albino farm in Springfield, Missouri.
The park was long used by Boy Scouts and was the site of a day camp, and it’s likely that this is where many of the legends came from. There is one story, however, that has some credibility. Hummel Park was a former Indian burial ground. Native remains have been found in the area, including a skull that was used as decoration for a totem pole by the Boy Scouts in 1945.
Here are some other Omaha legends, and the truth behind them:
The White House Apartments
This imposing structure on 10th street is widely reported to have been a military hospital during a past war, and now haunted by those who died there. The building has no military provenance, but it was used as a retirement home for a while.
There are a lot of tunnels under houses in Omaha, but it is unlikely many, if any, were used for transporting bootleg liquor, which everybody claims. Omaha was an open town during Prohibition, and booze could easily be transported by truck. Some home brewing probably took place in tunnels, but most date to pre-Prohibition days, and were more likely used as fruit cellars and other legal uses.
The Murder at Mystery Manor
Mystery Manor, one of the city’s popular Halloween attractions, likes to tell a story of a brutal murder that took place in the building in 1929. Owner William Hall, it is said, took a hatchet to his wife. The story is a marvelous marketing device, but nothing else. In 1929, the house was occupied by Lillian Baum, who sold terrier pups.