Tag Archives: Hummel Park

Seeking Darkness in the Woods

October 31, 2018 by and
Photography by Durham Museum (provided)
Illustration by Derek Joy

Touring Hummel Park with Midwest Paranormal History Tours

story by Lisa Lukecart

Jamie Nestroyl walks up the short stone steps in the middle of the “Devil’s Punchbowl” at Hummel Park. The wind rips through the bowl one way, then rapidly switches directions. It feels like someone is watching, somewhere off in the covert corners of the woods. Tree roots sever the worn path, reaching skeletal fingers across the dirt. The hushed silence of the dense foliage seems an eerie reminder of rumored satanic rituals. 

The thick, humid air suffocates Nestroyl as the sun descends into twilight. Along with friend Kacie Ransome, they step from the stairs onto a road curving off into sinister shadows.

“Ohhhhhh…that’s scary. Take a picture of it,” Nestroyl says. 

She is dressed comfortably for the hike in a white Midwest Paranormal History Tours t-shirt, blue jeans, and tennis shoes. As Ransome takes out her phone, Nestroyl turns around. 

Her blue eyes widen…widen…widen…as the primordial urge to flee tickles her spine.

Someone, no, something is standing in the middle of the road. It appears human in form with legs, arms, and a torso. Her boyfriend is 6 foot, 4 inches tall, but this thing is at least eight feet and more massive than any mortal man. Sure, it could be a tall person…but not with yellow glowing eyes. Oh no, it definitely wasn’t human.

The creature stares at them. The shadowy figure reveals no other discernible details. No clothes, no face, no hair. It reminds her of a grainy old photograph. And yet, the fading sunlight doesn’t penetrate its bleak blackness. 

It’s darker than the dark, Nestroyl realizes. 

Nestroyl’s limbs freeze and her chest feels heavy, as if weighed down by a cinder block. She swats at Ransome. When her friend turns around and catches a glimpse of those crazy gleaming eyes, Ransome bolts, screaming as she retreats. Nestroyl doesn’t stick around, either. She follows her hysterical companion, sneakers slapping down the stairs.  

 A dozen fellow hikers in their group rush over to discover the cause of commotion. The ghost hunt was on, but Nestroyl (the founder of Midwest Paranormal History Tour) knows the “Shadow Man” is gone. For now. 

This isn’t Nestroyl’s first brush with the unknown. She has seen full apparitions and really alarming things since she was a child. Now, as a side job, Nestroyl takes folks on supernatural tours to cemeteries, forts, and hikes all around Omaha for an apt-priced $13. Hummel Park is one of her destinations.

Hummel has a wicked history of freaking people out. Hell, even the entrance sign looks like a gravestone. The old pavilion, since torn down, once issued a written warning to “abandon hope all who enter.” Reports of inverted pentagrams, swastikas, and other graffiti have littered the walls. The Devil’s Punchbowl was rumored to be a place of satanic rituals, including animal sacrifices in a smoky fire pit. Most are unsubstantiated rumors, but the urban legends and myths have blackened the beauty of the unmanicured wild pathways. Several are rooted in evil reality while others are just tales told around campfires. 

The legends are tangled and distorted since most have been passed down by word of mouth. One of the urban legends suggests that cannibalistic albino people live in the trees at Hummel, ready to sink their sharp teeth into exposed flesh. Another version of the story claims that they perform the satanic rituals and live in a remote cabin somewhere in the woods. 

Some people claim to have seen the ghost of Jacob Clatanoff, an actual German immigrant who once lived there in the 1900s. His wife supposedly murdered him and then ran off with her lover. Or take the old hermit. He’s missing a nose in some cases, fingers in another. Either way, he’s out to get wanderers. Or try the Devil’s Staircase (also called the Staircase to Hell, or Morphing Stairs). Count the steps up. Then down. Get the same number? Probably not. The stairs are cracked and broken so getting the correct answer isn’t likely. Oh, if the count is the same, feel free to ask the devil for a wish. The price? Your soul. 

People have allegedly killed themselves in Hummel Park, plunging to their demise on the steep eastern side of a natural cliff called the Devil’s Slide. The Omaha Police Department reports most suicides are initially documented as simply a death report, which makes it difficult to search for an exact number at Hummel. 

It has been said that the trees bend and bow in terror because of all the lynchings during the Red Summer of 1919. Even though many of these crimes went unreported or undocumented, it is highly unlikely any happened at Hummel, and there is no historical evidence to support the theory.

After witnessing the shadowy figure on the road, Nestroyl still insists that “there is no way these 202 acres aren’t cursed.” 

Lisa Reda, who has been a member of the UNO Paranormal Society since 2014 and has her own group, Paranormal Energy, has not seen any evidence of supernatural activity in the park. After a meeting four years ago, members decided to do a short investigation of Hummel on a bright sunny afternoon. Spirits have no concept of day and night. Most of the infrared and ultraviolet equipment, though, is optimal after the sun has set. And nighttime provides less noise contamination. Most of what the group found could be explained. For example, any meter readings probably came from power lines. 

“Just because we didn’t get any evidence, doesn’t mean nothing is there. Anytime there is a slightest natural explanation, you have to go with the natural explanation first,” Reda explains. “But if you were going to kill someone and ditch a body, this is the place to do it. Paranormal aside, it is just a creepy place.”

Aside from the urban legends, Hummel Park also has a long and unfortunate history of real-life horror: petty crimes, stolen vehicles, assaults, rape, and murder. Nevertheless, teenagers continue to sneak in for spine-tingling fun, attempting to call up spirits with Ouija boards and violating the park curfew in the process.

Two years ago Greg Sokolik III, along with four friends, went to Hummel near midnight (it closes at 9 p.m., earlier than most parks) for just that kind of an adventure. The 20-year-old says he left right after he was approached by a woman in a tight mini-skirt and tube top who asked if he wanted a “missus for the night.”

“Pick up a prostitute. Dump a dead body. That’s Hummel Park,” says Sokolik, referring to the infamous murder of Laura LaPointe. The victimized sex worker’s nude and bloody body was left in a ditch near the park. An empty brandy bottle and a six-foot-long tree limb were close by her corpse. Four other prostitutes beat her to death for money, a sum of $25 in total. 

Victims of crimes at Hummel have included innocent children. The heavily wooded area made headlines again with the tragic murder of 12-year-old Amber Harris. She was found in a shallow grave at the park in 2006, nearly six months after her disappearance. A cross necklace clung to her remains. Roy Ellis was convicted of killing her and sentenced to death. Ellis allegedly liked to intimidate women, and his former girlfriend told investigators that Ellis drove her to Hummel, dug a grave, and threatened to put her in it.

Ransome lived a block and a half from Harris at the time of her murder. 

“It’s more real to me now than just high school ghost stories,” Ransome recalls. 

Tracy Stratman, the recreation manager for the City of Omaha Parks, has been fighting Hummel’s gory reputation for years. Hummel has been cleaned up to make it a positive experience for visitors. The day camp is focused on nature-rich activities such as hiking, camp games, and even a chicken coop. Camp counselors no longer tell ghost stories or urban legends.

“We see Hummel as a hidden gem for the city of Omaha,” Stratman says. “Our goal is not to scare participants off, but to have an experience they love and to embrace the park.”

And yet, people are still drawn in by the macabre. Nestroyl, along with a few others on her tour, claim to have seen the shadowy figure two other times. 

As the tour concludes, 37-year-old Dustin Sims, his girlfriend, and daughter are counting the steps. He is here for the legends. 

Once, Sims recalls, he visited the outskirts of the park on a late wintry night. He could hear a young child violently screaming inside. 

Did he help or call the police?

“No!” Sims responds, incredulous. 

Why not?

“Because it’s Hummel Park,” he says.

Visit mphtours.com for more information or to book a tour with Midwest Paranormal History Tours.

Historical photos courtesy of the Durham Museum’s Bostwick-Frohardt collection

The History and Mystery of Hummel Park

story by Ryan Roenfeld

Hummel Park’s murky forest conceals tales of dark lore in the loess hills, rising from the Missouri River floodplain on the northern outskirts of Omaha. Behind the dense foliage, there is Satan’s slide and stairs that supposedly change steps with every climb. There are also groves of old oaks, a disc golf course, and folklore aplenty.

The family of N.P. Dodge donated the 202-acre park to the city in 1930. Hummel Park took its name from the amiable Joe Hummel, Omaha’s long-time city park commissioner from 1912-1939 (excepting two terms). It was Hummel, a reliable cog in Tom Dennison’s political machine, who was lauded as “father of Omaha Parks” upon his death at age 79 in 1942.

A few centuries earlier, almost 220 years ago, Manuel Lisa first established the fur-trade post (dubbed Fort Lisa near the park). European demand for furs and fashionable beaver hats drove much of the area’s exploration and economic exploitation. From 1812 until 1823, Fort Lisa was considered the “most important post on the Missouri River” by historian Hiram Chittenden. This was where expeditions north and west were outfitted and launched into the mountains and where the Omaha, Pawnee, and Ioway traded furs for goods. From 1814 until his 1817 resignation, Lisa served as the government Indian Agent as the fur trade and American policy then went hand-in-hand. After Lisa’s 1820 death, the post was taken over by Joshua Pilcher, who abandoned Fort Lisa for Bellevue.

The exact location of Fort Lisa has been lost to time, unlike Cabanne’s Post (also located in the neighborhood and overseen by Jean Pierre Cabanne) established by Bernard Pratte’s “French Company” in 1823. It was from this post that 116 men left in 1824 for Taos (still part of Mexico at the time). By 1825, Cabanne’s Post had become part of the Western Department of Astor’s sprawling American Fur Company, which set about establishing a monopoly on the Missouri. 

Cabanne’s Post was where Peter Sarpy first apprenticed into life along the river, and in 1831, “Ioway Jim” killed a member of the Omaha Nation near Cabanne’s Post, the first recorded murder in an area known today for Hummel Park. It would not be the last. Like Fort Lisa, in 1833, Cabanne’s Post was abandoned in favor of Bellevue.    

A monument to both posts was dedicated by the Daughters of the American Revolution in October 1928. It was rededicated in 2008 and then, within a week, “pretty well demolished” by vandals. Vandalism would plague the park, as would the dumping of trash. In April 2006, volunteers picked up 200 bags of garbage there, including tires, boards, barrels, and furniture, and they discovered the remains of a “1956 or 1957 Chevy” abandoned in a ravine. 

One of Hummel Park’s oldest legends—that it was the site of a colony of albinos—may be explained by the 1934 organization of a 250-acre camp adjacent to the park by Nebraska nudists. All those pale bodies must have looked awfully white, but that history seems to have been covered up. 

Hummel Park history is filled with picnics, egg hunts, nature hikes, and a beloved summer day camp dating from 1949. There is also a very real history of sexual assault, death, and murder. Some incidents took place in the park itself. Others occurred in the rural area nearby but close enough to leave a lingering reputation.

A Timeline of Dark History at Hummel Park

Disturbing Crimes Reported by Local Media

December 1933: 19-year-old Rose Engel was killed in the park when the car she was riding in overturned on a curve.

October 1947: A 19-year-old admitted to drinking heavily before his car smashed into a hayrack filled with University of Omaha students at the park; 20-year-old Freddie Freelin was killed.

January 1949: Two motorcyclists discovered George Rux’s frozen corpse on the outskirts of the park.

October 1950: Two men armed with a hatchet and hammer attacked two soldiers and their dates at the park and then forced the two women, one 15 and the other 21, to leave with them. Both were reportedly raped and then released on a random Omaha street corner.

August 1954: A reported sexual assault of three women at Hummel Park.   

February 1960: The “frozen body” of a woman was discovered near the park.

November 1970: 15-year-old Lori Jones was found dead, shot three times, after her companions claimed they’d left her sleeping inside a car at Hummel Park.

April 1973: A 20-year-old woman was carjacked in Omaha and forced to drive to Hummel Park, where she was raped and then driven back to the city where her assailant fled.

April 1983: The brutal softball-bat murder of 18-year-old prostitute Laura LaPointe happened southwest of the park. Her body was discovered “nude in a ditch” and four other prostitutes were later convicted.

May 1984: Two men were arrested for sexually assaulting a 25-year-old woman at knife-point in Hummel Park.

July 1984: Police had no suspects in the death of 21-year-old Michelle Lamere, who was intentionally run over and left to die north of the park. 

September 1985: A 36-year-old woman reported she was sexually assaulted at Hummel Park.

June 1986: A 34-year-old man was charged with the sexual assault of a 17-year-old Omaha woman at the park.

June 1992: Central High School sophomore Jeremy Drake was killed at the park over stolen car stereo speakers. Drake’s body was discovered by a woman walking her dog.

December 1999: Scott Addison was lured to Hummel Park to sell a stereo where he was beaten and stabbed. His two assailants left him for dead and Addison wrote their names in his own blood on the trunk of his car before he walked a quarter mile to find help.

June 2005: Jose Lucio survived being shot in the back in the park by a member of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) gang.

May 2006: Someone “ghost hunting” in Hummel Park discovered the shallow grave of 12-year-old Amber Harris. Roy Ellis was convicted of rape and murder and was sentenced to death.

February 2008: 16-year-old David Murillo lost control of his Honda in the park and died after he was ejected when his car went into a ravine.

December 2013: Washington County deputies found the body of an unknown man north of the park whose death was considered “suspicious.”

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Custom-Made Paradise in the Woods

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tracy Zaiss never gets tired answering the inevitable question from first-time visitors to the family’s hilltop home.

“They always ask me, ‘Are you sure we’re still in Omaha?’ And I always say, ‘Oh yes, this is Omaha. It’s Omaha Public Schools [for neighborhood kids], and we’re really just minutes from downtown.’”

The understandable skepticism begins along John J. Pershing Drive heading north, as the two-lane road follows the Missouri River. Turning left onto a road that leads to Hummel Park, surprised travelers immediately experience the wonders of nature, especially in late summer when the flora and fauna reach their peak of beauty and diversity. 

They find themselves under a canopy of trees so lush that rays of sunlight barely reach the pavement. Emerging from that dark tunnel, visitors then navigate deeply rutted, unpaved roads—with no street signs—that keep twisting and curving up a steep grade. 

Their journey ends at a smooth concrete driveway and a two-story natural stone house sitting high above the Missouri River Valley.

Built in 2011, the Zaiss (pronounced Zayss) home combines a classic, timeless design with contemporary materials.

Contractor Mick Smith of Mick Smith Construction used rough-cut, split-face stone with copper tones on the exterior. Long rectangular copper tiles, now a shade of green due to aging, accent the roof. The look complements the home’s rustic setting.

“We knocked down the original house on the property and built the new one around the same spot,” says Smith, now retired and working part time. He also installed a geothermal heating and cooling system underground “because there’s no natural gas up there.” 

Everything about the house and the setting still stands out in his mind. 

 “I’m telling you, that area is unbelievable, right in the middle of the park,” Smith says. “It would cost a fortune to build that same house today.”

Although Design Basics of Omaha drew the blueprints, Zaiss (who started her own marketing and research firm, Zaiss and Co., in 1989) and her husband, Rick (a social worker by profession and avid bird-watching hobbyist), came up with many ideas. 

For instance, Zaiss salvaged the thick red bricks from the original driveway to create a path that leads to the home’s long, arched entryway. “I wanted the front doors recessed to minimize the amount of mud people track in but it has never really worked,” she says with a laugh.  

As if to preview what vistas lie beyond the entryway, each of the two heavy wooden front doors has a window with the image of a rising sun etched into the glass. When opened, they reveal a magnificent expanse.

Sunlight streaming in through a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows along the back wall draws the eye into the wide-open living room. Even the freshly tuned grand piano in a corner of the room seems small under the vaulted ceiling. 

The wood-burning fireplace on the west wall features the same stone motif as the exterior of the house. A large oil painting takes up most of the space above the fireplace mantle. Titled “Wheat Fields,” it depicts birds flying above wind-swept acres of golden wheat. 

But the artwork doesn’t outshine the view behind the Zaiss house. Make no mistake: the land is the star of this show. 

Ten acres of deep, untouched woods extend as far as the eye can see, sloping downward to the river. The land teems with the green of cottonwood and black locust trees, the same variety that form the leafy cathedral at the entrance to Hummel Park. Apple trees laden with red fruit grow close to the house. Wildflowers and wild turkeys abound, as do fawns wobbling gingerly along the sizable backyard. When nighttime brings a blanket of deep darkness, Zaiss says she listens to the stillness. The only sounds come from nature and the only light comes from stars that shine exceptionally bright far from the city’s glare. 

Zaiss and her husband met while students at Hastings College and married in the ’70s, shortly after graduation. They felt particularly lucky in 2006—while living in their longtime home near 108th and Harrison streets—when a house with a stunning view came on the market in an area of North Omaha that rarely sees a “For Sale” sign. They took their time planning their dream home, while using the original structure as a weekend getaway and entertainment hub.

“This house is a result of five years looking at architecture and home magazines, getting design ideas,” Zaiss says.

Her thorough design exploration resulted in a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath, 4,714-square-foot home that maximizes enjoyment of its natural surroundings.

Borrowing heavily from architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Midwest-inspired Prairie style, the house features an open floor plan with free-flowing spaces and lots of windows as focal points. The windows don’t have coverings, except in the guest bedroom and bath. 

Lighting brings another architectural impact in the living room. The wall lights shine either up or down toward the floor to avoid any glare on the windows. 

Sliding glass doors in the back of the kitchen provide easy access to a concrete patio that spans the width of the house. 

Glass doors also open to a separate screen-enclosed eating area off the east side of the kitchen, “which we can use about nine months out of the year,” Zaiss says. “It’s always fun to have guests and eat out here.”

The kitchen sink, installed inside the granite-top center island, faces the patio door, providing scenery to the lucky person tasked with cleaning up. 

A large pantry next to the formal dining room contains a second, fully functional caterer’s kitchen with open shelves that display colorful dishes and serving pieces. 

The garage holds another of Zaiss’ innovations. A third garage door in the back of the structure allows the riding lawn mower to zip in and out with ease. 

“So much of what we wanted to achieve up here was comfort,” Zaiss says quietly. 

Mission accomplished.

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Check the Radar, Omaha

July 26, 2018 by

Subscribe to this free weekly newsletter here.

Thursday, July 26 to Saturday, July 28: We’re a little late to this party, as it kicked off on Wednesday, the 25th. But Omaha Under the Radar has so many events happening you’ll still have plenty of time to experience the incredible talent performing at several different venues in Omaha. Some of our favorite picks are Event 7 at Bancroft Street Market and Event 9 at OutrSpaces. Don’t just take our word for it, though. Head here for the full list and to get tickets.

Thursday, July 26: Picking up trash may not be how you planned on spending this lovely Thursday evening, but imagine how satisfying it will feel to enjoy an evening by the lake while doing some good. The Bluemovement Road Trip cruises through the country cleaning up vital waterways. This joint collaboration of Keep Omaha Beautiful, Inc., United by Blue, and Neighborhood Offshore Boutique & Board Shop is bringing people together to help preserve our nation’s natural beauty. Get all the details here.

Thursday, July 26: Think you know music? Relax after all that cleaning and test your knowledge later this evening at Mercury Lounge with Rock ’N’ Roll Jeopardy. You and up to three teammates will play a traditional three rounds. Win it all, and you will get a $100 bar tab. Best of all, that otherwise inane knowledge can help you support a good cause and keep that do-good vibe going. This week’s round of Jeopardy, $1 of every purchase will go to Omaha Girls Rock. Find out more here.

Saturday, July 28: Head to Lewis & Clark Landing this Saturday for the first Nebraska Asian Festival. Presented by Awesome Egg Rolls, this production includes activities and demonstrations from several different Asian cultures, including a Tibetan monk blessing in the morning, martial arts demonstrations, and a performance by the Pacific Island Dancers. Then there’s the food, with everything from sushi to curry and of course, egg rolls, with a beer garden featuring Asian beers. Tickets are only $5 and this is an all-day festival, so there’s really no excuse if you miss it. Learn more here.

Saturday, July 28: Can’t wait for that crunchy leaves, pumpkin-centric, spooky Halloween time of the year? Satisfy that yearning by signing up for the Haunted Hummel Hike this weekend. Known for generating creepy tales, Hummel Park is somewhat legendary around Omaha as a place for freaky happenings and encounters. Get your tickets here and determine for yourself whether the park is cursed or not.
(Keep an eye out for our upcoming story on Hummel Park in Omaha Magazine’s Sept./Oct. issue.)

Saturday, July 28 to July 29: Start with pancakes, end with a run to burn them off. Benson Days is happening this Saturday, with the the Indie 5k/10k run taking place Sunday morning. The pancake feed starts at 8 a.m., with a parade to follow. There’s also a street festival and the beer garden is open for business until 11 p.m. Also, if you miss the pancakes, there will be plenty of food trucks on hand to keep you fueled. Most importantly, though, the music starts at noon and lasts all day, with performances from local favorites Matt Cox, All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, and Miwi La Lupa. Don’t drink too many brews though, or you may have a hard time staying hydrated during the run. Get the full rundown here.

Living with 
Livestock in Omaha

June 19, 2017 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Hungry for a taste of the simple life? You don’t have to sacrifice the convenient luxuries of living in the Omaha metro.

Nick Batter, a lawyer who raises livestock in the Ponca Hills area, knows how to get the best of both worlds.

From left: Nick Batter and Jill Stigge

Batter owns five acres near Hummel Park, just outside of the city limits. He says he can’t imagine any other place where a young professional can raise a pig or shoot a shotgun in his or her front yard, and then drive 10 minutes to have sushi or see a Broadway show.

Urban Logistical Hassles

After first determining whether barnyard animals are allowed in your neighborhood, Batter says there are some challenges to raising livestock in the Omaha metro.

“There’s not many people to buy livestock from,” he says. He has to go on road trips to get animals. He must be selective about breeds due to space limitations: He raises a more docile breed of pig and a shorter-legged sheep (it runs slower). He doesn’t have space to overwinter animals either.

Batter’s livestock selection changes throughout the year to accommodate his space. He gets baby animals in spring and slaughters them after the first frost. By the end of April, he already had sheep, lambs, goats, rabbits, laying hens, and was expecting four pigs to arrive soon.

Limited access to feed stores presents another logistical challenge in the Omaha metro,  he says. For a variety of reasons (including his professional schedule), he has to buy feed on Sundays, and only one store is open when he’s available—and it’s in Irvington.

Nevertheless, he says the perks of animal husbandry outweigh any hassle.

Perks of Residential Livestock

Batter says his animals mostly “live off the land,” and their diet is only supplemented by feed. His rabbits and sheep eat grass. “Goats eat everything green,” he says.

He pens the pigs under mulberry, walnut, and oak trees. So, the pigs eat plenty of berries, nuts, and acorns. Batter finishes fattening them on black walnuts, a “very American walnut,” he says.

Batter doesn’t need to mow the lawn. The sheep do it. His two border collies make sure the sheep don’t leave the property.

He says the animal pens are near his home due to space limitations. His window faces the pens, so if predators are in the area—and his animals are distressed—he knows quickly.

Batter eats fresh eggs and chicken. “Keep them warm, keep them watered, keep them fed,” he says of the chickens. “They really do the rest.” He gets two to three dozen eggs a day. “They’re producing eggs like crazy,” Batter says. “I’m not even feeding them.”

The chickens eat bugs and grass, which they prefer. Batter enjoys sharing eggs. “Sharing eggs is expressive,” he says. “Time goes into it. It’s a way to share your personal time with somebody.”

Batter practices ethical husbandry and reaps the rewards, both in food and in spirit. “I’m not divorcing myself from the process [of processing animals],” Batter says. He knows his animals have a good life. “Every day of their lives is terrific except for the last day,” Batter says, adding that it pains him to waste meat: “You realize it came from a life.” And in the case of his backyard farm, a life that he nurtured and raised.”

Do It Yourself

Before investing in urban livestock, would-be farmers must research the zoning of their neighborhood. Circumstances are different all across the Omaha metro. To be safe, the University of Nebraska’s Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office encourages homeowners to check with neighborhood associations or county planning and zoning offices.

“There are so many different situations, SIDs, acreages, in city limits, out of city limits,” says Monte Stauffer, an educator with the county extension office. “The person who can make that decision is at the county courthouse; you just have to give them an address.”

For advice on raising chickens, Stauffer suggests reaching out to Brett Kreifels, an extension assistant with a master’s degree in poultry production. Meanwhile, Stauffer (an animal sciences and animal husbandry expert) can answer any questions about pigs, calves, horses, sheep, and goats.

Kreifels and Stauffer are available by phone at 402-444-7804. A receptionist at the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office directs queries to the relevant experts on staff.

“You can do it for several reasons: to try to generate additional income, to produce your own food, or provide an educational opportunity to young people—giving them some chores to do, some responsibility that they may not get them in trouble,” Stauffer says.

Visit extension.unl.edu/statewide/douglas-sarpy for more information.

Eggs, sausages, and bacon harvested from the farm.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

Omaha’s Urban Legends

January 8, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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.

Omaha’s Tunnels

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.


Disc Drive

April 15, 2015 by

Originally published in April 2015 HerFamily.

A co-worker’s zeal for disc golf inspired Mandi and Adam Jensen to give the sport a try, and only a year later, they’ve become enthusiasts themselves and even brought sons Maverick and Ryker and daughter Phoenix into the fold.

“It really is a good sport for families,” Mandi Jensen says. “We have three kids, and our youngest is 6 and our oldest is 12, so they’re not interested in many of the same things.” But when the family plays disc golf, “we’re all together and we’re all having fun.”

All it takes to play disc golf is a flying disc—known by many as a Frisbee, the Wham-O toy company’s registered trademark name—and a visit to one of Omaha’s three disc golf courses; Seymour Smith Park (68th and Harrison streets), Hummel Park (north of the Florence area off John J. Pershing Drive) or Cunningham Park (northwest of 84th and State streets). The rules are simple: Whether playing a 9-hole or 18-hole course, the basic objective is to land the disc in the disc pole hole or “basket” in as few throws as possible.

“The disc golf that we have at three locations in our parks in Omaha is a park amenity open to the public. There’s no charge, so you can just walk on and get in at any time,” says Tracy Stratman, recreation manager for the City of Omaha Parks, Recreation and Public Property department.

An ongoing partnership with the Omaha Metro Disc Golf Association (OMDGA) has helped to establish and expand facilities in the community since the mid-1990s, and volunteers from the group continue to support upkeep and invest plenty of sweat equity in maintenance year-round.

“From the City side, this is what makes our partnerships work and our parks successful. If somebody comes to us with an idea of an amenity that they want to see in a park, we work very hard with those groups to try and make it a reality,” Stratman says. “The parks are public spaces for the people and so we take our partnerships very seriously, because we can’t do it alone.”

The Hummel Park course, which OMDGA helped design, is considered by players to be the most challenging in the area and has even gained national recognition.

“Hummel is indeed getting such a solid rep,” says Bill (“Mr. Bill”) Hulbert of the OMDGA, “I’ve played with so many people from out of town that, after one round, are putting it on their list of favorites. It’s got everything: it’s not extremely long, and it has signature holes that you have to put it in a certain place on your first shot or you’re hosed.”

The OMDGA has been hosting the disc golf competition for the Cornhusker State Games (now the State Games of America) since 1994 and this August, for the first time, will be hosting the 2015 State Games of America national disc golf events at Hummel and at least one other course.

Hulbert still remembers buying his first disc at the age of 7, saving his 15-cent allowance for four weeks to buy a 49-cent “Pluto Platter.” A founding member of the first Omaha-area disc golf club and a 2013 Nebraska Disc Golf Hall of Fame inductee, Hulbert says he’s enjoyed watching the sport grow locally from a single course and a small following to a thriving activity and community known for its open arms.

“The community of disc golf people is really welcoming,” Jensen says. “They’re more friendly than you can imagine.”


Making Tracks

February 1, 2014 by

The frostbitten months carry additional and sometimes frustrating challenges when taking my two preschool-age grandsons for the weekend. The problem is that there seems to be an inverse relationship between the temperature and the CFQ.

The what?

That would be the Cabin Fever Quotient, that restless, bouncing-off-the-walls void created when you run out of indoor activities capable of entertaining the little ones. But Saturdays are a snap if you possess an intrepid spirit and a decent pair of boots.

One of our fave winter outings is to go critter tracking in expeditions that offer a fascinating peek into the sometime-secret winter habits of area wildlife. Start by doing a web search on the subject of “animal track identification” and you’ll find gobs of online field guides and other useful resources, several of them in easily printable, carry-along formats. It’s also fun and informative to gather the children in front of the computer to watch any of the zillions of YouTube videos available on the topic in preparation for your woodland trek.

A fresh, unblemished snowfall is the perfect palette for such wilderness adventures. Virtually every interruption in the pristine blanket at your feet—yes, droppings, too—holds a mystery waiting to be unlocked by young, inquisitive minds. Forgot to print out that field guide we discussed earlier? Smartphone web search to the rescue. While you’re at it, take close-up photos and have the kids start their own wildlife journals to match prints (and poop) to the animals that left them. Pocket a small measuring tape to have the children record the dimensions of the markings and make note of where they were found. Do those raccoon prints lead to or from water? Do those squirrel tracks disappear at the base of a mighty oak?

Sprawling spaces like Fontenelle Forest, Hummel Park, and area state parks offer a staggering array of snowy finds, but even the more expansive of city parks will reveal evidence of almost everything short of deer.

Take along a thermos of hot chocolate and find a log to carve out some quiet time during your treasure hunt. Especially because the snow acts as an acoustic muffler, there is nothing quite so serene—even spiritual—as the dead silence of a winter’s morn. Be quieter still and you increase the odds of encounters with all manner of creatures.

The awe-inspiring majesty of nature never hibernates. Introduce your grandkids to the wintry landscape, and soon there will grow in them a deeper reverence for the natural world and their special place in it.