In the early 1890s, the Presbyterian churches in North Omaha were on an uptick. The city was growing, and despite a recession, churches were being built throughout the North Omaha community. With the “soft” launch of the Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary in downtown Omaha a few years earlier, a new crop of ministers for the denomination was springing forth and they needed places to preach.
In December 1893, the Bedford Place Presbyterian Church was formed. The new congregation was started at 3028 Lake Street, and in 1904 they changed their name to Church of the Covenant. Moving to North 27th and Pratt Streets in 1906, they changed their name to Covenant Presbyterian Church in 1918.
White flight led the congregation to moving to “west” Omaha in 1957, when they built a new church at 5112 Ames Avenue. The church hosted meetings of the Presbyterian Commission on Church and Race throughout the 1960s and 70s. As the demographics of this area continued changing the regional leadership of the Presbyterian Church conveniently asked the congregation to move further west in 1988. They accommodated the request and made the move, and today the church continues to be open at 15002 Blondo Street.
In early 1980s, their building at N. 27th and Pratt Streets was demolished to make way for the North Freeway. Today, their former building at 5112 Ames Avenue is home to Mount Calvary Community Church. The present-day location of Covenant Presbyterian Church is N. 150th and Blondo Streets.
Adam’s Note: This is the 23rd chapter of a series for NorthOmahaHistory.com called Framed: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO and the Omaha Two Story. Written by author Michael Richardson (San Francisco Bay View, OpEdNews.com and Examiner.com). I believe this series tells a vital story missing from Omaha’s history. Its the story of men convicted with malice; a Black neighborhood terrorized by white supremacy; and justice long-sought and not gained.
20TH CENTURY AFRICAN AMERICANS BIOGRAPHY CRIME CULTURE ECONOMICS GOVERNMENT LOST HISTORY MICHAEL RICHARDSON NORTH OMAHA POINDEXTER AND WE LANGA POLITICS RACISM SELF-PUBLISHED STORYTELLING
“Although successful over the years, it is felt they should now be discontinued for security reasons because of their sensitivity.” —Charles Brennan, April 27, 1971
Ten days after the Omaha trial ended, Charles Brennan realized growing attention to MEDBURG documents endangered further counterintelligence operations. Brennan sent William Sullivan a recommendation.[i]
“To afford additional security to our sensitive techniques and operations, it is recommended the COINTELPROS operated by the Domestic Intelligence Division be discontinued.”
“These programs involve a variety of sensitive intelligence techniques and disruptive activities which are afforded close supervision at the Seat of Government. They have been carefully supervised with all actions being afforded prior Bureau approval and an effort has been made to avoid engaging in harassment. Although successful over the years, it is felt they should now be discontinued for security reasons because of their sensitivity.”
“In exceptional instances where counterintelligence is warranted, it will be considered on a highly selective individual basis with tight procedures to insure absolute security.”[ii]
The next day, J. Edgar Hoover sent out a short directive to FBI field offices. “Effective immediately, all COINTELPROs operated by this Bureau are discontinued.”[iii]
May Day anti-war protests filled Washington, D.C. with demonstrators. William Sullivan and an unidentified “Security Coordinating Supervisor” took to the streets to see what was going on. The supervisor prepared an affidavit for Mark Felt about Sullivan’s tour.
“One of the areas we visited was Dupont Circle….I observed a young male demonstrator on the sidewalk to the right of the car and standing about 15 feet from the car. He jeered at us and made noises which gave me the impression he felt we were police officers. I raised my camera in an attempt to secure a photograph of the man through the windshield of the car, during which time he continued to jeer and moved toward our vehicle. Mr. Sullivan removed a canister of mace from his pocket, rolled the window down and sprayed mace at the man who was then about 6 feet from the car. I did not secure a photograph; the signal light changed and we immediately drove out of the area.”[iv]
The next day Sullivan got another taste of action when he was surrounded by protesters outside the Justice Department building as he surveyed the scene of an angry protest. FBI agents arrested a man for writing on the walls of the building with red paint. As demonstrators moved toward the arrest, Sullivan found himself alone in a hostile crowd. An agent later provided a first-hand report in an affidavit. “The crowd surged forward and someone yelled that Assistant Director Sullivan was still out there. I saw Sullivan standing alone about four feet from the gate. The crowd was yelling at him and the obscenities continued. Suddenly his foot flew out as if to kick at a demonstrator.”[v]
“I did not see him make contact with his foot. Then to defend himself, I next saw Sullivan waving a blackjack in his right hand. He was still about four feet from the gate. The two agents rushed out and forced him back inside the entranceway. The crowd continued to throw objects and spit at all of us.”[vi]
In mid-May, the New York 21 were acquitted of conspiracy charges in less than one hour of jury deliberation following the longest criminal trial to that date in New York City history. J. Edgar Hoover was furious. Attorney Paul Wolf has; described Hoover’s response. “Alarmed and embarrassed by the acquittal, Director Hoover ordered an “intensification” of the investigations of acquitted New York 21 members with special emphasis on those, like Bin Wahad, who were fugitives.”[vii]
Hoover decided to compete with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division more aggressively. Hoover sent a directive to all FBI field offices on weapons violations by black extremists. A FBI inspection report summarized the communication. “As a result of the ever increasing information being reported by our informants regarding the acquisition of weapons by black extremist groups….The field was instructed that we have secondary investigative jurisdiction in such matters and that information developed by our informant coverage regarding gun law violations should be handled by us and vigorously pursued looking to the ultimate prosecution of the black extremists involved.”[viii]
In July, “well-known black extremist” Charles Knox of the Black Revolutionary Party was searched and questioned by Customs officials at the Canadian border. Knox had expanded his base of operation from Des Moines to Omaha to help fill the gap left by the demise of the Black Panther groups. The FBI was informed of the search of Knox’s automobile. A FBI inspection memorandum provided details. “Charles Knox and an additional Omaha black extremist were detained temporarily by United States Customs officials in Detroit while returning to the United States from Canada. Search of their vehicle by Customs officials determined Knox and his companion were in possession of numerous pamphlets and leaflets of a pro-communist nature.”
“Investigations of the BRP and its identified leaders and members are being aggressively pursued and, where necessary, closely coordinated with [REDACTED].”[ix]
The 1971 annual inspection report of the Domestic Intelligence Division noted a weapons seizure. “Omaha informants advised of the location of several weapons which were owned by members of the Black Revolutionary Party in Omaha and which were subsequently seized by the Omaha Police Department.”[x]
George Moore discussed COINTELPRO in the inspection report. “Prior to discontinuance, counterintelligence activity directed toward disruption of the BPP was carried out at an accelerated rate taking advantage of and exploiting any appropriate situation.”[xi]
At the end of August, J. Edgar Hoover interviewed the new Special Agent in Charge of the Omaha FBI office following Paul Young’s promotion to Kansas City. A memorandum to Clyde Tolson summarized the visit. “Today I saw Inspector Fletcher D. Thompson of the Inspection Division, who is under transfer to Omaha as Special Agent in Charge.”
“I stressed to Mr. Thompson the value of informant coverage in all fields of our work, noting that the Omaha Office [REDACTED] and the necessity for intensification of the development of top level informants.”
“I noted that the agents of the Omaha Office in July had averaged two hours and twenty-four minutes per day overtime and, while this is excessive, I know of no way to reduce in view of the volume of work and shortage of personnel.”[xii]
The next day William Sullivan visited Hoover’s inner office. For the next two and a half hours Hoover berated Sullivan for a litany of errors and faults. The meeting descended into a shouting match. Sullivan told Hoover that he should retire.
Hoover wrote to Sullivan and formally requested that he apply for retirement immediately and take accumulated leave. Sullivan had lost the struggle with Hoover for control of the FBI. “It has been apparent to me that your views concerning my administration and policies in the Bureau do not meet with your approval or satisfaction, and thus has brought about a situation which, though I regret, is intolerable for the best functioning of the Bureau.”[xiii]
Charles Brennan, a protege of Sullivan, was removed as Assistant Director of the Domestic Intelligence Division and transferred to an inspector position following Sullivan’s departure.[xiv]
Congressional repeal of the Emergency Detention Act forced Hoover to notify field offices that the Security Index was to be discontinued. The change, however, was in name only. The Security Index was replaced by the newly named Administrative Index keeping intact Hoover’s secret detention list.[xv]
At month’s end, Hoover had his last encounter with William Sullivan. Hoover shouted at Sullivan. Sullivan shouted back. The heated exchange between the two men drove Hoover to write again to Sullivan about forced retirement. “I deeply regret the occasion to take action such as this after so many years of close association, but I believe it is necessary in the public interest. Your recently demonstrated and continuing unwillingness to reconcile yourself to, and officially accept, final administrative decision on problems concerning which you and other Bureau officials so often present me with a variety of conflicting views has resulted in an incompatibility so fundamental that it is detrimental to the harmonious and efficient performance of our public duties.”[xvi]
Hoover replaced Sullivan with Alex Rosen before the day was over.
In November, facing public calls for his retirement, Hoover received a letter of support from Fletcher Thompson who had learned the art of pleasing Hoover with flattery. Hoover called Thompson on the phone with his thanks. A memorandum to Clyde Tolson and others summarized the conversation between the two men.
“Special Agent in Charge Fletcher Thompson, Omaha, returned my earlier call to him. I told him the reason I called was that I was very much pleased with the letter he wrote me a week or ten days ago about his contacts around his district and what he, Thompson, had to say in regard to the criticism being directed against the Bureau. I told Mr. Thompson that on Friday I issued a letter to all Special Agents in Charge setting forth the various questions that may be asked by an audience or newspapermen and the answers that might be given and these followed the line that he had furnished me, but I wanted him to know what a fine job he did and I wanted to see the other Special Agents in Charge doing the same thing.”
“Mr. Thompson said he thought that was an opportunity they have although he did not know that everybody has a friendly audience as he has for the most part out there, but they are confused and want us to level with them. I said that is the only way, I think, that we can dispel the misinformation thrown them by these “jackals” and “scavengers” of the press. Mr. Thompson said we have nothing to apologize for as we are just doing our job and he intends to keep on telling them so.”[xvii]
In December, Hoover sent Clyde Tolson a memorandum regarding an interview he had with Bill Williams, who was being transferred from FBI headquarters to Omaha to be second in command. The memo is partially redacted, leaving the contents of three portions unknown.
“Today I saw Special Agent Bill D. Williams, a Supervisor in the General Investigative Division, who is under orders of transfer to Omaha as Assistant Special Agent in Charge. [REDACTED].”
“I stressed to Mr. Williams the value of informant coverage in all fields of our work. [REDACTED] and the necessity for intensification of the development of top level informants.”[xviii]
“I noted that since January 1, 1971, the Omaha Office has recruited 19 Special Agents and supplied 96 clerical employees.”[xix]
A week later, Fletcher Thompson made a formal counterintelligence proposal ten months after COINTELPRO was officially terminated.
Thompson’s proposal to Hoover is heavily redacted and the specifics of the planned operation are unknown, still protected by FBI censorship. Thompson’s target was Charles Knox of the Black Revolutionary Party.[xx]
The few details that were released by the FBI are found in the only two sentences of the memorandum made public. “Bureau permission is being requested to initiate counterintelligence activities against CHARLES KNOX, head of the Black Revolutionary Party in Des Moines, Iowa. The purpose of this counterintelligence activity is to disrupt the activities of the BRP.”
Hoover’s response is unknown.
In April 1972, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld Robert Cecil’s conviction for a sawed off shotgun seized during a raid of the National Committee to Combat Fascism headquarters in Omaha. However, the court was critical of police search tactics which used Cecil as a human shield.
“Hartford pulled the screen door open, breaking the lock, and the officers entered in a rush….The search, subsequent to the seizure of the gun and the defendant’s arrest, is not pertinent here and we say no more in that regard than that we disapprove of the manner in which it was conducted.”
Circuit Judge Heaney dissented, arguing that police lacked probable cause to arrest Cecil and provided more details of the search which used Cecil as a human shield. “I fail to understand why a temporary seizure of the defendant and the weapon would not have sufficiently protected the officers.”
“Instead, the police handcuffed the defendant and used him as a human shield to protect them as they searched the house, on the theory that if any occupants of the house fired on the police, Cecil would take the brunt of it.”[xxi]
[xiv] Archive.org, Charles D. Brennan, Vol. 4, p. 183, September 13, 1971
[xv] Archive.org, FBI Domestic Intelligence Division-HQ, Vol. 4, p. 104, August 22, 1972
[xvi] Archive.org, William Sullivan, Vol. 7, p. 154, September 30, 1971
[xvii] Archive.org, Clyde A. Tolson, Vol. 10, p. 62, November 22, 1971
[xviii] Archive.org, Clyde Tolson, Vol. 10, p. 77, December 3, 1971
[xix] Archive.org, Clyde Tolson, Vol. 10, p. 78, December 3, 1971
[xx] Fletcher Thompson to J. Edgar Hoover, February 9, 1972, Reel 4 Black Nationalist Hate Groups, microfilm, 1978
[xxi] United States v. Robert Cecil, 457 F. 2d 1178 (1972)
About the Author
Michael Richardson is a former Omaha resident who attended Westside High School and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Richardson was a VISTA Volunteer on the Near-Northside and served on the Nebraska Commission on Aging before moving from the state. Richardson attended the Minard murder trial and reported on the case in 1971 for the Omaha Star in his first published article. After a nineteen year career as a disability rights advocate, Richardson worked for Ralph Nader coordinating his ballot access campaigns in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. Richardson has written extensively for the San Francisco Bay View, OpEdNews.com and Examiner.com about the trial while spending the last decade researching and writing the book.
The northern Douglas County line runs east to west from the Missouri River to the Platte River. In the far northeastern corner extending from Highway 75 east to the river there are farmlands and a forests. A collection of rolling hills extends south to Interstate 680 and Florence.
These hills have a history of their own, starting long before the Pawnee began burying their dead along the hilltops throughout the Ponca Hills around the 1400s. European history in the area includes hangouts for horse thieves, an intriguing cemetery and The Forgot Store, as well as Pries Lake, Ponca School, Florence Ferry, Wyman Heights, Hummel Park and much more. The old Copper Valley probably never had copper in it, and Devil’s Slide may never have been used to worship Satan, but there is legitimate history to be told. Little farms have been here for more than 150 years to cultivate orchards and vineyards, with fruit trees, mineral springs and hops growing all around.
There have been a lot of different animals seen in the Ponca Hills. A long time ago, there were bear and elk, mountain lions and other animals here. In 1906, there were reports of grey wolves killed in the hills, along with regular sightings of beaver and an occasional fox.
In the area north of Florence are high hills and low valleys; natural springs and pathways made by American Indian hunting parties over the previous centuries. Here’s some of that history.
Maybe the best place to start with is looking at the places people have lived in throughout the Ponca Hills. Here are some details about the earliest inhabitants of the Ponca Hills, those who came after them, and the Europeans who stole their lands.
Homes in the Hills
The Ponca Nation probably never lived in the Ponca Hills. However, the Otoe, Omaha and Pawnee did. Around the turn of the 20th century when Omahans were feeling poetic about Native Americans, the area north of Florence gained the name Ponca Hills, and its been used informally since.
As recently as 200 years ago, tribes kept large pit houses throughout the hills, with 35 to 50 people living in each one. Archaeologists surveying these homes’ remnants found multiple eras of inhabitation estimated to cover hundreds of years. Several of these houses have been excavated in Ponca Hills, with a Nebraska phase “Central Plains Village” that was occupied from A.D. 900 to 1450 located on North Post Road. There are also burial mounds in the Ponca Hills.
Before modern Native American nations lived in the region, archeological evidence shows that Woodland tribes were located in the Ponca Hills, extending almost 2,000 years before European contact. The hills haven’t always looked the same though; there were times when they’ve been covered by old growth forests (before 1800 when white settlement began); times when they were completely barren (between 1847 and 1890 when white settlement peaked); and times like today, when they’re forested and full. The woods and prairies of the Ponca Hills were used for homes though, with dugouts, soddies, cabins and houses built in the hills and in neighboring towns, including Florence, Calhoun, Rockport and beyond.
After the European settlers started farms and ranches, built cabins and houses and generally took over the Ponca Hills en masse, more notable homes were built here. Later homes in the area included the Wyman bungalow, the Learned bungalow and the Ringwalt bungalow. In 1948, Henry B. Neef, the co-founder of the Gate City Iron Works, built a new home in the Ponca Hills. His eponymous Minne Lusa home was feeling small, so he had a massive new high tech house built. Covered with Nebraska sandstone, it included huge sheets of Thermopane glass and sat high on a hill looking over the Missouri River valley.
In order to get to their homes in the hills, these residents needed a way across the mighty Missouri River to reach the Ponca Hills. Following is the story of the Florence Ferry.
Riding on the Florence Ferry
Since it sat on the northern end of the town, any discussion of the history of Ponca Hills has to include Florence. At that end was the Florence Ferry, which for a century from 1846 through 1952 was the only was across the river here. Located at the end of Ferry Street, the boat was originally a small barge on a rope that was later replaced by a chain. Later, a steam ferry boat called Nebraska served duty at the dock. However, by the turn of the 20th century the ferry was a barge again.
Officially incorporated in February 1855, James C. Mitchell was given an exclusive monopoly to run a ferry north of Omaha by the Nebraska Territorial Legislature. Because of its important job for pioneers, the Florence Ferry made its way into all kinds of travel journals between the 1840s and 1920s, including Mormons, Oregon route travelers, adventurers, hunters and trappers, and others. Many would camp on the west bank of the river, getting supplies from the stores in Florence and then moving out along the Overland Trail to the Great Platte River Road and beyond after that.
Instead of moving along though, some pioneers decided to stay put where they landed. In 1854, they might have stayed in Florence, traveled to the town of Saratoga, went across the Washington County line to a little place called Rockport, or Calhoun or Blair, all while while the old Fort Atkinson was falling apart and the Council Bluff was being forgotten. They might’ve gone to an upstart village downriver on the plains rolling out from the Missouri River into Nebraska Territory called Omaha City. Or they might’ve moved into the Ponca Hills.
At this point, the hills were mostly stripped bare of their woods. Harvested by sawmills in Florence, all of the rolling lands of the Ponca Hills were stripped bare between 1846 and 1856. Starting in 1854, companies like Minne Lusa Lumber and the Florence Lumber Company sold to the pioneers after the Mormons cut down trees to build a mill, houses and more for the Winter Quarters in 1846.
To give an idea of what the ferry looked like later on, in 1908 a Sunday World-Herald article said,
“the old ferry and wharf, on the drive out from Florence, is an interesting site to see… the ferryman is not slim nor young, though he is brown as a berry, pulls for the shore. The boat is fastened to a lofty line…”
It stayed that way until 1952 when the first span of the Mormon Bridge was built.
One of other most important transportation fixtures in the Ponca Hills is a road that travels through the heart of the area.
The Ponca Road, located just beyond the bridge over Ponca Creek, is probably older than Omaha. Learn more about in from “A History of the Ponca Road.“
The Mormons were the first significant European settlers to cross near the Ponca Hills. Within the next decade, the area saw endless incursions by white settlers who were determined to make their way in the area. One of those families were the Shipleys, and they were led by William Shipley. Next is the story of the cemetery started by his family.
For a long time, it was believed that the first European settler in the Ponca Hills was William Shipley, who established the Shipley Cemetery. Located in the heart of the Ponca Hills where County Road 49 meets the Washington County Line, the oldest known burial at Shipley Cemetery was in 1861. There are more than 25 burials with the Shipley name, out of almost 200 total burials, with the last happening in 1939. After an extensive restoration finished in 1981, the cemetery is maintained by the Shipley Cemetery Historical Association and the Washington County Historical Society.
Ponca Hills Volunteer Fire Department
Before June 1964, the Irvington Fire Department covered the Ponca Hills. However, early that year they ended coverage for the region from North 60th to the river, McKinley to the Washington County line.
In June 1964, a “fire alarm meeting” was held at the old Ponca School to incorporate the Ponca Hills Volunteer Fire Department, or PHVFD. Officially opening at the school in November 1964, the first annual summer BBQ picnic was held in August 1965, and it has continued to be a tremendous fundraiser for their activities. Its been held annually since then, and has included BBQ meats, boiled corn, carnival booths and more. The Ponca Hills Farm has held regular fundraisers for the PHVFD, too, and there is an annual dance benefit too.
There are other longtime, iconic institutions in the Ponca Hills. One of them is an old church called St. John’s.
The City of Florence always assumed it’s churches were enough for all its neighbors, and as a result the areas around Florence like De Bolt, Briggs and Ponca Hills were perpetually underserved. However, the still had a few congregations.
The most noted religious institution in the Ponca Hills is St. John Lutheran Church. Founded in 1902, the church was built on Calhoun Road. There were other churches in the area throughout the years though, including the Ponca Hills Presbyterian Church. If you know more about any of these let me know in the comments section below.
A long-gone fixture of the Ponca Hills was a private supper club located along Oakridge Drive called the A-Ri-Rang Club. After the Korean American Ben family opened it in July 1949, the A-Ri-Rang became a well-regarded restaurant and stayed that way for more than 50 years. From the 1950s through the 1980s, Omaha’s Asian American community held numerous activities there, including weddings, socials, mah-jong tournaments, and other activities. For instance, in 1961, the Japanese-American Citizens League held a banquet at the club to honor contributions of Omaha’s Japanese American residents. People of Korean and Chinese descent also held events there. Other organizations held event there, too, like the Florence Lions and the Florence Masons, as well as families celebrating special events and couples going out for a nice dinner. When Earl Ben, originally named Sang Kuk Phuyn, passed away in 1971, his wife Helen continued operating A-Ri-Rang. As a private club, it had more than 800 members who kept it operating.
In 2010, the A-Ri-Rang club burned down. Four years later, the site was cleaned up and today, there are few signs it was ever there.
Pries Lake was a man-made hollow damed up by the inscrutable Fritz Pries. There was a tavern, dance pavilion and picnic facilities at the lake, and a lot of good times were had there. Discover what happened to this early Ponca Hills landmark was all about in “A History of Pries Lake.“
Another long-time shady place is still standing. Pries might not have made it, but his compatriots at the Forgot Store did!
The Forgot Store
Junior’s Forgot Store Bar and Grill has become a local fixture. The building its name after has been iconic for more than a century though. Learn more in “A History of the Forgot Store.“
The Ponca Hills have always been part of the Florence Township, which has land extending from North 72nd Street to the river, and from the Washington County line to Weber Street. Within this township during the pioneer era, there were only three schools: the Florence School, the Springville School, and eventually, the Ponca School.
According to Omaha Public Schools, a settler named Tomas Price donated the land for 8 students to attend the original one-room log building that housed Ponca School in 1871. This early building might have been called the Fairview School. Destroyed by fire, by 1890 it was reconstructed and an addition was added. In 1899, that building was sold to J. P. Brown.
Another one-room building was built, and in 1903 another room was added. Two more additions were added after that.
In 1908, the newspaper reported that the Ponca School was perhaps the most famous school in the state because teachers would “travel miles to get a chance to teach in that school house.” With more than 100 students and two teachers, some people called it the largest country school in Nebraska. “It is a pretty school house with neat and well kept grounds.”
However, the beauty and size of the school wasn’t the reason for its popularity. Ponca School was renowned for being a marrying ground for young unmarried teachers who apparently hooked up with the young farmers in the Ponca Hills. After getting married, they settled down in the neighboring farms, had children of their own and sent them to Ponca School. They got “swamped with applications… gets so we have to put a notice in the paper after we hire the teachers stating, ‘Teacher’s [sic] hired for Ponca School’ [to make them stop applying].”
In 1959, Ponca School District was merged with Omaha Public Schools. In 1963, the old Ponca School was sold to the Ponca Hills Volunteer Fire Department. Built in 1964 at 11300 North Post Road, the current building was was due for extensive renovations, including heating systems and more for more than 25 years. After a contentious campaign in 2016, the school was approved for a facelift by the Omaha School Board. Now, OPS anticipates its continued use through the coming century.
Ponca School might not have been the first school in the area though! More than 50 years before it was started, there might’ve been a school at Fort Lisa.
One of the more recent developments in the Ponca Hills is Wyman Heights.
The Wyman Heights neighborhood, among the most unique in the city, was founded in 1926 by prominent Omaha realtor Henry Wyman. Learn more about it in “A History of the Wyman Heights Neighborhood” by special contributor Patrick Wyman.
In 1930, 200 acres of land on the southwest corner of River Drive and Ponca Road were donated to the City of Omaha to become a park. It was named after Joseph B. Hummel, the long-time superintendent of Omaha’s Parks and Recreation Department, and one of the most influential parks advocates ever in Omaha. Learn more about it in “A History of Hummel Park.“
Ponca Hills Farm
In 1964, J. Allan and Ann Mactier established Ponca Hills Farm with Nebraska’s first indoor riding arena and a large heated barn to allow riders and horses to train throughout the winter. Located at 16050 North 42nd Street, hunter/jumper champions were produced at the farm for years, with showings at Devon, Harrisburg, Madison Square Garden, the Washington International, and Palm Beach. In 1972, one of their horses was shipped to Munich for the Olympic Show Jumping team.
In the early 1970s, J. Allan Mactier to bred yearlings to enter in horse races at Aksarben and Churchill Downs. In 1984, he sold a horse to a Dubai sheik, and it was named European Filly of the Year in 1986. For several decades during this era, there was a United States Marine Corps Reserve firing area located north of the Ponca Hills in Washington County. A number of times, the range was responsible for spooking the horses at the farm.
The farm continues today, hosting world-famous horse riding instructors and boarding, as well as continuing to offer a summer camp and teaching a horse riding program at Ponca School.
Long before the farm existed though, there was a band of horse thieves marauding the Omaha area and hiding in the hills. There was also a lynching…
The End of Horse Thieves?
There’s a little cave in the Ponca Hills where a lot of people have thought horse thieves hid out. While that mystery may be sussed out in the future, here I want to tell you the story of two unsuccessful criminals.
In 1858, two horse thieves named Harvey Braden and James Daley were caught stealing horses from a farm north of Florence. After being arrested and thrown into the county jail in Omaha, a mob showed up demanding justice.
Thrown into the back of a wagon, they were led to the spot two miles north of Florence where the farmer caught them earlier in the day. Using the wagon they were brought on, the men were strung up and hung. The Douglas County sheriff rode up to Florence and got the bodies the next day.
When the judge called the men of Omaha to the courthouse that day, he asked them who did it. Nobody admitted any fault, and nobody would say who else was involved. Nobody was ever accused, tried, or convicted for murdering the two men. Eventually, the truth came out that many of Omaha and Florence’s leading pioneers were involved in the lynching.
There were much older historical events that happened in the Ponca Hills. The next section includes information about some of the archeology that’s happened in the Ponca Hills.
Archeology in the Ponca Hills
In 1908, an archeologist named Gilder came from the University of Nebraska to excavate sites in the Ponca Hills. Naming his dug up skeletons the “Nebraska man,” Gilder’s work has been disproven since then and re-situated within the academic literature. However, at the time Omaha was particularly impressed with his work. The newspaper reported, “When Florence people see Gilder hiking over the fields with a spade, they expect to hear of some new discovery of his.”
In 1938, the Nebraska State Historical Society unearthed a burial site in the Ponca Hills. Their excavation was 135′ long, 15′ wide and four feet deep. Early estimations placed their finds from 400 A.D., with skeletons, pottery and other implements found, too. Assisted by laborers from the Works Progress Administration, the findings were brought to the Nebraska State History Museum in Lincoln. They were associated with earlier findings by Gilder.
Recent History and Modern Times
Edith Neale’s father homesteaded 120-acres of Ponca Hills in the 1850s, and his daughter donated it to the Fontenelle Forest Association in 1971. One of the founders of that association was Carl Jonas’ father, whose son donated another 60-acres of neighboring land. After he died, another 112-acres were donated, and today the former farmhouse is the Neale Woods Nature Center. In the 1980s, 25-acres of the land was cleared replanted to replicate the hills’ ecosystem in the 1850s when Neale homesteaded the land. Today, there are more than 600-acres included as part of Neale Woods.
In the early 1930s, more than 100 farmers and farm workers formed a picket camp and road block at the Forgot Store. Designed to stop the delivery of farm goods into Omaha, the picketers were protesting the effects of the Great Depression, including joblessness, moneylessness and hunger. Regularly harassed by the Douglas County sheriffs, there were also occasional reports of truckers regularly ramming the wooden ties used to block the roads. Raw milk, wheat, cattle and other goods were affected by the blockade, which encircled the city by blocking many major streets. More than 1,000 picketers were involved. I can’t find specific info on how these blockades ended though…
George Hirschornon was a German contortionist and vaudeville performer who toured the U.S. with his family singing and performing with him. In 1936, they settled at South 51st and Center Street and opened the Alpine Inn as a Bavarian-style bar. Today, the Alpine Inn is a modern landmark in the Ponca Hills at 10405 Calhoun Road. The original location burnt down in 1942, and was reopened in 1945 at its present site. In 1973, it was bought by Glen Robey. Today, the restaurant is regularly included on lists of the best places to eat in Nebraska, and its chicken is nationally ranked in the top 50 places nationwide. While Chip Davis, John Denver and Keith Black all ate there, its the raccoons and wild house cats that keep everyone coming back. When I was a kid we’d watch them eat fish and chicken bones for an hour. Today, the restaurant is run by the third generation of the Roby family.
Starting in 1975, the Loop became home to the Omaha Marathon, which is a qualifying race for the Boston Marathon. Known as a hilly route, marathon organizers eventually switched the path to a less hilly course that didn’t go that far north and is thought of as “fast and flat.” However, for a while the Ponca Hills were essential to making Omaha an important place to run!
In 1984, a contentious Christian organization called the Intercessors of the Lamb bought land in the Ponca Hills. After being eschewed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha since their formation, in 1994 the group asked to become a full religious institute of the church. That year, the church officially suppressed the organization, which reformed as a private nonprofit. A different new community was officially endorsed by the Archdiocese, and the Intercessors continues operating.
Starting in the 1980s, the Omaha Lounge Suit Society, listening to blowing Alpine horns, wearing a disbanded British colonial unit regimental tie from India, and sipping champagne has been known to gather within the fields and forests of Ponca Hills.
There are so many other stories from the history of Ponca Hills – share yours in the comments below!
History Tour of the Ponca Hills
In the early age of cars after the turn of the century, there was a popular tourist loop through the Ponca Hills. Starting on River Road, aka J. J. Pershing Drive, drivers would head north to Ponca Road. Turning west, they would follow that road to The Forgot Store. Turning south on Calhoun Road, they’d head south to North 30th Street and into the town of Florence. Along the way, they’d visit some of the sites below. Thanks to advances in archeology and historical studies, I’ve been able to add other sites to my historic tour of Ponca Hills, too.
“The drive around the Loop is a favorite one with Omaha autoists. There is not a prettier drive in the west. Each succeeding mile discloses spots far more beautiful than those past. In the entire six miles that constitute The Loop there is not one unsightly spot.” – Sunday World-Herald, June 28, 1908
Site of Central Plains Village, 4014 North Post Road
Ponca Hills Volunteer Fire Department, 12919 Ponca Road
Site of Fort Lisa, near the junction of J.J. Pershing Drive and Ponca Road in the Ponca Hills.
St. John’s Lutheran Church, 11120 Calhoun Road
Site of the Florence Ferry, 9350 J. J. Pershing Drive
James Monroe Parker (1824-1902) is one of the most important people in the history of Florence. His business and his farm are two of the most visible historical landmarks in Omaha today, even though only one is acknowledged for its importance. Following are details about the life of Parker.
Raised in the Woods
John and Naomi Parker were from Vermont. Moving to Meshoppen, Pennsylvania, in the early 1820s, their son Jim was born May 20, 1824. John Parker was a textile maker and shepherd until 1838. That year, the family moved to Coudersport, Pennsylvania to survey and manage an estate there. This entire time, young Jim went to public schools, graduating in the eighth grade. In 1842, when he was 18 years old, the family moved again. This time it was the to wilds of eastern Iowa along the Mississippi River, a major transportation route before the Civil War.
Moving to the New Frontier
Young Jim moved to the new frontier of Iowa in 1842. Making their home in Davenport, the family moved there in parts, with two older brothers coming in 1840; Jim, his sister and mother moving there in 1842, and; his father moving later that year.
A store called Davenport & Watts, hired Jim as a clerk in 1842, and he kept doing that job at different stores for a few years. Moving a few hours south to Camden, Illinois, young Parker spent a few years running a store with A. K. Philleo. Around 1847, he moved to Rock Island, Illinois and had a store with L. M. Webber in 1848. Then he took a job as cashier with Cook and Sargent, a banking firm in Davenport.
In 1853, James M. Parker married Julia Zerlina Wing (1836-1869) in Rock Island. Their first son, William Frederick Parker, was born in Rock Island on August 2, 1854.
When his bank opened a new branch in Rock Island, Parker moved there and became a partner. When that branch was sold early in 1856, Parker took his biggest leap yet.
Banking Across the Missouri River
Parker moved his family from Iowa to Florence, one of the oldest new towns along the Missouri River. The town was founded on the streets and in the buildings of Winter Quarters, a Mormon settlement started in 1846 that was officially abandoned, but still occupied by a variety of stores and business people. A speculator had bought the original town’s land and was selling it off slowly. At this point, westward expansion in the U.S. was seen as a chance to make fast money, and Parker’s business was just like others who wanted in on it.
In January 1856, the Nebraska Territory Legislature approved “An Act to Charter the Bank of Florence.” The original commissioners signed over their ownership to John Cook and George Sargent in April 1856, and Parker was brought in as a partner. Authorized for up to $500,000, the bank was also allowed to print bank notes, deal in exchange, and “of engaging in other legitimate banking business.”
The Bank of Florence opened with young Parker as the Cashier. However, with their other other offices in Iowa (Davenport, Iowa City, Rock Island and Fort Des Moines), the firm of Cook, Sargent and Parker seemed inevitably successful. Between the Bank of Florence and another business called the Exchange Bank of Florence, the new town had plenty of money floating around, too. The Bank of Florence printed $1, $2, $3 and $5 notes, and was supposedly the only bank in the United States to ever issue a $3 bill.
However, in 1857 there was a national economic panic that caused a run on the banks. The Bank of Florence floundered, and the Exchange Bank of Florence folded right away.
That same year, the Nebraska Territory Legislature approved the incorporation of the Florence Bridge Company, and Parker’s firm bought $24,000 in stock. Parker himself was sent to Washington, D.C. to lobby, but he failed and the bridge was abandoned. After his trip, Parker brought the Union Pacific leader James Durant to Florence to convince him of the value of the railroad crossing the river there. However, high water floods struck during his visit, and Florence lost out to Omaha.
In August 1858, a mob marched the streets of Davenport, Iowa, demanding the Cook and Sargent bank there redeem their money issued by the Bank of Florence. A mass meeting was held and a judge was made arbiter. The bank gave funds to the judge to redeem the notes, and in September 1858, the bank held a public bonfire to burn $200,000 in redeemed Bank of Florence currency.
Lasting for three more years, the Bank of Florence closed in 1860.
The Florence Land Company was the most important institution in the early town, and Parker had roles in that business as early as 1856. On November 10, 1856 the firm of Cook, Sargent & Parker bought eighty shares of stock from H. Downey, an early landholder in the Town of Florence. The Florence Land Company, which was started by town founder James C. Mitchell, appointed Parker a committee “to examine the map and select such lots as… they deemed proper to reserve and arrange the remainder for division.” Parker represented his firm regularly from that point on. The company was rife with problems throughout its existence though, including booting out its founder in 1858. In 1859, Parker was made treasurer of the Florence Land Company, and in 1860, he “received all of the votes cast for secretary, treasurer, and director.” That same year the company was deemed needless though, and it closed.
That very same year, Parker bought most of the remaining land of the Florence Land Company at an auction.
Because of his dealings in the Bank of Florence and real estate, James Parker was widely regarded as an enemy of Florence founder James Mitchell. However, because Mitchell was seen as a butthead, Parker was thought of more highly.
Breaking the Prairie
The Parker Farm extended from Weber Street on the north to Kansas Avenue on the south, and from North 33rd Street on the west to the cliffs east of Florence Boulevard. There were approximately 260-acres of land, with a lot of it covered by corn fields. The farmhouse was on Vane Street.
Beginning as a humble farmhouse, its where their son Fred lived moved with them after leaving the apartment above the Bank of Florence. Their next son, James Monroe, Jr., was born at the farm on November 20, 1859; their daughter Josephine Talbot was born there on May 14, 1865.
The businesses James M. Parker was part of in Florence included:
Cook, Sargent and Parker (operating as the Bank of Florence), 1856 to 1860
The year his wife died, Parker was appointed as the “cleaner upper” at the Davenport Savings Institution in Iowa, cleaning up its business as it closed down. Spending the next 18 months winding up its business, he married his second wife on December 6, 1871. Her named was Ella (Wing) Taylor, and she was born May 11, 1832.
Parker’s second wife, Ella (May 11, 1832-??), was a cousin of his first wife, Julia (July 16, 1836-April 17, 1869). The daughter of Abraham and Abigail Barnard Wing, Ella was first married to a cashier named Tracy Taylor in Troy, New York, in 1851. They had two kids, Frederick and Frank, and then Mr. Taylor died in 1867. (For details, see “Elsewhere online” below.)
After Ella married Parker in 1871, over the next several years, they kept the farm in Florence and took up international travel, going to Europe four times in the following decade.
In 1876, Parker and his wife moved to the original city they shared history in, Davenport Iowa. However, Parker still held major land between Florence and North Omaha, which were both growing. His sons were managing the farm, but everyone was excited to make money. In 1880, Parker made one of his first major land sales in Omaha when he sold 80-acres to George W. Forbes. Located between North 24th and North 14th Streets, it was bounded by Kansas and Ogden Avenues. Although the sale ended up in the Nebraska Supreme Court a few years later, it still made him wealthy.
The Parker Tract, an 80-acre slice of the land comprising the southern end of the Parker farm, was sold around 1906. A child of Fred Parker named Francis Tadmir Parker was named heir to his estate, and his mother sold the land for approximately $6,500. The rest of the farm was developed in the 1910s by Charles Martin, who used it as parts of the Minne Lusa neighborhood. Later, he bought more of the former farm to make the Florence Field development. In 1932, the City of Omaha comptroller found documentation showing that Miller Park was sold to the City by Parker’s heirs a year after he died, 1893, for approximately $900 per acre, for a total of $75,000. Originally called the Parker Tract, Miller Park was the starting point for Omaha’s boulevard system, with Florence Boulevard starting within the park.
James Parkers’ sons Fred (1854-1902) and Jim Junior (1860-1932) kept the farm going after their father moved away. Jim Junior ended up moving to Davenport though, and while Fred stayed in Omaha, he sold off the family’s holdings there over time. James Parkers’ daughter, Josephine Talbot Parker Brisbane (1865-1948), eventually moved to Davenport too.
The daughter of Josephine Brisbane, Zerlina Brisbane Lewis (1899–1995), lived in Omaha and owned the Bank of Florence building. In 1966, she donated it to the Florence Lions Club in 1966, making way for it to become a museum today.
A Tour of James M. Parker’s North Omaha
Following are places associated with James M. Parker. I mention most of these above.
Site of Parker Farmhouse / Parker Mansion, 3201 Vane Street
Bank of Florence, 8502 North 30th Street
Miller Park aka the Parker Tract, 2707 Redick Avenue
The first- and longest-lasting bank in the Omaha-area was located in the Florence neighborhood of North Omaha. Although its gone now, its legacy is still felt in the community and its original location, the Bank of Florence, is now open as a historical snapshot for the entire community.
In 1854, a group of wildcat investors quickly built the Bank of Florence on First Main Street in the pioneer town of Florence in the Nebraska Territory. Called Cook, Sargent and Parker, the same group invested in another real estate speculation about four miles south in the boom-and-bust town of Saratoga. They’d intended to make a healthy profit off both towns, but when the Panic of 1857 emptied out the value of their bank, the company failed. However, business partner James M. Parker (1824-1902) kept the bank open until 1860.
The Bank of Florence was essentially an investment scheme. After building a two-story brick bank, Parker moved in upstairs to stay by his business. When he closed up shop in 1860, Parker stayed near town and the family continued to make its name felt.
After the bank closed, he bought a lot of land around Florence through a company called Mitchell and Cable. The Parker family farm was important to the future of the town, too, as it grew south of Florence. The family stayed there into the 1870s, traveling to Europe several times and developing the family mansion, once located at 3021 Vane Street.
Parker’s son Fred became a notorious Bohemian figure among Omaha’s wealthy and elite. Featuring wild opium-driven soirees with nakedness, costume masks and crazed all-night long parties, the Parker Mansion was built out as an opulent Moorish art studio run by Fred until his death.
New Bank of Florence
Between the time the first bank closed and the second one opened, the original building was used as a horse stable, grocery store, dry cleaners, antique store, and as the Florence Telephone Exchange building. The exchange was moved to the second floor in 1904, when the New Bank of Florence opened on the first floor.
That new bank was called the “New Bank of Florence,” and was organized at the same location and claimed the same heritage as the original bank. However, it folded in 1930 because of the Great Depression. Seven years after it was reorganized in 1932, in 1939, the Bank of Florence changed its name and moved from 8502 North 30th Street, to become the Bank of Florence at 30th and Ames.
Making a Museum
The Florence Pioneer Days were centered on the old Bank of Florence for more than 50 years, starting in 1960. From the 1940s through 1966, Zerlina Brisbin Lewis (1889-1995), the great-granddaughter of James M. Parker, owned the building. She donated it to the Florence Lions Club in 1966, which reserved the first floor for club meetings and used the second floor as storage before converting it into an apartment.
In 1974, the North Side Bank considered restoring the original Bank of Florence at North 30th and Willit Streets as a teller office. They submitted paperwork to the State of Nebraska Banking Commission and developed an analysis of whether it would be a profitable location. They also had options on land to the north with intentions to use it for drive-up banking. However, the plan didn’t pan out and the bank wasn’t reopened.
That same year, the Lions donated the building to the Florence Historical Society, which found the entire second floor messed up. By 1976, they renovated the Bank of Florence building and opened it as a seasonal museum, which it still operates as today. J. M. Hart, Jr., the president of the North Side Bank, served as president of the Florence Historical Society during the renovation, sustaining the bank’s connection with the site.
Today, the museum features the original 1856 bank vault, as well as the original layout of the bank on the first floor. Bank furnishings like teller’s cages were installed, and the building resembles a small town bank in the 1870s. The original
The second floor has been restored to appear as James M. Parker left it when his family moved to their farmhouse on present-day Vane Street around 1860. He and his wife’s actual bed is there, along with many other fixtures from the era.
The Ending of North Side Bank
The North Side Bank changed, and then changed again, and then closed permanently.
A firm called the Preferred Management Corporation took control of the bank in 1977. In 1985, the North Side Bank was renamed as Northern Bank, and continued operating. American National Bank bought the institution in 1994, and the Ames Avenue location became a branch of American National. Today, that bank continues operating at North 31st and Ames.
Adam’s Note: These “normal” house histories are fun. They shed a light on the daily lives of the everyday people who built North Omaha and have lived in the community for more than 125 years. I like the homes they built, and although some have fallen apart and others were bulldozed, the vast majority of original houses are still filling the blocks from Dodge Street north to the county line, and from North 72nd east to the river. I hope you enjoy this tale from a normal house in North Omaha…
Nestled into a corner in the Kountze Place neighborhood is a 10-room, 2800-square foot home that’s stood since the 1890s. Featuring its own half-circle driveway, the home harkens to a grander time for this once opulent neighborhood. Here’s some history of the home.
Frederick W. Leavitt lived there in 1895. He was the minister of Plymouth Congregational Church at North 18th and Emmett Streets in the early 20th century. When he moved to a new congregation in St. Louis in 1919, it made news in the local paper and the sale of the home was seen as a boon to the neighborhood.
Through the 1920s, the home was advertised as having a porte cochere and a barn. In 1898, the homeowner was looking for a German housecleaner. Over the succeeding years, there were a number of different families associated with this home. For instance, children or youth who lived there through 1926 included Miss Fawcett, a music student who studied in the East who returned to visit family and friends in 1903; Romabell Quaintence, a 17-year-old who was involved in a salacious misdeed with a soldier from Fort Omaha in 1923, and; Mary Ann Moore, a child who lived there who was involved in a car accident in 1926.
From 1928 through 1932, a woman named Ethel Canon lived there. She was involved with getting divorced and getting remarried more than once, and went through the names Ethel Simpkin, her maiden name Ethel Canon, and Ethel Reynolds Wilson, all within four years.
George L. Dunn and his wife Jennie Dunn celebrated their 55rd wedding anniversary at the house in 1938, inviting family and friends from their life on the family farm near Irvington, Nebraska. The event was reported on extensively by the newspaper. Dunn died at the age of 81 in 1941.
In 1967, a teacher named Virginia Jefferson was featured in the paper after moving from Alabama with a several other teachers to take jobs in Omaha Public Schools. While the Omaha Public Schools superintendent sounded nonchalant about their hiring, the Omaha World-Herald recognized its value to a diverse district. Jefferson lived here at the time of the article.
In June 1945, several African American doctors with the Nebraska Negro Medical Society announced the formation of the Provident Hospital, intended to serve North Omaha’s African American community.
Dr. Craig Morris, Dr. Herbert Wiggins, Dr. Gooden, and Dr. Milton Johnson joined with Mrs. Gooden, Hiram D. Dee, C. C. Galloway and attorney Charles Davis in a planning committee. They bought land at North 28th and Wirt Streets, next to the future site of the Spencer Street Public Housing Project, and the news was covered in the Omaha Star and the Omaha World-Herald.
Provident Hospital was planned to operate as a nonprofit corporation to serve “the community rich and poor alike,” with “complete assurance” that “no discrimination will be made against race, creed or color.”
Omaha’s Provident Hospital was likely modeled off of Chicago’s hospital of the same name. Founded in 1894, it was created by African Americans for African Americans in a deeply segregated Northern city. With rampant Jim Crow rules around the city, Omaha’s Black community was due the same as Chicago. (It was closed in 1987.)
In July 1945, it was announced that plans had been drawn up and a budget created. A fundraising goal of $270,000 was set, and the site was purchased. Some of the sponsors of the hospital included D. W. Gooden, W. W. Peebles, Milton Johnson, Clarence Singleton, G. B. Lennox, S. B. Northcross, Wesley Jones, and attorney Charles F. Davis. Hiram D. Dee was named chairman of the building committee and was in charge of construction.
It was planned to be a 50-bed facility in the Bedford Park addition, just off North 30th Street. Built with four stories, it would feature an emergency drive up, a wide lawn and modern facilities.
“Negro physicians cannot rise to their highest ability under the present set-up.”
Creating the hospital was an attempt to keep young African American surgeons from leaving Omaha, because the city was experiencing them getting an education here and then moving away, and never returning.
Referred to as a “mid-city hospital,” the facility was assured to definitely be happening by the Omaha Star in September 1945.In October 1945, the Providence Hospital Association was formally incorporated with Dr. Morris as the president. His offices were at 2403 Lake Street. Other officers were Dr. D. W. Gooden, first vice-president; Dr. S. B. Northcross, second vice-president; Dr. J. J. Jones, third vice-president; Dr. A. L. Hawkins, secretary, and; Dr. Herbert Wiggins, treasurer. A citizens advisory committee was planned, and a fundraising campaign was going to be launched in December.
Then, after 1945, I can find no further mention of the Providence Hospital. There’s nothing in the Omaha Star, Omaha World-Herald, or the Omaha Guide. There’s no mention in Mildred Brown’s book, or other less popular sources of African American history in Omaha.
While their drawings never left the table, another African American doctor took it upon himself to open a neighborhood hospital for Black patients just three years later. The People’s Hospital opened in 1948 about a mile from the site where Provident Hospital was to be built.
Tucked into the northeast corner of the present-day City of Carter Lake, Iowa, is a little street called Sand Point Drive. Once, the area was packed with a swimming pavilion, grand entryway, boardwalks and much more. Built to compete with the Carter Lake Club next door, it never quite got there. Next door, some brothers opened an amusement park using the bones of what had come before, before it was all melted down for the second great war.
Following is a history of Sand Point Beach and the Lakeview Amusement Park.
Opening a Successful Bathing Place
The son of Omaha pioneer John I. Redick, Oak was an industrious, popular and successful attorney, land speculator and capitalist. You might be familiar with his name on the original home of Omaha University, Redick Hall. Anyhow, after inheriting his father John I. Redick’s wealth, Oak became determined to secure the south shoreline of Carter Lake for the public interest. Working with fellow capitalist Ed Cornish, the two did that by 1905, except for the land of the Omaha Rod and Gun Club.
Oak’s plan for the northeast corner unfolded in 1906, and he built bathhouses, boardwalks and a pavilion for summer recreation purposes. Calling the area Sand Point Beach, he advertised extensively in the Omaha World-Herald and the Omaha Bee, promoting his place as an affordable alternative to the Rod and Gun Club. He had North 17th Street covered, and suggested the $.05 streetcar ride down Locust and then transfer to the Carter Lake Club car, with a short walk afterwards.
In 1916, Redick ran into trouble with a man he’d contracted to run the beach. Apparently, Evan Worthing thought he was due all the profits from running the beach since he paid Redick separately for the rental of the site. A judge sided with him, and Redick stopped supporting the beach for a few years. Although there was no advertising, it kept humming along with regular activities announced in the papers and people coming and going.
That same year marked the entry of the Munchoff brothers into the Carter Lake real estate market. Creating a development at the southeast end of the lake called Brighton Beach, in 1916 their names were featured in the newspapers several times. However, it wasn’t until the next year that their ambitions were truly realized.
Lakeview Amusement Park
Labelled “The Joy Spot of Omaha,” in 1917 the Lakeview Amusement Park opened on the east side of the present-day City of Carter Lake, Iowa. Lakeview was complete with a massive roller coaster called a “Jack Rabbit Coaster,” along with a merry-go-round, skating rink, Ferris wheel, a ride called the “Beautiful Ohio,” and another called the “Whirl O’er the World.” They advertised the park as having an “ideal grove for picnics” and having a “big open air garage.” Advertisements said the park was home to “30 high class attractions.”
If that description sounds familiar, its because the owners of the Lakeview Amusement Park bought the rides for their park from the former Courtland Beach Amusement Park, which was located a few blocks away from the 1890s to 1917.
Lakeview Park also featured a miniature train with open cars and a two-foot hall stack on its engine, and was “the attraction that most appeals to children.” In the late 1910s and 1920s, the Carl Lamp jazz band played for the massive dance floor, and had eight members playing. There were also 75 rowboats on the lake, and 350 machines in the penny arcade.
Billboard magazine reported the Munchhoff Brothers, who originally ran Krug Park and Courtland Beach, opened the park. John Miller from the Philadelphia Toboggan Company was hired to design the Jack Rabbit, and the Old Mill, both of which were featured for years.
“One of the chief features now under construction is the large Jack Rabbit underfriction coaster, which is one of the very latest rides being built. This coaster is said to be a great deal more exciting and thrilling than the old style, due to the fact that the cars are run in trains with three cars each.”
That same year, the Neptune Park and Wavecrest additions were planned south of the Sand Point Beach and north of Lakeview. Neptune Place was originally built with above average homes for businessmen, company officials and government employees. Today, its most identifiable feature are the streets that make it obvious, along with Neptune Circle, which is in the middle of the development.
After the Great War ended, the beach was revisited by Redick and souped up again. Redick broke ground on a new $25,000 bathhouse. He also repaved the road to the beach to bring cars directly to the bathhouse, where there was a parking lot in front. The Sand Point Beach was redone with new sand covering the beach and going into the swimming area, as well as other new buildings including a new pavilion. Lakeview Amusement Park announced it was returning to pre-war prices for entertainment. It was suddenly competing with an up-and-coming affair called the Peony Park, which was affordable, too.
For several years during the 1920s, Lakeview Park hosted a pow-wow for the Winnebago and Omaha nations. According to the newspaper, “this attraction has proved to be one of the most popular ever at Lakeview.” The park was also the site of one of the largest weddings ever held in Omaha in 1920. Rev. Charles W. Savidge, who was called the “Marrying Parson,” officiated over a public wedding with 10,000 attendees. It was a gimmick featuring E. E. Harrington and his bride, Anna Nielsen, and although it didn’t set a record, it was noted in the newspaper more than 20 years later. There was a long distance swimming classic launched between Sand Point Beach and the Carter Lake Club in the 1920s, too. Swimmers came from three states, and the battles had focused on proving which club was best.
In 1924, the State of Iowa banned dancing on Sunday through what was called a “blue law.” The Munchoff brothers, who by then ran the Lakeview Park, vowed to fight the law on the basis that the City was “passing the buck” on responsibility for enforcing the law. However, the Council Bluffs mayor swore he’d fight to enforce it, so they were in conflict.
In May 1933, the dance hall at Lakeview Park was renovated. That same year, a different battle happened when a court case was brought against Hermann Munchoff, a 3/5s owner of the Lakeview Park property. Other owners, including up to 30 people, settled with Munchoff to ensure future development of the land. That same year, athletic contests started to be held at the Lakeview Amusement Park.
The Carter Lake Arena
That same year, on the first of June, Japanese lanterns lit up a ring with in the middle of the dance floor, with seating for 2,500 spectators, while lilac blossoms and foliage hung from the rafters. Wrestlers Gus Sonnenberg and Scotty Dawkins used “awesome, sweaty” “complicated arm and shoulder holds, headlocks and one drawn out foot straigthener.” Dawkins used the “flying mare trick,” and much more. The matches went on for hours.
Through the summer of 1933, Lakeview was the “scene of many a rough-and-tumble,” but was quiet for most of 1934. In August though, a battle between Pesek and LaDitzi ensured “each of the gladiators has promised to do his bit toward making revival night at the Carter Lake arena a big success.” That arena was at Lakeview Park.
Later that year, the Lakeview Amusement Park went up for sale. In 1935, Donald Broadkey bought the Lakeview Amusement Park land from Herman Munchhoff. The property included 35 acres and several buildings, and sold for $12,500.
By 1940, there was a regular gathering of the Lakeview Roller Review at the park, held as a benefit for the Lions Club. The Lakeview Roller Hockey Club was also active there regularly.
In just a few more years, all of the big rides at the Lakeview Amusement Park were taken away as scrap to support the World War II effort. More than 16-tons were removed. After 1945, there were no signs left of what had existed, including the roller coaster, merry-go-round and other elements.
Open from 1917 to 1935, there’s no sign left of this one-time wonderland, “the joy place of Omaha,” the amusement park and all the other grandeur of the Sand Point Beach and Lakeview Amusement Park. I can’t even find pictures!
Special thanks to Ryan Roenfeld for his contributions to this article. Please share any information, memories, pics or otherwise with me and comment here!
March is Women’s History Month and I can’t pass by Levi Carter Park without thinking about the fascinating and mysterious Mrs. Levi Carter and her husbands.
I first learned about her from being an avid listener of North Omaha History podcast.
In the “Early History of Carter Lake” (link below), Adam talks about the philanthropy of Mrs. Carter.
The Life of Selena
In memory of her late husband, the widow Selina Carter Cornish (1850-1938) donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, land and stock over the course of 30 years to Omaha, along with her new husband. It was in exchange for naming the park after her late husband, Levi Carter (1830-1903). He was an early Omaha frontiersman and industrialist in the lead smelting business. She was born Selena Coe Bliss.
Mrs. Levi and her new hubbie, Mr. Cornish started their new life together in NYC, but even while they were out-of-state they kept donating land, cash and stock to pursue their mutual dream of creating the picturesque, beautiful park that became Levi Carter Park. The generous gifts were not only earmarked to honor the name of Levi Carter, but also the fond memories that the new couple, Mr and Mrs. Edward Cornish had of their hometown. Their gifts have been quoted to range on price from $400,000 to $1,000,000 depending on the fluctuating value of her real estate she gave to the City of Omaha.
So back to Selina Carter Cornish and her new husband, Edward Joel Cornish (1861-1938): So husband-number-two was husband-number-one’s lawyer. He took over Levi Carter’s job at the head of the lead company when he died AND he married his widow. AND he was an accomplished Omaha Parks commissioner for 16 years. In Mr. Cornish’s Omaha World-herald obituary, he is called the “father of the Omaha Parks and boulevard system”. He had a resume of accomplishments such as being fundamental in doubling the size of Riverview Park and connecting it to Bemis Park via the Boulevard system. He helped create Miller Park and Turner Park as well.
Over the course of years, Mrs. Carter donated equipment and money to dredge the lake. Mr. Cornish traveled to Omaha from NYC, on behalf of his wife, to work with the current Park Commissioner, Mr. Hummel, to help ensure Mrs. Carter Cornish’s dream park was under construction. They built a driveway for the park, they hired a renown gardener. They envisioned the Iowa side and Nebraska side of the park as one cohesive unit.
They were quoted in 1924 saying the park would take years to develop and,
“no man living now would see the park fully completed.”
They envisioned the trees 50-75 years from then and knew they would not be alive to see them in their full beauty. Mr. Cornish told the Omaha paper in describing Mrs. Carter Cornish, “You cannot separate her heart from this work.”
From the Omaha World-Herald articles, it is hard to tell if the vision for Carter Lake was Selina’s or her new husband’s. Mr. Cornish was always the spokesperson for the couple’s charity and vision of the park. I had to find out Mrs. Carter Cornish’s first name from her grave stone, as married women’s first names were not recorded in the newspaper as men’s were.
Mrs. Selina Carter Cornish died in NYC 15 days after her second husband died. She spent 30 years and about a million dollars on Carter Lake Park. The Omaha World-Herald’s obituary for Mrs. Carter Lake is incredibly underwhelming considering her love and philanthropy that eventually ended up in the park vista that welcomes weary travelers home to Omaha as they leave Eppley Airport.
Located north of Downtown Omaha along the Missouri River, the Winspear Triangle was a slice of land surrounded by speculation, formed by controversy, and fiscally flirted with for decades.
James Harrison Winspear
Formed by the river through accretion, no one really owned the land that simply appeared. The Winspear Triangle began north of the American Smelting Company factory on the river, and the city pumping station at Burt Street. It was southwest of the East Omaha Bridge, west of the North Omaha Bottoms, and extended from Locust south to Seward Street, and east from North 5th Street to the river.
A politician and businessman named James Harrison Winspear secured 20 acres of land for the City of Omaha in 1895, despite the Illinois Central Railroad claiming the land. That year, Winspear took a crew of City workers and ripped down the railroad’s fence, then put up a new fence for the City. Sitting just north of the Burt Street Water Works, Winspear contended the City had to protect the land and had the rights to it because of that.
The City of Omaha suddenly owned a chunk of land called the Winspear Triangle. Long intended to be the Port of Omaha, it was lined with landing places for river boats and barges, and had rail yards and warehouses for freight. There were stockyards built there and then abandoned, and dreams of running a bridge to the land from Council Bluffs.
The Winspear Triangle became a hot property in 1898. That year, a representative of the Detroit Syndicate hustled a sale of land north of Winspear in exchange for that land and a ton of cash, all to facilitate the entry of the Illinois Central Railroad into Omaha on a new bridge across the Missouri River. The East Omaha Land company had already graded the streets and landed the big Omaha Box Company and Carter White Lead Company factories in East Omaha. Those companies looked forward to the new distribution opportunities from the railroad, and eventually the bridge was built. Winspear wasn’t fully traded off though, and the area kept hanging over Omaha’s head.
It was easy enough for squatters to move into Winspear. According to newspaper accounts, they did work to build up the land. Starting in the 1880s there were constant reports in the newspapers about the area being flooded and residents being evacuated. Since there were consecutive occurrences of the same report, its easy to discern that people kept moving back to their homes, or rebuilding as needed. Because of its proximity to the Burt Street Pumping Station, cattle and horses carcasses appearing in the Winspear Triangle were regularly monitored for their effect on drinking water. Typhoid fever was constantly monitored for until the City stopped the dumping of carcasses there in the 1910s.
In 1918, the City Council again considered developing Winspear Triangle as boat docks. They envisioned railroads and streetcar routes to service the area, which could be packed with a new passenger station and more centralized terminal. However, none of that came to fruition.
There were homes within the Winspear Triangle as late as the 1930s, and the triangle’s ownership was disputed up through the 1950s. Today, Gallup is located in the former Winspear Triangle.
The Carter Lake Club was one of the longest-lasting social clubs in Omaha history. This is a history of the institution.
Early in it’s history, the land where the city of Carter Lake sits was debated over between the states of Nebraska and Iowa. Before the great flood of 1877, the land sat on the east side of the Missouri River, which was the natural boundary for the states. However, after the grand flood, the land that today’s city of Carter Lake sits on was on the west side of the river. A series of court cases resolved that the land belongs to Iowa. However, between the beginning and end of those cases, it was called East Omaha and a lot of people thought they lived in Nebraska.
Before any of that was settled, in 1889 the Courtland Beach Amusement Company opened up shop at the south shore of Cut-Off Lake. They built a switchback railroad (now called a rollercoaster), a merry-go-round and a massive pavilion, launching summers of fun and good times. By the mid-1890s though, they ran into rough financial times, so Count John A. Creighton bought the park.
After closing down for a summer in 1906, a new group of investors took over the park and made it into the Omaha Rod and Gun Club. The rollercoaster and most amusement rides were gone, but the club was still popular. In 1912, another organization bought the park, 70 acres of land and the clubhouse and other buildings for $50,000, and called their place the Carter Lake Club.
Welcome to the Carter Lake Club
Located at 1410 Avenue Q, the new Carter Lake Club featured the old clubhouse and a new one, as well as the pavilion, an covered outdoor skating rink, parking garages, a separate dancing pavilion, and a sewer system. All of the buildings at the club were painted white with a dark green trim. A grand, wide 2-mile long boulevard led from the Locust Street viaduct to the club, and it was covered in macadame and oil for a smooth driving experience. That first year, trees and flowers lined the boulevard and sidewalks with curbs were built, too. Sewer pipes and indoor plumbing were features of the cottages there.
There were two clubhouses, one for women and one for men, with lockers on the boardwalks along the water. Just before the Carter Lake Club was established, the Omaha Rod and Gun Club built a 170-foot-long seawall along the shore. A new pier was built that went 180 feet into the lake, along with an extravagant new bowling alley. With 14 lanes, it was the largest in Omaha when it was built in 1924, and featured two balconies for observers.
By 1916, the Carter Lake Club had 700 members, with more than 100 permanent houses for 400 people living there year-around. According to a newspaper feature, the homes cost between $2,000 and $15,000 to build, and their value steadily increased. In 1923, a cafe was opened up at the club and run by Howard Hauck, who’d run cafes at the Conant and Paxton Hotels in downtown Omaha. There was also a popular soda fountain in the bowling alley, with more than three dozen tables. A movie theater at the club sat 450 people, and had two shows every evening.
The club offered dancing and swimming lessons for adults and children. The dance hall was large enough to hold 700 couples dancing, with 500 spectators watching. The beach had top notch lifeguards, and claimed nobody ever drowned there.
A small baseball baseball stadium graced the grounds and proved a mecca. Claiming a Class “A” team, the Carter Lake Club baseball team placed second in the league consistently, and often gunned for first. They played in Omaha’s Metropolitan League, which included teams like Russel Sports, Saunders Drive-Its, Edholm Shermans, Murphy-Did-Its, Burlington and the Omaha Prints. Over the years, they also battled the 13th Street Merchants, Brandeis, the Eighteenth Infantry Marines and Mainelli Construction. Johnny Rosenblatt played for Carter Lake occasionally.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, hard times hit the club. However, in 1930 the club was renovated, tennis courts were refurbished, “tons of fine sand was dumped on the beach,” and the summer agenda that year was packed. In addition to the regular boating, bowling, swimming, baseball, fishing and dancing, golf was introduced, croquet was popular, and archery took hold. Sunset diners called club members to the pavilion, and the club went from 500 to 1,000 members. Wealthy members were encouraged to build new cottages at the club, and the growth sustained.
Controversy Strikes; Did the Club Survive?
A battle broke out in 1932. After the last court trial between Nebraska and Iowa over the land that became the City of Carter Lake, Iowa, the Nebraska-registered Omaha Rod and Gun Club was given 20 years to vacate ownership of their land and re-organize as an Iowa corporation. When that time passed in 1932, it turned out the people who’d built houses at the Carter Lake Club didn’t actually own the land they were built on.
Remember the Carter Lake Club was the successor organization of the Omaha Rod and Gun Club, and since they hadn’t re-registered in Iowa, they had to take action. Initially offering each of the homeowners leases for their lands, many balked. They refused to pay for something they didn’t own, but refused to move. After two years of court fights and infighting and haggling and threats, in 1932 the club acquiesced and gave the homeowners title to their land.
The Carter Lake Club survived.
Outdoor Fun in the Sun
The Carter Lake Club continued existing. Located at present-day 213 Carter Lake Club, the former pavilion was referred to as a ballroom, and people loved it.
In the 1950s, it was included in a massive feature in the Omaha World-Herald focused on Carter Lake’s boating community. By that time, the Carter Lake Pleasure Pier and Kiddie Land were coming to fruition, and the popularity of the nearby Omaha Municipal Beach was waning. But the newspaper estimated there were 200 boats at the lake, with 150 being used on any given summer weekend. It said the lake had 20 boat slips for members of the club, as well as a boathouse. With motorboat racing confined to the west arm of the lake by this point, the middle was home to all the canoes, rowboats, sailboats and motorboats. The east arm was for fishing.
In 1955, a newspaper article bragged about how comfortable Carter Lake was. “The weather is cooler here in the summer. I’m only a block from the lake and enjoy the summer sports,” said one resident. A 15-year-old was quoted saying, “We have lots of fun down by the lake. I’d rather live here than in Omaha. Its quieter.”
In 1970, the Carter Lake Club hosted the Iowa State Water Ski Championships, and took the team honors. This went on for a long time, with a 1981 article highlighting the Carter Lake Club’s water skiing program, which aimed to teach kids and adults to like swimming, enjoy water skiing and appreciate the lake more. In that article, a member of the club said, “Carter Lake Club members include several factory workers, housewives, railroad engineers and employees of the utility districts.”
Over the years, enthusiasm for the community club lifestyle waned and came to an end. In 1938, a local businessman named Joseph Malec, Sr. bought the ballroom. Apparently, the Carter Lake Club lost it against a tax lien. Malec immediately rented it out for bingo, and drew up plans for a 9-hole golf course. In 1951 it was opened to private groups and organizations.
Malec renovated the building extensively in the 1950s. Among other things, he resurfaced the exterior of the building and painted the interior. He also removed the Victorian-era features, many of which were in poor condition and couldn’t be kept, like window shutters, cupolas with flagpoles, and other flourishes. The porches were screened in, and the entryway was made plain.
Between the 60s and 70s, bingo nights were held four nights a week, with dances and concerts happening almost every weekend. Tuesday was the single night every week the club wasn’t open. This giant building, which held up to 1,000 people, became a popular concert venue. Every ticket sold for almost every show, and people could bring their own beer to rock out and have a good time.
Arson and a New Facility
In December 1975, an arson destroyed the Carter Lake Club, which was also called the Carter Lake Ballroom by this point. The caretaker wasn’t present when the fire began, and it happened on the only night of the week the club wasn’t used. Four fire departments responded with 11 trucks, only to experience a lack of water to fight the fire. There were several small explosions within the structure during the night while it burned. An investigation showed the ballroom was forcibly entered.
The Malec family had spent more than $150,000 in renovations the previous year, and it was all gone. Their other endeavor, a little amusement center called Peony Park, was doing well, but the Carter Lake Club bit it. After the fire, talked about rebuilding it, but that didn’t happen. They also talked about renovating the old bowling alley, but its gone today, too. This fire was one of several arsons that happened throughout Carter Lake in the early 1970s.
In 1976, the Malecs renovated the former bowling alley at the Carter Lake Club and call it “The Warehouse.” A second arson happened six months after the first, during the renovation of the bowling alley. Apparently, Malec’s successful Tuesday night dances at Peony Park encouraged him to invest in the new ballroom that replaced the old Carter Lake Club. Located across the street from the old pavilion, the new club held 1,100 people and hosted bingo, dances and concerts, as well as private events. It was also called the Carter Lake Ballroom, and was often referred synonymously with its predecessor, even though they were distinctly different buildings with completely different roots. The Warehouse ballroom stayed open through 1991.
In 1992, The Warehouse Ballroom was closed and demolished to make way for a new housing development around a new shoal.
Today, there are streets in the City of Carter Lake called “Carter Lake Club,” and the Carter Lake Improvement Club building is nearby the former site of the club. However, all remnants of the 1896 building that once stood there, as well as the steamboat docks, bowling alley, movie theater and other highlights of the Carter Lake Club are all gone. There’s no marker or signage of any kind left from this once-grand Carter Lake institution.
Do you have any memories? Please share them in the comments section!
Carter Lake Club Timeline
1877—Carter Lake is formed as an oxbow lake when a massive flood moves the Missouri River channel to the east. Nebraska claims the land of East Omaha, including all of the present-day City of Carter Lake, is part of Nebraska. Iowa disagrees.
Just like today, in the late 1900s, Omahans wanted to hang out and have fun. To make friends, keep social ties strong and pool their resources, they formed social clubs based on ethnic and cultural ties, professions, and neighborhoods. One of these neighborhoods was located immediately west of the old town of Saratoga, and was called Prairie Park.
Building a Subdivision
After the turn of the century, the 10 acres between North 25th and North 19th, from Ames to Fowler wasn’t developed yet. When a circus started using the lot in 1907, neighbors weren’t too excited. One of those was H. J. Scannell, a successful businessman who platted the area and sold lots there to ensure the circus couldn’t come back.
Before it was built, Scannell placed a number of building restrictions on his subdivision. They included no outhouses of any kind on properties, including garages; no alleys; no wooden or board fences of any kind; and a 23′ setback from the sidewalk. Immediately, people started taking care of vacant lots, planted flowers constantly, and kept the neighborhood well-maintained. To reward the neighborhood’s determination, Scannell bought lots around the Prairie Park subdivision, too, ensuring their care.
Over the next several years, neighbors in Prairie Park hung out a lot, including huge “safe and sane” July 4th celebrations, neighborhood picnics, and more. They enjoyed each other so much, they wanted to make their activities more formal.
Forming the Club
The Prairie Park Club was formed in 1908.
By September 1912, the association held formal meetings monthly and social gatherings every week at peoples’ houses and in clubhouses around North Omaha and downtown. Only men were allowed to be members, and the wives were “allowed to use the clubhouse for their social activities,” according to the newspaper.
A society page banner from a 1909 edition of the Sunday World-Herald in Omaha.
These are images from a 1909 Society section in Omaha’s Sunday World-Herald. Click to enlarge.
Informal social clubs like the Assembly Club, the Symposia Club, Kountze Place Tango Club, the Washington Club and the Drama League met regularly at the Prairie Park Club. There was a whist club, and a needlecraft club and a thimblework club met there regularly, too. Club parties, dances, golf club gatherings and a lot more happened there all the time.
A 1916 newspaper reported,
“…[O]ne of the most unique and successful of the smaller clubs is the Prairie Park Club… where the members engage in all sorts of social revelry… It is a bully good neighborhood club, well backed and well managed.”
Every Christmas for almost a decade, the club held an annual party for more than 200 attendees, along with another 200 children. Every year, a children’s choir sang, along with piano recitals, monologues, and a quartet’s performance of “The Christmas Carol.” Santa Claus came from the North Pole every year, and Christmas decorations of holly, mistletoe, poinsettia, and evergreen boughs.
For leap year in 1916, the Prettiest Mile Club held a dancing party at the Prairie Park Clubhouse on February 29th. Women were asked to invite men, and the party was supposedly a great time for everyone.
Building the Clubhouse
This is a 1916 ad for the Prairie Park Club at 2605 Ames Avenue. Promoting classes and assemblies every Tuesday and Thursday, it also hyped dance classes, children’s classes and more. Genevieve Hauflaire was the building manager.
This is the Billiard Room in the Prairie Park Clubhouse in 1912.
This is a reading room in the Prairie Park Clubhouse in 1912.
This is the auditorium in the Prairie Park Clubhouse in 1912.
The garage at the Prairie Park Clubhouse in 1912.
In 1912, learning how the one-step and waltz canter, mixixe, half-and-half, fox trot and hesitation waltz were all required in Omaha’s emerging middle class culture. The city couldn’t have enough dance halls and clubs, and everyone thought they should belong to one. In 1911, a feature on the club in the Omaha Bee said that “horticulture and floriculture are the hobbies that engage the attention of the grownups of Prairie Park, the ambition of the members being to create a ten-acre prospect that will serve as an example not only for Omaha but for the country.
Scannell built the clubhouse for the Prairie Park Club in 1911. Incorporating soon after, the organization focused on social activities and recreation, and to improve their neighborhood. They built a three-story brick building, with a 12-car garage, a public auditorium and dance hall, a club room with a kitchen, a billiard and pool hall, and an office and janitor’s room. It was built on land that cost $12,000, and Scannell leased the building to the club. The address for the club was listed with several different numbers, including 2605, 2607 and 2610 Ames Avenue.
The building’s floors each served a different job. As usual, the basement held a furnace and hot water heater. The first floor was the parking garage, except for a small office and janitor’s quarters. There was also a locker room for tennis players. The club room was on the front of the second floor, with a fireplace, two stained windows taken from the original Paxton Mansion that was destroyed by fire, with oak woodwork covering everything and maple floors everywhere. Double doors connected the club room to a hallway that led to the dance hall. The auditorium was 38’x40′ and sat a total of 400 people. There was also a balcony that could seat 100 people, or hold a large orchestra. With a high ceiling and great lighting, oak paneling covered the walls in the dance hall and auditorium, too. All of the furniture in the was oak. Every room in the building had outside windows, and there were large chandeliers throughout the building.
On the top floor, there was a cloak room, toilets and a kitchen, which was connected to the auditorium on the second floor. Annual banquets and special events were taken care of with this set up. The billiard room and pool hall were on the top floor too, along with card rooms. Aside from the main staircase, there was a separate set of stairs outside the building to reach the top floor.
Before the City of Omaha had a robust Parks and Recreation Department, groups like the Prairie Park Club were vital in promoting sports, outdoor appreciation and conservation. In a 1911 edition, the Omaha Bee named the Prairie Park Club in league with the Omaha Country Club, Happy Hollow Club, Field Club, Dietz Club, the Omaha Rod and Gun Club, the South Omaha Country Club, the Miller Park Club (which became the Prettiest Mile Club), and the Omaha Aero Club. They each had their own sporting grounds, and several had expensive club houses.
In April 1912, the club announced the opening of its new tennis courts, even before the clubhouse was finished. Located at the southern end of the club’s future property, the courts were at North 26th and Sahler Avenue. Men’s and women’s matches were held, and the club joined the Omaha City Tennis League. By 1914, the club had three clay courts, one for men, one for women and one for mixed sets. There was an annual duel for club champion too, and the courts were busy from spring through fall.
Did Controversy Bring It Down?
In 1914, the club called off their seven-year tradition of hosting a large, whole-neighborhood July 4th party. There was no announcement for their Christmas party that year, either.
In early 1917, the club got caught up in a squabble over vaccinations. After the Assembly Club host an vaccination speaker early in the year, the club was accused of supporting that position by a Douglas County commissioner. The president of the club quickly went to the papers to defend the club as nonpolitical, and denounced any impression that the Prairie Park Club was anti-vaccination. In February 1917, the president was quoted saying,
“This club is a social club and does not now, and never has taken any part in controversies of this kind, and does not sanction the use of the Prairie Park Club in any manner other than a social nature.”
The Douglas County Health Department had ordered smallpox vaccinations for all children. Despite that, the Prairie Park neighborhood resisted and used their club as a rallying point to continue that. In late March, the newspaper ran an article explaining why their resistance continued. Committing to start a booster club for anti-vaccinations, the group found dwindled support but charged on. In November 1917, there was another article in the newspaper affirming their stance. Apparently, the president of the club wasn’t speaking for the club when he talked to the paper.
Soon after in 1917, activity announcements for different events at the club stopped appearing in the Omaha World-Herald. The paper published a lot of activities at the Prairie Park Clubhouse before that point, and kept publishing other clubs’ social activities and more afterwards. The Prairie Park Club simply stopped appearing. There was a blip in the newspaper about parents from Saratoga still resisting vaccinations, but there was no mention of the club.
In 1920, about 65 people met to create a new group called the North Side Club. Their first meeting was at the Prairie Park Clubhouse. There was no talk of the old club though, or its building. Then, in June the clubhouse was put up for sale. Priced at $18,000, it was for sale by Payne Investment Company in downtown Omaha.
I found a reminiscence about the Prairie Park Club House in a 1944 edition of the newspaper, where the writer was remembering fun times during World War One, and begged their readers to remember with them. The clubhouse really left an impression on people.
After scouring the newspaper archives and other sources for hours, I can’t find what eventually happened to the clubhouse. I would imagine it became an apartment building, or more fitting with the neighboring light industrial buildings, perhaps a manufacturing facility or warehouse. There were regular floods in the neighborhood, and as white flight got worse in the 1960s, crime increased and police patrols dropped. The entire block where the clubhouse sat was demolished by 1983 to make room for the North Freeway.
Despite its beauty and fun times, Courtland Beach wasn’t a successful amusement park. Luckily for Omaha’s early 20th century residents, people saw the value and stepped up to help it stay alive.
The Omaha Rod and Gun Club was founded in 1905 to support hunting and fishing at Carter Lake, and they used Courtland Beach to accomplish their mission. Sitting at the oxbow lake alternately called Cut-Off Lake, Courtland Lake, Lake Nikomas, Lake Nikoma and eventually, Carter Lake, the Omaha Rod and Gun Club actually lasted shorter than either its predecessor or successor, but it’s reputation has lasted longer. Discover why here.
Saving Courtland Beach
When they were formed, the newspaper said the club “is surely destined to do great things.” They marched onward!
Count John Creighton had already saved Courtland Beach. In the 1890s, the amusement park and resort wasn’t making enough money and faced closure. Creighton stepped up and bought the property, running it in the red for more than a decade.
Founded in 1905, there were 175 charter members of the club, with a target goal of 600. Dr. Despecher was credited as the founder, along with a dozen other people. Located across the lake from the booming Bungalow City, the Rod and Gun Club had the advantage of a streetcar line, existing facilities including all of Courtland Beach’s property, and much more going for them. The club was so successful that in just its second year, the membership fee was raised from $1 to $5 to keep the member rolls lower. Immediately, the club spent more than $2,000 building a new clubhouse immediately west of the pavilion. They had their own wharf, boathouse and boats, all exclusively for use by club members.
Starting in 1906, the Omaha Rod and Gun Club made bids to buy the Cortland Beach pavilion and other facilities. It was known that Creighton wanted to sell, but apparently, hemming and hawing led to the amusement park shutting down in 1906, and nobody running the park that year. By the end of that year, it was reported that the club was “regarded as one of the widest awake clubs in the west,” and that membership was up to 457.
Surviving and Thriving
The Omaha Rod and Gun Club clubhouse was at Cortland Beach within a year. That year there were 25 large canvas wall tents pitched, large enough for families with large children. The Carter Lake Yacht Club was formed in 1907 as “a subsidiary to the Omaha Rod and Gun Club and has a membership of more than thirty.” A rivalry between the Carter Lake Yacht Club and the Council Bluffs Rowing Association was declared, and the two clubs battled for that summer. In 1908, a small yacht called The Viking from the Yacht Club won a citywide boat race, winning against three other yachts from Lake Manawa.
After the Courtland Beach Company went out of business in 1909, the Rod and Gun Club bought Cortland Beach, including all the facilities and operations.
That year, the club hosted the third annual “Venetian Carnival of Magnificence.” Claiming 4,000 attendees, there were rockets and roman candles launched over 2,000 Chinese lanterns on 110 boats in a pageant. There were also lanterns on the bungalows surrounding the lake. A mandonlin orchestra held attendees’ attention during the pageant, and later, Señor V. Paneblanca sang “Venetian romance balads in a rich and pleasing voice.”
Bungalow City, a neighboring development packed with as many homes as the Rod and Gun Club, was ordered by the City of Omaha to moved in winter 1909. Expanding their Levi Carter Park, these bungalows were built on property to be used by the City. Waiting until winter, more than 25 houses were moved across Carter Lake on the ice and skidded over to the Omaha Rod and Gun Club.
There was a lot of celebration when the the Rod and Gun Club opened in 1911. The club held baseball games between their own team and the YMCA, church teams, fraternal organizations and others. Boating, trap shooting, vaudeville shows, tennis and dancing were all rewarded with prizes and more. At the opening of the season in May, there was a flower parade in boats and canoes on the lake. Canoes, rowboats, sailboats and motorboats were raced on the lake that season, too. A huge gala was held to open the season, and picnic parties, dinner parties and socials were held throughout the summer.
In 1907, the club reported having more than 700 members. They raised membership fees to $19, with $6 annual fees for everyone. In 1908, the Rod and Gun Club reported it was deep in debt, but it kept rolling onward. Late in the year, the Omaha Rod and Gun Realty Company was incorporated. They sold lots at the club.
The club apparently grew. With about 25 canoes on the lake in 1908, a group organized another axillary at the Rod and Gun Club called “Canoeiros,” asserting that it meant “canoe men” in Portuguese. The newspaper reported that the Canoeiros’ goals included promoting the sport, starting races and social stunts, and to encourage others to build or buy canoes and use them at the lake.
Launching a winter dance series at their pavilion, in 1909 the Omaha Road and Gun Club grew again by partying all winter long. During this era, the Rod and Gun Club also hosted fly fishing, trap shooting and other contests, too.
In 1912, the Cortland Beach amusement park was under management of the Omaha Rod and Gun Club, and was looking for people to operate its different activities. The operator, a man named J.W. Munchhoff, advertised that it was the only amusement park operating in the Omaha area. He reported that with over 203,000 residents to advertise to, the .5¢ would make new operators “big money.” Munchhoff advertised that the park already had four bowling alleys, a mammoth roller skating rink, boating, a rolling ball game, and sold popcorn and peanuts, etc. He wanted an operator for the merry-go-round and ferris wheel, as well as outdoor acts and musical attractions. Canoeists from the club paddled the 200-mile journey from Omaha to St. Louis on the Missouri River in 1912, beating a record by taking only 4-days.
Later that same year, an industry newspaper reported that Munchhoff succeeded. The park added an outdoor vaudeville theater and installed 1,000 seats for three daily performances. A ride called a Carry-Us-All as well as a new Ferris Wheel were installed, too, along with a seawall along the beach. All of the flooding from previous years were eating away at the beaches, and the seawall was going to stop all of that.
For years, Cortland Beach was constantly busy, and the lake was the place to be.
Closing Down the Club
Unfortunately, this wasn’t meant to last. Plagued by uncertainty over statehood, Nebraska and Iowa arguing over the ownership of the village of Carter Lake for more than 50 years. At the same time, Carter Lake kept flooding and neighboring areas just became more foul over time. Florence Lake, which fed into Carter Lake, was disappeared by the US Army Corps of Engineers; the North Omaha Bottoms were fought over then mostly ignored. The town of East Omaha was eclipsed by its namesake, and the intersection of 16th and Locust waxed and waned.
By 1912, the Omaha Rod and Gun Club was finished. Before it was done though, at least a half-dozen postcards were printed featuring scenes from the club. These postcards have ensured the reputation of the club has lasted far longer than its predecessor, the Courtland Beach Amusement Park, and its successor organization, the Carter Lake Club.
In January 1913, there were fewer than 500 associate members of the former club called to a meeting. Unfortunately, there was open fighting and accusations of an insurgency among this group, and the club stayed closed.
Soon after, 200 former members of the old Omaha Rod and Gun Club incorporated a new organization called the Carter Lake Club, and it lasted much longer than its predecessors.
Today, there’s no sign left of the Omaha Rod and Gun Club, or its predecessor or its successor! No history markers or tours highlight the story, either.
Do you have memories, stories or memorabilia related to the Omaha Rod and Gun Club? Leave a comment below!
Omaha Rod and Gun Club Timeline
1877—Carter Lake is formed as an oxbow lake when a massive flood moves the Missouri River channel to the east. Nebraska claims the land of East Omaha, including all of the present-day City of Carter Lake, is part of Nebraska. Iowa disagrees.
Imagine a warm summer evening at the turn of the century. Look out on Carter Lake and see the lightning bugs flickering and listen to the cicadas roaring. Picture yourself strolling along a boardwalk wrapped along the edge of the lake, wearing fancy clothes and just basking in the natural opulence. Walking by clubs and docks with sailboats bobbing in the darkness, you see cottages and restaurants all crowding the edge. Then you see a brightly lit amusement park.
This is a history of Cortland Beach, Omaha’s finest summertime resort from 1889 to 1905.
Welcome to Omaha’s Finest Resort
By the 1890s, the shores of Carter Lake were most developed at Cortland Beach. The lake had only formed a decade earlier, and capitalists in the city knew there needed to be an escape from the hustle and bustle of urban living. Some of them turned to this new drink of water to make that escape happen.
Opening in 1889 by Frank D. Kent, Courtland Beach was a resort with gazebos, boathouses, docks and a fine boardwalk lining the lake. It was advertised as “A summer resort at Cut-Off Lake,” as the lake was then known. Soon after, a newspaper said that Cortland was a “swimming hole turned amusement park” that, at its peak, had all the best rides. Home to one of the area’s first roller coasters (aka switchback railway) in the late 1890s, as well as its first Ferris wheel, Cortland was popular with adults and children. There was also a small carousel, aka a “miniature railroad” that was brought from the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition in North Omaha.
The first bridge across the Missouri River in East Omaha was finally finished in 1892. It included a, “wagon bridge over Cut-off lake and along the line of Ames Avenue [in North Omaha] connecting Courtland beach with the main land has been completed”. Traffic opened on August 17 on the new bridge across the river, which was “1,500 feet long, 20 feet wide and… built strong enough” to carry the proposed electric streetcar line from Council Bluffs to East Omaha.
Cortland also had a large pavilion, complete with sitting rooms, a restaurant and more. There was a large porch surrounding the building, and Victorian-era flourishes made the entire space seem opulent and deluxe. There was a zoological garden at Courtland that had ostriches, zebras and more, along with a slide and balloon races.
Within a decade, a streetcar was sent out to the beach every few hours from the nearby intersection of 16th and Locust, a town developed at East Omaha, and the 1899 Trans-Mississippi Expo was held just up the hill. The Omaha Auto Speedway racetrack was built nearby with the introduction of the automobile shortly after the turn of the century, and investors formed the East Omaha Land Company to claim all of the present-day village of Carter Lake for Nebraska. They had grandiose plans for the area.
1893 was an especially important year for Courtland Beach, and the entire area of land from the bluffs east of North 14th Street all the way to the river. The largest real estate deal in Omaha history happened in the North Omaha bottoms, immediately to the south, amounting to $1,000,000 in land sales in 1893. The Omaha Terminal and Railway Company made ambitious plans to increase traffic by establishing East Omaha lines, including a streetcar to Courtland. Other developments included the launch of their roundhouse north of Locust, and the first construction on the East Omaha Bridge.
An 1893 city ordinance from Council Bluffs recognized the incorporation of the Courtland Beach Association with a 25 year franchise. That spring the line was run from Locust Street one mile north on 13th Street to Courtland Beach with a loop back to 13th at Avenue Q. In 1894, the streetcar company built a double-track line from 16th and Locust to Courtland Beach, and over to the town of East Omaha. That same summer, the park reported 100s of swimmers every day, with prairie dogs on the property entertaining visitors. The newspaper started referring to Cut-Off Lake as Courtland Lake, and everything hummed along. A 400-passenger steamboat was launched on the lake to serve Courtland Beach, and at the end of the year LeMarcus Thompson came to build a switchback railroad there. In the same year of 1894, the New York Times reported that Omaha’s gambling syndicate wanted to a clubhouse, race track and sporting headquarters “as near as possible to Courtland Beach” that would become “an American Monte Carlo.”
The newspaper reports shared stories of mothers and children spending their days out on the beach and in the amusement park, while their business-working husbands would join them in the evening. Young couples were known to have bonfires on the beach starting at 10pm and last long after midnight. Society pages were covered with stories of Miss Smith taking rowing lessons while Miss Houston hosted a beach party, and other tales of lush pleasure at Courtland. There were nightly balloon excursions to watch and participate in, and Nordin’s Orchestra was the house band for several years. Attorneys and city officials frequently enjoyed “evening luncheons,” bowling and bathing (swimming) at the beach, and overall it appeared that Omahans really enjoyed their summer retreat.
However, changes in the Missouri River’s flow made the bridge at East Omaha worthless, and soon it was a stranded section in the middle of the river. After flooding struck Courtland Beach in 1897 and 1899, the company starting running into fiscal problems, and in 1900, the Courtland Beach Company couldn’t afford to start the place up again for the summer. It was the same year that the streetcar company built a streetcar barn on Locust next to the roundhouse, and made plans to build a powerhouse to convert the streetcar line from steam power to electricity. Although it was shuttered, Courtland Beach was kept in good shape, and within a few years it was running again.
In 1902, the Illinois Central Railroad took over the streetcar facilities in East Omaha, including the bridge, roundhouse and streetcar barn. The bridge was rebuilt as the longest double-swing bridge in the world, and its worth was pronounced loudly around town.
To wrangle crowds back to the park when it re-opened in 1903, the Jabour Carnival and Circus Company was contracted for more than two weeks. There were 200 performers, and a scenic pyrotechnic performance called “A Night in Japan.” Acrobats, a ballet, a high wire artist and a contortionist were featured, too, as well as Frank Cotton’s educated donkeys, a beauty pageant, a Congress of Nations, and an Italian military band. A midway and entertainment tents kept Courtland open at all hours, and packed the crowds in.
As a sense of the taste of the times, a famous cornet virtuoso named Herman Bellstedt played Courtland Beach for “an indefinite stay” in 1903. The Five Flying Banvards, an acrobatic troop from Germany, spent a few weeks at Courtland that summer, too. That same year, the Omaha Street Railway bought the lines running to the beach and made the trip more affordable. Starting in 1903, one fare carried people from South Omaha or any of the other suburbs directly to Courtland, with a transfer at Farnam Street taking them there in approximately 15 minutes.
In 1904, the amusement park featured daredevils Gertrude and Harry Breton, who rode a loopty-loop and then jumped a gap, always narrowly avoiding death. Oscar and Siri Horni were world champion sky divers who jumped from hot air balloons, and Dare Devil Murphy had a role in the skies, too. Nordin’s Orchestra was a 40-piece brass band, and the Becker Ladie’s Orchestra played in the restaurant. The Old Plantation Quartet sang on the beach, too.
“Leaping the Gap” was a popular attraction at the park that year, and “water toboggans” were all the rage. Swimming, aka bathing, stayed popular and boating was always happening. That year a newspaper article delightfully told readers,
“At the cafe and pavilion one can get any liquid or solid refreshment desired, and Courtland beach should be the mecca of all Omaha people.”
Before the turn of the century, the same manager handled both Courtland Beach and Lake Manawa, which had a similar operation and was similarly beloved by Omahans. He was the legendary James A. Griffiths of Philadelphia, a man known nationwide for designing the early “scenic railways” that became rollercoasters. When he returned to Omaha in 1903, people believed Courtland would return to its previous successes, but it didn’t.
In 1905, Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan spoke to a crowd of 5,000 at Courtland Beach. I would bet few could imagine the changes ahead, both in politics and at their summer resort. By 1906, the resort ran into hard times. John A. Creighton, a member of the famous Omaha family, bought the entire facility as a gesture in 1900 and ran it at a loss through 1906. That year it was sold to the Omaha Rod and Gun Club.
In 1912, the Cortland Beach amusement park was looking for people to operate its different activities. The operator, a man named J.W. Munchhoff, advertised that it was the only amusement park operating in the Omaha area. He reported that with over 203,000 residents to advertise to, the .5¢ would make new operators “big money.” Munchhoff advertised that the park already had four bowling alleys, a mammoth roller skating rink, boating, a rolling ball game, and sold popcorn and peanuts, etc. He wanted an operator for the merry-go-round and ferris wheel, as well as outdoor acts and musical attractions.
Later that same year, an industry newspaper reported that Munchhoff succeeded. The park added an outdoor vaudeville theater and installed 1,000 seats for three daily performances. A ride called a Carry-Us-All as well as a new Ferris Wheel were installed, too. There were pavilions and a ballroom at Cortland Beach, too, and dating there was the best fun in the area.
Cortland Beach was always busy, and the lake was the place to be.
From the formation of Carter Lake after the Great Flood of 1877, few knew what to do with the spit of land that used to be in Iowa, but was now squarely on Nebraska’s side of the river. Development floundered in the area because of the uncertainty, so the courts got involved. That wasn’t a clear path either, though.
The 1890s were mostly Omaha’s fight to keep it, after a supreme court’s ruling in Iowa’s favor. An 1898 appeal in Nebraska’s favor made the turn of the century Iowa’s fight for it. In 1912 it switched back to Iowa permanently.
All of the best development at Courtland Beach happened before the great controversy was resolved by the United States Supreme Court. They declared the village of Carter Lake was in Iowa, and Nebraska had no claim to the land. Soon afterwards, the village was left to its own devices to develop however it wanted to.
Essentially though, you should know that the streetcar lines running to Courtland Beach were abandoned in 1913, and not restarted until the 1940s. When Omaha’s streetcars were completely abandoned in 1955, the area switched to buses. The Courtland Beach pavilion stood until the 1970s, when it was ravished by a fire.
Today, there is no sign left from the Courtland Beach Amusement Park. No historical marker or guided tour gives homage to it, either.
Do you have any memories, stories or memorabilia related to Courtland Beach? Please share in the comments below!
Courtland Beach Timeline
1877—Carter Lake is formed as an oxbow lake when a massive flood moves the Missouri River channel to the east. Nebraska claims the land of East Omaha, including all of the present-day City of Carter Lake, is part of Nebraska. Iowa disagrees.
Imagine its December 2, 1863, and you’re standing in the cold. Surrounding you are the governor of the Nebraska Territory, Alvin Saunders, and the mayor of Omaha, Benjamin Eli Barnet Kennedy. Council Bluffs’ mayor is there, along with a Judge Larimer and Judge Lake. Luminaries from Omaha’s pioneer era stand around, too, including A. J. Poppleton, Augustus Kountze, Ed Creighton, John I. Redick, General Experience Estabrook, J. J. Brown, and George Francis Train. Locally renowned leader A. J. Hanscom was leading the show.
Everyone’s come here to break ground on the much-hyped and hotly anticipated Union Pacific railroad, which will provide the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S. Instead of plodding along in wagons, gaggles of Easterners dream of riding these new rails to the riches of the West, setting up shops along the way and helping expand the American empire in wholly new ways. They aren’t thinking about the American Indians whose land was stolen, or the coming border wars with Spain, Mexico, and even Great Britain.
Now imagine you’re all standing in Carter Lake, at the end south of Locust that doesn’t exist anymore. That’s where the groundbreaking for the transcontinental railroad happened on that cold day in 1863.
All of this happened in an area referred to as the North Omaha Bottoms.
Finding the Bottoms
The North Omaha Bottoms were located from Ames and Nicholas Streets, east of North 13th Street, and extending to the river. The area wasn’t well-suited for development. It sat below the river banks in some spots, and was too close to the “second bottoms” of the Missouri River. According to a historical account, the “second bottoms” were,
“Along the Missouri River what are known as the “second bottoms” are generally from one to two miles wide, rising in gentle undulations to the bluffs. From the northeast corner of the county down to Omaha there are some low “first bottom” lands that overflow in times of high water, but southward from Omaha these bottoms are much narrower, the bluffs approaching nearer to the river.”
The Union Pacific opened their maintenance shops just south of the bottoms, and the North Omaha Yards were opened immediately to the west. The rail yards had thousands of cars coming in and out for more than a dozen carriers every day. The Webster Street Station brought passengers and freight in and out of North Omaha, and McKean made fancy railcars in the area for a while. With surging numbers of trains coming in and out of the area, it only made sense to serve them.
That led to a number of hotels, cafes and more built up in the area, along with light industrial factories, warehouses and more. There was philandering and crime of all kinds, including the work of “Sleepy” Leon Hewett, also called the Hustler of the North Omaha Bottoms. In the 1890s, he was regularly dragged into the Omaha Police Department at 11th and Dodge, accused of burglary and more, but rarely found guilty.
In 1917, the City of Omaha planned for the development of North 9th Street to become the through fare for the bottoms. Today, there are streets throughout the area, but not all of it. Some are cut off by railroads while others mysteriously dead-end for no reason. Streets in the bottoms include North 13th, North 11th, North 5th, Locust, Ave H East, Grace, Clark, Seward and Nicholas. North 11th Street is the only north-south thru street; there isn’t an east-west thru street in the middle of the area, only on the north and south edges.
The bottoms were a hotly debated slate of land, especially towards East Omaha and present-day Carter Lake. The land was alternately claimed by Iowa and claimed by Nebraska, and constant battling led to stunted development. Industries didn’t want to build on land they weren’t sure if they owned, and residential developers discouraged housing to get built there.
All this led to compromised situations.
A Slum for the Down-And-Out
Starting early on, the North Omaha Bottoms were a place for paupers, the poor and the destitute to live. Bordering Granny Weatherford’s infamous Squatter’s Row, the bottoms had a lot of shacks, and according to newspaper accounts dating from the 1890s, people there lived in squalor at best.
In December 1906, the Omaha Bee ran an expose called “Christmas Never Comes to the North Omaha Bottoms.” Featuring pictures of “hovels” made of scrap lumber and canvas tent villages, it highlighted the rough living conditions and destitute mothers, children and old people who lived there. Stagnant pools of water, railroads running in front of doorways and constant fighting were made to seem ubiquitous in the bottoms, and the writer recorded their findings without much hyperbole.
The paper estimated about 1,000 people lived in the North Omaha bottoms. There were apparently decent homes in the area, but the writer made sure to say most people in the bottoms were poor – “poor in the fullest, most inclusive sense of the term.” There were apparently rare horses and cows among the homes, and the writer said sometimes those animals lived with the people, while “dogs, chickens, geese and children seem common to all.”
The kids in the bottoms went to three schools: Lake, Sherman and Cass. Visiting nurses often came, and teachers at school collected clothing for their students occasionally. “Rummage sales go far,” said the paper, and the East Omaha dump wasn’t too far away.
There were regular squabbles, fights, battles and wars in the bottoms, too. In one instance, George Green fought with J. F. Martin for years. Their feud apparently started over land disputes in the bottoms, and didn’t end until they died. Exchanging fists and gunfire when they were young, the pair took each other to court repeatedly in their old age.
People living in the bottoms were regularly “compelled to leave,” either by the sheriff, floods or other outside forces. Eventually, their homes were all destroyed and either replaced by industrial sites, or simply left cleared by the railroads.
Before the turn of the century, a so-called war broke out between residents in the bottoms and the Union Pacific Railroad. Apparently, by 1901 the UP had put up a fence on either side of Grace Street, which crossed the North Omaha Yards. The Detroit Syndicate joined in the complaint, reaching out to the City of Omaha because Grace Street was the most direct route to its land. The City replied that it would open a new street, and apparently never did.
The water wasn’t allowed to stay.
Movers and Shakers
In 1893, the most expensive cash-only sale of land in Omaha to that point happened in the North Omaha Bottoms. The Omaha Ferry Company, left over from the 1854 corporation that speculated and sold pioneer Omaha, still held title to 180 acres of land northwest of the Winspear Triangle, and south of Locust Street.
The syndicate, made up of a dozen of investors from Detroit, paid $297,500 cash for the land. The Omaha Ferry Company was mostly old city pioneers, including:
J. M. Woolworth (1829 – 1906) was a pioneer attorney and the first Omaha City attorney in 1859. He also served in the Nebraska Territorial Legislature, and Woolworth Avenue was named for him;
Captain Grant P. Marsh (1834-1916) was an early steamboat captain on the Missouri River (whose second mate was Samuel Clemens for a while);
Frank Murphy ( -1904) was the millionaire president of the Omaha Street Railway Company, and a brother-in-law to Tom Cuming, the first governor of the Nebraska Territory.
Charles B. Rustin (1836-1900) was a businessman and politician who made a fortune with the American Smelting Company.
William W. Lowe (1836-1898) was a military leader and scion of a highly influential pioneer family in Omaha.
That same year, the Omaha Bridge and Terminal Company bought land in the North Omaha Bottoms, too, buying 100 acres from Nicholas to Locust for $670,000. This was supposedly the largest real estate deal of any kind ever made in Omaha up to that year.
In 1893, more than $1,000,000 in land deals happened in the North Omaha Bottoms.
All of this was in speculation for the development of the East Omaha Bridge, an ambitious plan to create an industrial area in East Omaha, through the North Omaha Bottoms, and connected to the Nicholas Street Historic District and Cuming Street. Others got in on the land grab, including the Union Pacific and Illinois Central railroads.
While it eventually panned out, originally the development of the bottoms took a long time, ranging from the 1880s through the 1960s. Even today, as some of the area is redeveloped, the rest is simply an industrial wasteland. Stacks of half-demolished cars compete with rusty chainlink fences and factories covered in corrugated steel with old tin roofs. Change has been a long time coming.
The Winspear Triangle was a speculation area that first gained the attention of the Illinois Central Railroad when they were considering building a railroad bridge north of the Union Pacific Bridge in downtown Omaha. Securing the land, the City of Omaha claimed it quickly after in a process similar to eminent domain today. They said that since it was north of the city waterworks on the river at Burt Street, they should own the land.
Afterwards, the land sat idle for a long time.In the meantime, homeless encampments, animal carcasses, and many other signs of neglect gathered. It was the focus of many real estate schemes by the City of Omaha, but didn’t develop in earnest until the 1990s, when the Gallup organization built a massive campus there.
Floods Ravage the Bottoms
Remember there were no levies, dams or other flood control measures on the Missouri River from the settling of Omaha in 1854 through the 1910s. Building any significant construction in the North Omaha Bottoms was a bit dumb. However, this is where the brilliant leaders of early Omaha decided to start their construction on their grandiose transcontinental railroad.
It wasn’t long before floods started pouring into the Bottoms on a regular basis. The most powerful came in 1881, and demolished almost all the infrastructure there, including the site of the groundbreaking for the railroad. Before and after that though, the North Omaha Bottoms were an early industrial center for the whole city. The slums in the North Omaha Bottoms were regularly flooded, and the pools of stagnant water left behind were seen as part of the hazards of living there.
The bottoms cleared out over the decades, and today there is nothing left to mark what it was.
Tour the North Omaha Bottoms
You can still go visit the area today, and see some of the historical buildings that helped Omaha grow into a successful city. However, the North Omaha Bottoms have lost their identity as a single area. There’s no sign of the historical significance there, either – not a plaque, sign or statue to remind everyone how the West was won, starting in North Omaha.
Fuchs Machinery and Supply Company, 2401 North 11th Street – Built in 1953, standing today.
According to a 1952 article in the Omaha Star, the Midwest Athletic Club, or MAC, was formed in 1946. The original mission was
“…to bring about a closer understanding within ourselves and among the citizens of Omaha and to promote social activities for the uplifting of the Negro Race.”
MAC was a men’s club, and their early activities included an annual banquet, July 4th formal, annual summer picnics, the annual “Clubs on Parade” down 24th Street, and more. However, my research showed me the MAC was much more than simply a good time.
This is a history of North Omaha’s Midwest Athletic Club.
Why the Midwest Athletic Club Started
According to a variety of sources, for several decades the African American community in North Omaha was sustained by social clubs. Starting in the 1920s, many of these groups were informal, meeting occasionally and hosting gatherings on a whim. Others were longstanding, structured and rigorous about getting together. Supporting middle class norms and lifting up new members all the time, these social clubs were the threads that tied together families, neighborhoods and culture.
Many famous North Omahans were associated with the MAC over the years. One individual was Charlie Hall. Herman Franklin was the original president of the MAC, and is credited with founding the club. Speakers at the club over the years included Father Markoe, Whitney Young and many others.
Located at North 22nd and Grant Streets in the Near North Side neighborhood, the Midwest Athletic Club has a storied history every North Omahan should be familiar with.
In order to have these social clubs, the community had to have physical structures for them to meet, celebrate and recreate within. With de facto segregation the norm in Omaha, many of these social clubs met regularly in members’ homes, with 30, 50 and even 100 people cramming into various houses throughout the Black community. However, with more white flight and loosened racial restrictions within the Near North Side starting in the 1940s, larger buildings became available. By the 1950s, the AmVets Club and the Waiters and Porters Parlor were hosting social club gatherings regularly. Another entry into the field was the MAC.
The building at 2306 North 22nd Street in the Near North Side neighborhood began its life as a house that was built in the 1890s. By the 1910s, it was headquarters for North Omaha’s Colored Young Women’s Christian Association, or Colored YWCA. Even in its early capacity as a YWCA facility, the building hosted several regular meetings of social clubs.
In the early 1950s, it became home to the MAC. When the MAC became a formal charity in 1960, the states mission was training in sports; combating juvenile delinquency, and; providing scholarships.
As of April 2018, the building is rumored to get demolished soon.
Before they had a physical space, the MAC was playing sports around the community. In 1960, they hosted events at the Near North Side YMCA. Other sports included softball in 1979. That year, the Omaha Star was excited the club would play a Denver team at the Boyd Field by Carter Lake. In the 1980s, the Midwest Athletic Club was host to the C. W. Boxing Club, with formidable foes for many young boxers around the Omaha area.
Social Clubs in North Omaha
The Jolly Mates, the Clover Leafs, the Travelers Club, Gay Ladies, the Royal Circle and the Debonair Club were only a few of the African American social clubs in North Omaha. Playing cards, cocktail parties, dancing and merely socializing were among some of their primary activities; building social capital, strengthening community bonds and securing upward mobility among members were some of their actual outcomes.
Starting in 1960, a group called the Interclub was hosted by the MAC through the 1960s. Working with more than 20 social clubs, the MAC brought representatives together monthly to “bring about a closer understanding within the clubs for social and civic causes.” Hosting regular speakers, groups such as the NAACP and Urban League used Interclub as a platform for civil rights, urging members to get out the vote and participate in protests and boycotts. There were also opportunities to watch movies, share diners and play bingo created by Interclub.
There were formal events for social clubs held at and sponsored by the MAC, which was home to the Ballerina Ball Room. Some affairs were very formal, too, with tuxedos and formal gowns in the spring and early summers during the 1940s and 50s. As the years went on, dark blue and black tuxes gave way to white tuxedos, with kings and queens crowned, parades of honorees, and tons of roses and bouquets and more handed out. The queens were presented with furniture, and the kings received luggage and other work items.
Civil Rights Movement
In 1961, the MAC gained a new reputation when they took on Omaha Public Schools. After the DePorres Club fell silent in the late 1950s, there was a leadership vacuum in the Civil Rights movement in Omaha. The MAC stepped into the fray in 61, challenging the school district’s apparently position that Tech High School should become a “Negro” school through “voluntary segregation.” Launching an open letter at the Omaha school board, the MAC was determined to take action. The Omaha Star declared,
“The Midwest Athletic Club is not a group to drop an issue once they get into it. The whole city knows their reputation for getting things done, once they put their minds to it. Perhaps they will provide the necessary spark the Negro citizens have long yearned for, to teach the school board a lesson they will not soon forget.”
Within a few years after this action, 4CL was founded to take up the Civil Rights gauntlet. However, its clear the MAC stepped in at the right time.
Acting as a philanthropic charity, the Midwest Athletic Club also held fundraisers, donated money and support, and fostered philanthropy throughout North Omaha’s Black community, too. Throughout the 1950s into the 1990s, partnering with groups like the Near North Side YMCA, the Jaycees and others, the MAC donated Christmas presents, brought Santa and the Easter bunny to kids, and led the community in various giving activities.
In 1962, the MAC showed their philanthropic muscle by hosting a Christmas celebration at the Near North Side YMCA. The event had more than 15,000 kids attending, and featured 30 minutes of Christmas carols, gifts, candies and more for each of the attendees.
Activities continued at the MAC into the early 2000s. For instance, a social club called Junior Knights of Peter Clover had a BBQ fundraiser dinner there in 1998 to send youth to a national conference. The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation held several events there starting in the 1980s to raise money for the Malcolm X Memorial Birthsite.
The future of the MAC building is questionable, but the impact of the organization on the community is undoubtable. Please leave your memories in the comments section below!
In February 1890, Mr. and Mrs. Allen and Dorothy Jones were murdered at their farm outside of Millard. The killer shot the elderly couple, then buried them in a manure pile before stealing their horses and cows.
The crime made early Omaha salivate for details, but I can’t find a complete retelling of the tale. So, here’s my history of the murders of Allen and Dorothy Jones near Millard in February 1890.
The day after the killer was hung from the gallows with the county sheriff and a priest at his side, a mob of 15,000 watched on as an African American man was dragged from his cell and lynched. As heinous as the murders at the Pinney Farm were, they are merely a preface for the horrendous acts that followed.
Meet The Jones
Pinney Farm was said to be a bucolic setting for the cattle that grazed there. Located a few miles from Doc George Miller’s Seymour Place castle near Millard, Allen and Dorothea (Dorothy) Jones were tending the place for someone else. After living with a son in Irvington, they’d moved to the Pinney Farm as a favor to their son-in-law. They were a spry couple, said to be full of vigor and eager caretakers of the farm and its animals.
When they were murdered, Allen Jones was 71 years old, and Dorothy Jones was about 60. The killings happened on February 1, 1890.
Farmer J. S. Jones of Shenandoah, Iowa, was the oldest son of Allen and Dorothy Jones; John Q. A. Jones, another farmer, was a younger son in Irvington; and Mrs. Dennis Cadwalader was their daughter. They shared the terrible job of identifying his parents’ bodies after they were recovered.
Who Was Ed Neal?
We might never know exactly who the killer Edward D. Neal was.
Early reports said Ed Neal was a 24 year old male with high cheek bones who wore neatly cropped hair. When he was arrested, he had on sharp pants and black shoes, a black derby hat with a fancy coat and a silk scarf on top of his standing collar. Born in Rochester, New York, the places he admitted to living in included California, Colorado and Kansas City, Kansas, before getting sent to prison. He had several aliases, including Ed Neil, Thomas D. Livingston, John D. Caton, and Louis Arnold. He might’ve been related to a woman called Jo Clarke.
Stories after his death, the newspaper said Neal was the son of a prostitute from St. Joseph called Rose Thorton. Turns out, Neal might’ve been born with an entirely different name in a totally different place. There was no way to confirm that though.
According to the Morning World-Herald, letters between Neal and Jo Clarke examined after his death showed that he had come to Omaha from Jackson County, Missouri. He had been married and divorced there.
How the Murder Happened
Dr. Pinney was a physician in Council Bluffs, and owned the farm. Pinney leased the farm to a man named A. D. Cadwalader, and he let the Jones to live at the farm. The Jones were his parents-in-law, and moved to the farm from Irvington.
Samuel Root was a neighboring farmer to Pinney Farm, where Mr. and Mrs. Jones lived. Root’s son Charlie regularly saw the Jones on their farm, but hadn’t seen them for a few days, which led to the gruesome discovery of their murders.
L. J. Carpenter was a livery stable keeper nearby. Theodore Mott was the foreman of Carpenter’s barn. Ed Neal showed up at Carpenter’s barn and offered to sell him several horses for $10 apiece, but Carpenter thought the deal was fishy so he didn’t buy them. Mott was hired by Neal to help drive a herd of cattle to the South Omaha stockyards.
On February 5, 1890, Brainard, Manley and Carpenter paid Ed Neal $60 for 10 cows. William Dally and Company paid Neal $52.50 for the 10 cows they bought. Edwin Davis was a livery man who bought stock from Neal, too. The horses were left at Davis’ barn.
Capturing the Murderer
When Omaha Police Chief Seavey picked him up in Kansas City, Neal had been arrested for horse stealing there. Apparently, he’d spent the money he gained from selling the Pinney Farm cows and horses on prostitutes, and needed more money so he stole more animals to sell. Getting caught, the K.C. police turned him over to Seavey for the murder charges.
After his capture, Neal initially said that his job was to sell the cattle and meet up with Shellenberger in Humbolt, Iowa, where Shellenberger gave him $150. Neal said that afterward he left for Kansas City, and he didn’t know where Shellenberger went. Within days of his capture though, officials were determined that Shellenberger had nothing to do with the murders, and that Neal acted alone.
When he got to Kansas City, he went to the Fountain Theater, which was apparently a brothel. There, he hooked up with Minnie Sullivan and gave her a ring. That ring belonged to Mrs. Jones and was obviously taken from her body, and is what led to Neal’s arrest.
During the week of February 20, Omaha Police Chief Seavey got permission from the Omaha City Council to go to Kansas City, Kansas to bring back Ed Neal, who’d been arrested on a warrant for murder. Coming in on a train through Seymour Park, a reporter pointed out the Pinney Farm to the chief.
The newspaper reported that at least 3,000 people were immediately gathered on the streets outside Neal’s cell. Later, Neal agreed to stand in the front of his cell so the onlookers could walk through and see the accused man. The paper said the crowd was, “colored and white, Chinese too, matrons and maidens, youth and age, all stopped to take a peep.”
Chief Seavey brought Neal into Omaha on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. When he walked off the train in shackles at the Webster Street Station, Neal was greeted by a crowd of “thousands,” according to the World-Herald. Policemen lined the railroad to keep the crowds from swarming him, while Sargent Graves and Detective Vaughn protected him further.
During his interrogations though, Neal changed his story, evaded questions about his true identity, and was generally a shifty character. The police quickly determined they might not know his real name, and when Neal refused to give much backstory or share his current place of residence, everyone became more suspicious.
Simple Joe Shellenberger
In 1888, Neal had been in the Logan County, Nebraska, jail with a man named Joe Shellenberger. Sometime after he’d been released from the pen, he made his way to Omaha when Shellenberger caught up with him. Suggesting he had an easy way to make a lot of money, Neal connected with him.
Shellenberger was 5′ 4″ tall, 27 years old, and had a brown mustache. He was a “stoop shouldered” man. Neal originally said Shellenberger set up the crime and killed the Jones.
Originally doubting Shellenberger even existed, a manhunt took off after newspapers started running the story nationally. After a few weeks of searching, Fuller “Joe” Shellenberger was found in Nebraska City. Detective Debolt of the Omaha Police Department wired back to the city:
“Shellenberger is the right man. We will be up on the first train.”
The detective kept Shellenberger under close watch and under lock and key during the trip back, and the criminal barely said a thing. However, once they were back in Omaha Shellenberger sung like a bird.
Demonstrating Guilt, Over and Over
The trial happened. On May 14, 1890, the City of Omaha prosecutor J. J. Mahoney began making his case against Neal, with Judge J. R. Clarkson presiding over the trial.
After not saying anything during his ride up to Omaha, when Shellenberger finally spoke his voice quivered and he was shaken. Under examination by Chief Seavey, he turned State’s witness and spoke against Neal easily. He said he’d never seen Neal outside of prison, and that he was in Nebraska City with an alibi when the murders happened. He repeated the same thing during the trial.
He also said Neal never hired him to drive cattle, or vice versa.
During his investigation, Chief Seavey also found out that Neal had been implicated in horse stealing from J. W. Holt in Lincoln. The case against Neal was dug deeper.
Witnesses placed Neal at the scene of the crime; in downtown Omaha on Farnam Street with a gun on his side; in South Omaha at a hotel called the Wisconsin House; on the road to the Pinney Farm; at the Union Stock Yards Bank in South Omaha; at the public stockyards; and at a jewelry store in South Omaha.
At the Henry Copert Jewelry Store in South Omaha, Neal sold a woman’s gold watch for $65, and got $9.50 for a ring. It was the same ring he’d given to the Kansas City prostitute, and that was owned by Mrs. Jones before she was murdered. It was produced in court and used to implicate Neal in the murder.
A farmer named Stevens neighbored the Pinney Farm, and testified that he’d seen a stranger “running excitedly” around the Pinney place around February 4th. Farmer Stevens stopped the man, who asked where the road led. An edition of the Omaha World-Herald from the period excitedly reported the next lines:
“Which one?” Stevens clarified. The stranger replied anxiously, “Any of them.”
A. J. Baldwin, who co-owned a clothing store in South Omaha called Wright and Baldwin, sold Neal clothes and a trunk. Neal was brought back to Omaha in clothes Baldwin recognized having sold him.
Finally, Shellenberger was let off the hook. He testified that he went to the Pinney Farm with Neal; saw Neal shoot Mr. and Mrs. Jones, and helped him steal the horses and cattle. He said Neal gave him the revolver used to shoot the Jones, which he threw into a nearby creek. However, when cross-examined his testimony fell apart and the court began to suspect his mental condition. None of his testimony was allowed into evidence, and Shellenberger was set free.
Allen Jones was shot twice, and his body was thrown next to a manure pile, where it was buried. Dorothy Jones was shot four times, and her body was buried in a hay pile. In addition to having possession of her ring, Neal was seen with a pistol before the murders and repeatedly placed at the scene of the crime and around it.
On May 22, 1890, the jury declared Neal guilty of first degree murder.” The case went to the Nebraska Supreme Court, and after they rejected it an execution was set for October 9, 1891.
That morning, the crowds began gathering before dawn. By 11am, the neighboring Washington Hall and the Drummond Carriage factory across the street were packed with onlookers, and the newspaper estimated the crowd at several thousand. “Popcorn merchants and fruit peddlers drove a thriving trade among the crowd, which was kept in the streets by the deputies patrolling the wall of the courthouse yard.” J. Rudowsky of 1218 S. 12th St. built the gallows, which he’d done before for the execution of Cyrus Tator in 1863.
Neal became a Catholic on his deathbed. After taking Mass with a priest and nuns, Neal ate a porterhouse steak, two fried eggs, mashed potatoes and bread, and a cup of coffee. Then, at 7am on a Friday, Neal was led to his death.
From an enclosure next to the Douglas County jail at 18th and Harney, Neal made a full confession on the gallows. He admitted he did it and that nobody else was involved. Then, Sheriff John F. Boyd gave him a shot of whiskey and pulled the lever. According to tradition, the death penalty was administered and the body of Ed D. Neal was left hanging for 45 minutes. Afterward, Neal was declared dead and buried at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
After he was executed, newspaper stories told how Jo Clarke, who lived on North 9th Street, tried to break him out of jail twice. Using secret codes, the pair passed information back and forth, and she even gave him a key to the cell door. Obviously, none of the plans ever panned out. Another woman called Frankie Clifton was also implicated in his attempts, but no charges were ever pressed against either of them.
In 1899, a farmer named Julian Bahaud of Nemaha County, Nebraska, was murdered. Apparently, Joe Shellenberger was put on trial several times for this crime, resulting in a Nebraska Supreme Court trial in 1913. Several of the key figures from the Jones murder trial were brought to the court to testify, including an Omaha Police Department captain named H. P. Hayes; the City of Omaha prosecutor J. J. Mahoney; and and George W. Leidigh, who owned a farm where Shellenberger worked at the time of the murder and provided an alibi for him in court. The mayor of Nebraska City, Mr. Chapman, gave testimony about Shellenberger’s family and upbringing. Apparently, as a boy Shellenberger was afflicted by St. Vitus’s dance and was a “very nervous boy.” He was uneducated, couldn’t read or write, and was known to move a lot and change jobs constantly. Because of his childhood and history, the trial was dismissed on the basis of his mental condition, and Shellenberger was allowed to go free. Digging further, I also found a story about an 1894 murder in Nebraska City involving a Lee Shellenberger, who murdered Joe’s sister, Maggie. Apparently Joe and Maggie inherited their mother’s possessions after her death, and Lee was upset about this.
Neal was apparently buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Omaha under the name Charles E. Wells, born April 13, 1866, died October 9, 1891. This was used to stop grave robbers from stealing the corpse or parts of it.
On March 1, 1890, Neal was visited in his jail cell by Will Lawler, the manager of the Eden Musee. Eden Musee was a Victorian-era wax museum that told recent news by making scenes in 3D.
Talking through the process, Lawler told Neal he was going to make his likeliness into a show character made of wax. The scene would portray the murder of the Jones to the New York City crowds that visited it, and Neal would become infamous in the city. Lawler made all the arrangements with Neal, but, I can’t find whether the exhibit was ever made, or if it was, what happened to it afterward.
According to the Morning World-Herald, more than 23,000 people viewed the corpse at the mortuary after the execution. Neal’s fame was at an all time high.
That is why The Coliseum, which was located on North 20th Street in the Near North Side, bought the gallows where Neal was hung. They showed it at a convention later that year.
At the time, the media made Neal out as a well-known cattle and horse rustler, but he wasn’t that well-known until they got a hold of his story. With their help, and maybe the help of the Eden Musee, Ed Neal got a slice of infamy, which may have been his real goal all along.
The history of the Civil Rights movement in Omaha is made of events, people and places where segregation happened, the struggle was born and nurtured, and change happened. Following is a tour of some of the the addresses and some of the dates when events happened, along with some of the influential outcomes.
The Roots of the Omaha Civil Rights Movement
Omaha has a horribly active legacy of racial segregation, white supremacy and bigotry. Infused throughout the policies and procedures in the City of Omaha; apparent in the culture and shared beliefs throughout the entire community; and obvious in many individual peoples’ attitudes are ideas about African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, and others—because of their skin color.
The Civil Rights Movement has long fought against white supremacy, for racial integration and against racism. Since at least the 1880s, there have been deliberate efforts to combat Jim Crow in the city. Following is a tour and timeline of the Omaha Civil Rights movement.
Why Civil Rights in Omaha?
Above is a map of the Omaha Civil Rights Tour. Use the features to zoom in and out.
Omaha was founded in 1854. Just seven years later, starting in 1861 and going to 1865, the Civil War ripped at the fabric of the country, Omaha included. A large question in the Civil War addressed slavery, and the legacy of white supremacy across the United States. Despite the Kansas-Nebraska Act that created the Nebraska Territory by allowing the legislature to vote on slavery. Despite that, the Nebraska Territory limited voting to “free white males” only, and in 1860 the US Census found slaves in the territory.
Despite the United States defeating the rebellious southern states that wanted to tear apart the union, white supremacy kept its grip on the entire nation, including Omaha. For a century after the Civil War, Jim Crow rules and attitudes ensured de facto segregation and de jure segregation kept Blacks in Omaha segregated from whites. Housing, schools, churches and public transportation were all impacted, and there are still strict rules the city adheres to right now.
Mixed Marriages Become Illegal (1865) The Nebraska Legislature enacted a statute declaring marriage between whites and a Negro or mulatto was illegal. They made it a misdemeanor with a fine up to $100, or imprisonment in the county jail up to six months, or both. Visit the site of the second Nebraska Territory Capital, 124 N 20th St, Omaha, NE 68102.
One of the Original Black Schools Opens (1878) Opened in the 1870s as Omaha View School, Howard Kennedy Elementary School was one of Omaha’s five original segregated schools and stayed that way until 1976. Because of de facto segregation, it was referred to as a Black school. Visit the school, 2906 N 30th St Omaha, NE 68111.
School of African American Firsts (1881) Long Grade School was one of Omaha’s five original segregated schools and stayed that way until 1976. In 1895, Lucinda Gamble was hired as the first African American teacher in the Omaha School District to teach at Long School. Dr. Eugene Skinner became Omaha’s first African American principal, beginning his service at Long School in 1947. Because of de facto segregation, it was referred to as a Black school. Visit the school, 2520 Franklin St Omaha, NE 68111.
Early Civil Rights Law (1885) When the federal Civil Rights Act was struck down in 1884, the Nebraska Legislature adopted a law to “protect all citizens in their civil and legal rights.” Establishing punishment for breaking the law, they established a fine from $25 to $200 plus the cost of prosecution. It passed the Legislature unanimously. Visit the Nebraska State Capital, 1445 K St, Lincoln, NE 68508.
Statement of Gratitude (1885) On March 19th, the McCook (NE) Weekly Tribute published a paragraph saying, “Colored citizens of Omaha passed a resolution saying: “We do publicly express our thanks to the friends of equal rights, Hon. B. Wright, Robert M. Taggart, Thomas C. Brunner, George Micklejohn, Geo. W. Chives and others, members of the legislature of Nebraska, for their indefatigable efforts in urging the successful passage of the civil rights bill.”
Newspaper Battles (1885) In June, the Omaha Daily Bee attacked the Omaha Republican newspaper. Apparently the Republican had attacked Omaha’s leaders for not standing up for the civil rights of an African American man in Kentucky who was stabbed by a white man in a plainly racist stabbing. The case couldn’t be tried because a jury couldn’t be found, and the newspapers wrote a few articles back and forth against each other.
Suburban School Packed, Becomes Black (1885) Originally located at 1518 North 26th Street in the upscale Kountze Place neighborhood, Lothrop Grade School became one of Omaha’s five original segregated schools and stayed that way until 1976. Because of de facto segregation, it was referred to as a Black school. Visit the school, 1518 N 26th St Omaha, NE 68131.
Judgmental School Named for a Judge (1888) After opening in the 1880s, Lake Grade School was one of Omaha’s five original segregated schools and stayed that way until 1976. Because of de facto segregation, it was referred to as a Black school. Visit the school, 2410 N 19th St Omaha, NE 68110.
Downtown School Becomes Majority Black (1888) Built to serve a growing neighborhood near downtown, students in the Webster Grade School were mostly Black when it was demolished in 1969. Because of de facto segregation, it was referred to as a Black school. Visit the site of the building, 618 N 28th Ave Omaha, NE 68131.
Ex-Slave Pension Bill (1890) William Connell, a Nebraska Republican representative who supported the movement to secure pensions for former slaves, introduced the first bill in the US Congress in support. Connell lived in Omaha. Modeled after the military pension plan for Civil War veterans, H.R. 11119 wasn’t passed.
The Lynching of Joe Coe (1891) The first record of community violence against blacks in Omaha occurred when an African American man called George Smith (or Joe Coe) was lynched by a vigilante mob for allegedly raping a white girl. The lynching was outside the second Douglas County Courthouse. Visit the site of the lynching outside the second Douglas County Courthouse, 1701 Farnam St, Omaha, NE 68183.
First African American Legislator (1892) Dr. Matthew O. Ricketts was elected from North Omaha to become Nebraska’s first African American state legislator. Visit the site of his home, 2236 Ohio St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Early Community Organizing (1892) The “most prominent colored citizens” of Omaha formed the Afro-American Civil Rights Club in July. Seeking to influence African American voters, the club discussed methods and more. Visit the site of their meeting, 112 S 12th St, Omaha, NE 68108.
First Black Newspaper in Omaha (1892)Cyrus Bell launches the first Black newspaper in Omaha called The Afro-American Sentinel. It ended its run in 1925, when Bell died. Bell kept early offices at the African Baptist Church for many years. Visit the site of the African Baptist Church, 1216 Dodge St, Omaha, NE 68102.
Massive Black School Opens (1892) Opened as Paul Street School in the 1890s, Kellom Grade School was one of Omaha’s five original segregated schools and stayed that way until 1976. Built as a huge brick warehouse-style building, it was rebuilt in the 1950s. Because of de facto segregation, it was referred to as a Black school. Visit the school, 1311 N 24th St Omaha, NE 68102.
A Meeting To Move Forward (1893) “Friends, brethren, my people,” said Vic Walker, “We are not here tonight as insurrectionists or revolutionists. Our brothers who have talked of force have allowed their indignation to control their tongue to an extent they have not dreamed of, and which they would be quickest to disclaim as their thoughts in their calmer moments. We do not believe… in dynamite, in a resort to arms.” After “many years” of meetings, Black leaders in Omaha gather to discuss a campaign for civil rights.
Nebraska Civil Rights Law Adopted (1893) Section 4000, Chapter 10 of the Statutes of Nebraska is adopted by the Nebraska Legislature. It says, “Civil rights of persons: All persons within the state shall be entitled to a full and equal enjoyment of the accomodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of inns, restaurants, public conveyances, barber shops, theaters, and other places of amusement, subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law and applicable alike to every person.” The same law said, “A civil right is a right accorded to every member of a district, community or nation.” Visit the Nebraska State Capital, 1445 K St, Lincoln, NE 68508.
Second Black Newspaper in Omaha (1893) George F. Franklin launches The Enterprise. It changes hands and runs through 1920. Visit the site of the Crouse Block where the newspaper’s offices were, 1601 Capitol Ave, Omaha, NE 68197.
First Black Firefighters (1895) The first Black firefighters are hired by the Omaha Fire Department to work at Hose Company #11. Dr. Matthew Ricketts requested they be hired to serve the nearby Black community. Visit the site of former station #14, 2032 Lake Street, Omaha, NE 68110.
National Federation of Colored Women (1896) Ella Lillian Davis Browne Mahammitt helped co-found the National Federation of Colored Women nationally, including starting a chapter in Omaha this year. By the 1920s, there were five chapters in North Omaha with more than 750 members. Visit the location of the main chapter, which met at the original St. John’s AME Church, 617 N 18th St, Omaha, NE 68178.
Omaha Represented in National Org (1898) Thomas P. Mahammitt, the new editor of The Enterprise, sits on the executive committee of the Western Negro Press Association. Mahamitt also served two terms as the City of Omaha Inspector of Weights and Measures, and became a leading caterer in the city. Visit his former home at 2116 N 25th St, Omaha, NE 68111.
International Black Communist Leader Born (1898) An influential and respected member of the international Communist movement, Harry Haywood was born in South Omaha this year. Becoming involved with the African Blood Brotherhood, Haywood later became a leading African American member of the Communist Party of the United States. He was active from the 1920s to his death in 1981. Visit South Omaha where Haywood lived and was active along S. 24th St, Omaha, NE 68107.
Early Police Brutality (1899) An African American named J. A. Smith died under conspicuous circumstances after being arrested by Omaha police. He was arrested for “loud talking.” Visit the site of the old Omaha Police Department, 1101 Dodge St, Omaha, NE 68102.
Suburban School Become a Black School (1903) Built for a suburban white community in the early 20th century, Monmouth Park Grade School was predominantly African American by the 1960s. Closed in 1985, it was demolished in 1993. Because of de facto segregation, it was referred to as a Black school. Visit the site of the school, 4508 N 33rd St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Omaha Represented in Another National Org (1905)Thomas P. Mahammit, editor of The Enterprise, sits on the executive committee of the National Afro-American Press Association. Visit his former home at 2116 N 25th St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Racism or Labor Bias? (1905) In 1905, more than 800 students (mostly children of immigrant workers) in South Omaha protested the presence of Japanese students at their school, calling them “scabs”. The Japanese students were children of strikebreakers brought in by the Omaha Stockyards the previous summer during a fierce strike. White children then refused to attend classes and locked teachers out of the building. Visit the former South Omaha City Hall, 2411 O St, Omaha, NE 68107.
First Female Black Magazine Editor (1906)Lucille Skaggs Edwards is the first black woman to publish a magazine in Nebraska, called The Women’s Aurora. Visit the site where the office might have been at 2502 1/2 N 24th St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Black Political Involvement Rises (1906) Black members of the Omaha community formed a group called the “Progressive League of Douglas County” to pressure the county Republicans to include blacks on the legislative ticket. Their meeting location is unknown, but may have been the Druid Hall. Visit the Druid Hall at 2412 Ames Ave, Omaha, NE 68111.
Anti-Greek Rioting (1909) In February, a race riot in South Omaha broke out, targeting Greeks. Racist flames were fanned by the arrest of a Greek man by an Irish policeman. After destroying Greektown, almost almost Greeks had fled the city. Visit the former site of Greektown at S 26th Ave and Q St, Omaha, NE 68107.
Boxing Riots (1910) After Black boxer Jack Johnson won a major upset in Reno, Nevada, a riot happened in downtown Omaha’s Sporting District as whites learned about the defeat. Visit the former site of the Sporting District, S 16th St and Harney St, Omaha, NE 68102
Another Segregated Suburban School (1911) A simple two-room school building with an outhouse, Fairfax Grade School was mostly African American students in 1966. It was demolished in 1974, and there’s no sign of it today. Because of de facto segregation, it was referred to as a Black school. Visit the site of the building, 3708 N 40th St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Interracial Marriage Still Illegal (1911) The Nebraska Legislature makes another law to declare marriages between whites and Black people illegal. They also declared that marriages between whites and those persons with “one-quarter or more Negro blood” were void. Visit the Nebraska State Capital, 1445 K St, Lincoln, NE 68508.
Third Black newspaper in Omaha (1915) Rev. John Albert Williams launches The Monitor, which closed in 1929. Visit the site of their offices at 1119 N 21st St, Omaha, NE 68102.
Violent Segregationist Politics (1915) Claude Nethaway was a Florence real estate agent. In 1917, his wife was murdered and a transient African American named Charles Smith was controversially convicted of the crime. Two years later, Nethaway was one of only two men tried for lynching Will Brown during the 1919 race riot. After two trials, he was set free. In 1921, he ran for city council and lost, and in 1932 he ran for US Representative for Nebraska and lost. Visit his former home, 3022 Filmore St, Omaha, NE 68112.
Black Liberation Org Started in Omaha (1917) George Wells Parker founded the Hamitic League of the World in Omaha and gave a classic talk to the Omaha Philosophical Society. In 1918 the League published a popular pamphlet called Children of the Sun. The Hamitic League was committed to black nationalism. After moving to New York, Cyril Briggs became editor of their journal, The Crusader. It later became the journal of the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB). Parker lived with his parents. Visit the site of Parker’s home, 2517 Caldwell St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Black Liberation Org Started in Omaha (1917) George Wells Parker launches a national magazine called The Crusader in Omaha. Later partnering with Cyril Briggs of the African Blood Brotherhood, The Crusader became the later organization’s publication in 1922. Visit the site of Parker’s home, 2517 Caldwell St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Segregated School in Leafy Suburb (1917) Built as a suburban neighborhood school, Druid Hill Grade School was mostly African American by 1966. In the fall of 1996, Druid Hill relocated to a new building. Because of de facto segregation, it was referred to as a Black school. Visit the original school building, 3030 Spaulding St, Omaha, NE 68111.
The Second Lynching in Omaha (1919) Another lynching occurred in 1919 when a white mob stormed the Douglas County Courthouse to take Willy Brown, an African American accused of raping a young white woman. The lynching occurred at at intersection downtown. Visit the site of the lynching at the intersection of 17th and Dodge St, Omaha, NE 68102
Rallying Together for Business (1920) Organized to help blacks in Omaha secure employment and to encourage business enterprises among African Americans, the Omaha Colored Commercial Club was like a commerce and employment bureau. Led by Harrison Pinkett, Rev. Russell Taylor, and others, the office for the was located in the Elks Club. Visit the Elks Club, 2420 Lake St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Newspaper Struggles (1921) Harrison Pinkett launches The New Era, and Count Wilkinson took control of The New Era in 1922. It closed in 1926.Visit Pinkett’s former home at 2118 N 25th St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Black Empowerment Organizing and Preaching (1922) In the 1920s, the Baptist minister Earl Little founded the Omaha chapter of Marcus Garvey’sUniversal Negro Improvement Association, or UNIA. Little was renowned for preaching on street corners in the heart of the African American business district. Visit the site of his organizing and preaching at the intersection of N. 24th and Lake Streets, Omaha, NE 68110.
Short Lived Liberation Paper (1922) George Wells Parker launches The Omaha Whip and it ends in the same year. Visit the site of Parker’s home, 2517 Caldwell St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Large High School Becomes Segregated (1923) Opened to serve Omaha’s emerging middle class, Tech High was one of three Omaha schools that graduated African Americans when it was closed in 1984. Because of de facto segregation, it was referred to as a Black school. Visit the former school at 3215 Cuming St Omaha, NE 68131.
Discouraged from Activism (1924) Rev. Russel Taylor of St. Paul Presbyterian Church was removed from his church because his Civil Rights activism made the congregation uncomfortable. After advocating for segregated schools and communities for Omaha’s African American for a decade, he was fired. Visit the site of his former church, 2531 Seward Street, Omaha, NE 68110.
Black Leader Born in Omaha (1925) Born in Omaha in 1925 as Malcolm Little, Malcolm X’s family moved away from the city while he was young after the KKK repeatedly attacked it for his father’s activism through the UNIA. Visit the site of his home and birthplace and the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, 3448 Evans St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Black Business Booster (1926) Herman J. Ford, C. C. Galloway and B. V. Galloway launch The Omaha Guide. It ended its run in 1958. Visit the former Omaha Guide Printing Company, 2418 Grant St, Omaha, NE 68111.
More Mixed Marriages Illegal (1929) The Nebraska State Legislature forbode marriages between whites and those persons with one eighth or more Asian blood. Visit the Nebraska State Capital, 1445 K St, Lincoln, NE 68508.
Jim Crow Swimming Challenge (1930) In June, African Americans began going to the City of Omaha’s McKinley Park swimming pool. De facto segregation had kept them away, and when white crowds became increasingly confrontational, the City drained it. African American lawyer and NAACP head John Singleton protested, and the pool was eventually refilled. However, that was brief, and today the pool is still gone. Visit the park at 2808 Harrison St, Omaha, NE 68107.
Secretive Org Sets Up Chapters (1930) A secret African American organization founded in Omaha was called Knights and Daughters of Tabor and was also known as the “Knights of Liberty.” It’s goal was “nothing less than the destruction of slavery.” Their meeting location is unknown, but may have been the Druid Hall. Visit the Druid Hall at 2412 Ames Ave, Omaha, NE 68111.
National Org Sets Up Youth Wing (1936) Formed in 1936, the Omaha NAACP Youth Council led Civil Rights campaign through the 1960s. Their work led to integration in several Omaha businesses, and because they worked together with other organizations, their legacy lasts today. The organization continues. They didn’t have an office, but met frequently at the Near North YMCA. Visit the former Near North YMCA, 2309 North 22nd St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Johnson Defended By Pinkett (1922) Harrison Pinkett served as the attorney for African American Robert H. Johnson, a political agitator who supported M. L. Endes for police commissioner and who was arrested and held in jail the week of the election. Pinkett claimed in court that Johnson’s right of habeas corpus was illegally taken and the acts of the police were in retaliation for Johnson’s politics. Visit Pinkett’s former home at 2118 N 25th St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Burning Cross (1930) On the evening of April 16, two men placed an iron cross covered with oil-soaked burlap on the lawn of Singleton’s son, former state senator Dr. John Singleton, and set it afire. John was away, but his wife and niece were there. John’s father Millard arrived shortly afterwards and tore down the cross in front of a large crowd. Visit the site of John Singleton’s home, 2932 N. 28th St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Longest Running Black Paper Started(1938) Mildred Brown her husband S. E. Gilbert launch the Omaha Star. Starting with a circulation of 6,000, it eventually became the city’s only African-American newspaper, and continues today. Visit the Omaha Star office, 2216 N 24th St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Black Painters Denied (1940) The Omaha Star launched a campaign against the National AFL and a local union when African Americans were required to have union membership to get a job painting the Logan Fontenelle public housing projects. Visit the site of the Logan Fontenelle Homes at 1465 N. 24th, Omaha, NE 68110
Almost All Mixed Marriages Illegal (1943) The Nebraska Legislature passed a law prohibiting marriage of whites with anyone with one-eighth or more Negro, Japanese or Chinese blood. Visit the Nebraska State Capital, 1445 K St, Lincoln, NE 68508.
Civil Rights Fighters Start Meeting (1947) A group of high school and college students established the DePorres Club. Named after the “patron saint of all those seeking racial harmony,” the DePorres Club led the struggle for Civil Rights in Omaha for many years without the support of the city’s traditional African American leaders. Visit Creighton University Administration Building, 2500 California Plaza, Omaha, NE 681114.
Free Healthcare for ALL (1948) Dr. Aaron McMillan, former Nebraska Legislator and the first American medical missionary to Angola, establishes the People’s Hospital in the Near North Side to provide free and affordable healthcare to community members.
Human Rights Institute (1948) Religious leaders around Omaha met for a one-day meeting to discuss Civil Rights sponsored by the Urban League. Their major request was the establishment of a Mayor’s Commission on Civil Rights in Omaha, which was passed unanimously, but never enacted by the mayor. Visit the site where the institute was held, Rome Hotel, 1116 Jackson St, Omaha, NE 68102.
Civil Rights Fighters Open Storefront (1948) In October, the DePorres Center opens for activities including weekly forums on racism, dances, and youth groups. Visit the site of the DePorres Club, 1914 North 24th St, Omaha, NE 68111.
First Noted Sit-In (1948) The DePorres Club staged Omaha’s first sit-in at Dixon’s Restaurant in the Douglas County Courthouse. 30 members joined, and the restaurant eventually committed to desegregation. Visit the courthouse, 1701 Farnam St, Omaha, NE 68183.
Bertha Versus Harry (1948) Bertha Calloway takes Harry’s Restaurant to court for discrimination and wins. Visit the site of the restaurant at the site of the old Omaha City Hall, 1819 Farnam St Omaha NE 68183.
Sinking Donuts in Court (1949) In February, members of the DePorres Club take Dunk Donuts to court under an 1893 Nebraska law against racial discrimination and won a judgment of $25 against the owner. Visit the former Dunk Donut Shop, 2409 Farnam St, Omaha, NE 68138.
Big Time Youth Rally (1949) In April, the Interracial Youth Rally is held in the auditorium at Tech High School. Visit the former school, 3230 Cuming St, Omaha, NE 68131.
National Leader Leads in Omaha (1950) National civil rights leader Whitney Young, Jr. became the leader of the Omaha Urban League and stayed in the position until 1954. He was also a professor of social work at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. Visit the site of the former Urban League Social Service Center where Young worked, 2213 Lake St, Omaha, NE 68110.
National Leader Speaks (1950) Roy Wilkins, the leader of the NAACP spoke in April at Zion Baptist Church. Visit Zion Baptist Church, 2215 Grant St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Another National Leader Speaks (1950) In May, Manuel Talley visits the DePorres Club. As the founder of the Los Angeles chapter of the Congress on Racial Equity, or CORE, he is highly regarded by Omaha’s Civil Rights community. Visit the original site of the club’s meetings, Creighton University Administration Building, 2500 California Plaza, Omaha, NE 681114.
Boycott Until It Closes (1950) In July, the DePorres Club launched a boycott against Edholm-Sherman Laundry for their racist hiring practices. The company’s owner defended her practice of barring Black people from working in the main office or driving delivery trucks. Citing the effects of the protest, the laundry closed permanently in 1951. Visit the site of the Edholm-Sherman Laundry at 2401 Lake St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Don’t Drink Coke (1951) In May, the DePorres Club starts boycotting Omaha’s Coca-Cola Bottling Company against their racist hiring practices. It ends in June when an African American is hired there. Visit the former site of the bottling plant, 3200 N 30th St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Omaha Bus Boycott Happens (1952) The DePorres Club launches a citywide boycott of streetcars and buses after the bus company shows a long trend of not hiring African American drivers. The Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway and Bus Company was the employer. Visit the site of the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway and Bus Company Bus Barn, 2222 Cuming St, Omaha, NE 68102.
Cooling Off Ice Cream (1953) In January 25, the DePorres Club launched a boycott of Reed’s Ice Cream in Omaha, along with the NAACP Youth Council. It lasts five months before the company changes their racist hiring practices and hires a single African American. The business closed in 1959. Visit the site of Reed’s Ice Cream plant and headquarters at 3106 N 24th St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Segregated Junior High Opens (1953) Tech Junior High was the only junior high with African American students while it was open through 1972, when it was closed. Because of de facto segregation, it was referred to as a Black school. Visit the former school, 3215 Cuming St Omaha, NE 68131.
Black Leaders Meet (1954) Community activists begin to gather informally at North Omaha neighborhood locations during the Korean War. Visit the site of the Fair Deal Cafe, 2118 N. 24th St, Omaha, NE 68111; and the location of the former Carter’s Cafe, 2510 N. 24th St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Kicked Off Campus (1954) The DePorres Club is forced to stop meeting at Creighton University. Longtime ally Mildred Brown offers her office at the Omaha Star, and the club’s activities continue. Visit the Omaha Star office, 2216 N 24th St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Court-Ordered Swimming Integration (1955) In State of Nebraska v. Peony Park, the Nebraska attorney general took Peony Park to district court over its segregated swimming policy. The court found that Peony Park discriminated against African American swimmers. In September, Peony Park was fined $50 and costs of the trial – but the park owners simply paid the fine and continued to discriminate. Visit the site of the former park at 7910 Cass St, Omaha, NE 68114.
Longtime Informal Meeting Place Opens (1956) Opened this year, Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barbershop became an informal home to many Civil Rights leaders. Nebraska’s Civil Rights lion, the young Ernie Chambers, was a barber here in the 1960s. Visit the shop, 3116 N. 24th Street, Omaha, NE 68111
City Attempts Something (1956) The City of Omaha begins operating a Human Rights and Relations Board. Visit the Omaha City Hall, 1819 Farnham St, Omaha, NE 68183.
Fire Department Integrated (1957) The Omaha Fire Department became integrated and the seniority system of advancement came to an end. Visit the Omaha Association of Black Professional Firefighters, 2028 Lake St, Omaha NE 68110.
Teachers Rally Together (1958) A group of African American educators in Omaha Public Schools started a professional caucus called Concerned and Caring Educators, or CACE, that continues to this day.
Another National Leader Speaks in Omaha (1958) The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at a national Baptist conference in Omaha and preached at Salem Baptist Church in North Omaha. Visit the site of the original Salem Baptist Church, 2120 Seward St, Omaha, NE 68111.
King Back In Town (1960) In October, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came back to Omaha for the Western Baptist Bible College. At the Civic Auditorium, he gave a speech called “The Church in National Affairs,” in which he predicted that “within five years we will see a breakdown of the massive resistance to integration.”
Swimming for Change (1963) On June 4, an African American airman at Offutt Air Force Base named Fred Winthrop went to Peony Park for a swim. A lifeguard told him that he couldn’t use the pool. Winthrop brought the matter to the city of Omaha, which said it was a case for the Human Relations Board. Their inaction led to more action that summer.
New Civil Rights Movement (1963) A group of African American ministers from North Omaha formed a group called the Citizens Civic Committee for Civil Liberties, or 4CL. The group rallied throughout the city to demand civil rights for all African Americans through picketing, stand-ins during city council meetings and other efforts. They didn’t have a regular office, but met frequently at Zion Baptist Church, and hosted several events there, too. Visit Zion Baptist Church, 2215 Grant St, Omaha, NE 68110.
City Hall Pray-In (1963) In October, 4CL held a pray-in at the old Omaha City Hall to promote the establishment of a local equal opportunity employment and housing ordinance. The organization estimated 10,000 people showed up, including 500 school-age students. 45 people were arrested, including dozens of ministers. Visit the site of the old Omaha City Hall, 1819 Farnam St Omaha NE 68183.
Fighting Tokenism (1963) Rev. Rudolph McNair leads a 4CL march of 150 people against the creation of the Omaha Human Rights Commission (HRC), which was intended to placate Civil Rights activists. It didn’t work. Visit the site of the old Omaha City Hall, 1819 Farnam St Omaha NE 68183.
Protesting Woolworth’s (1963) Omaha civil rights icon and journalist Charles B. Washington helped stage a sit-in at Woolworth & Co. store in downtown Omaha to protest discrimination against blacks in public places. Visit the site of the former store, 124 S 16th St, Omaha, NE 68102.
Fighting a Supposedly Private Club (1963) After a 1955 court finding against Peony Park’s Jim Crow practices, Black swimmer Fred Winthrop was turned away from swimming at the park. As a result, the NAACP Youth Council led a summer-long protest against the park to end segregation there. After suffocating their business, the park relented and allowed Black swimmers. Visit the site of the former park at 7910 Cass St, Omaha, NE 68114.
State Considers Equal Housing Bill (1963) North Omaha state senator Edward Danner advanced the Nebraska Equal Housing Billthrough the Legislature to enact a state policy of equal housing, citing the fact that fewer than 50 of the 10,000 new homes in Omaha were available to Blacks. The bill was not passed. Visit the Nebraska State Capital, 1445 K St, Lincoln, NE 68508.
Another National Leader Speaks (1964) Malcolm X spoke in North Omaha. Visit the site of his speech, Elks Club, 2420 Lake St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Iconic Leader Speaks (1964) A. Philip Randolph, founder and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, spoke in North Omaha. Visit the Elks Club, 2420 Lake St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Omaha With Selma (1965) On March 29, the NAACP Youth Council held a Youth Freedom Rally at the Near North Side YMCA to stand in solidarity with the March on Selma. Visit the former Near North YMCA, 2309 North 22nd St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Ending School Club Segregation (1965) The NAACP Youth Council won the integration of Omaha Public Schools clubs and after school activities. Visit the site of many members’ protests at Omaha Central High School, 124 N 20th St, Omaha, NE 68102.
State Law Prohibits Employment Discrimination (1965)The Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act, or FEPA, is enacted by the Legislature (NE Rev. Stat. Sec. 48-1101 et seq). It prohibits discrimination against employees or job applicants on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex including pregnancy, disability, or marital status at workplaces with at least 15 employees. Visit the Nebraska State Capital, 1445 K St, Lincoln, NE 68508.
State Commission Created (1965) The Nebraska Equal Opportunities Commission, or NEOC, is authorized by statute to receive, investigate, and pass upon charges of unlawful discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, marital status, or familial status. Visit the NEOC, 1313 Farnam St # 4, Omaha, NE 68102.
First Civil Rights Riot (1966) In what are largely regarded as screams for civil rights, the first of the North Omaha riots happened in July, with a second riot in August. Both of these caused a great deal of damage to the North 24th Street corridor. Visit N. 24th St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Following the Feds (1966) The City of Omaha creates a Human Rights Department after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its goal is to “eliminate unlawful discrimination through investigation, education and outreach.”
The Oldest Public School Becomes a Black School (1966) Opened as a one-room pioneer school in 1866, Saratoga Elementary School was mostly African American students by 1966, and because of de facto segregation it was referred to as a Black school. Visit the school, 2504 Meredith Ave Omaha, NE 68111.
Omahans March for Slain Heros (1966) This June article from the June 13, 1966 Omaha World-Herald details a march in honor of slain Civil Rights activists nationwide. 100 marchers participated; the motorcyclists pictured harassed the marchers. The march began at 24th and Binney and went to 22nd and Willis.
Documentary Captures the Moment(1966) The production of the Oscar-nominated documentary A Time for Burning, which tracked the sentiment of 1960s white Omaha towards African Americans. In 2005, it was added to the National Film Registry. Some of the film is recorded at Augustana Lutheran Church. Visit Augustana Lutheran Church, 3647 Lafayette Ave, Omaha, NE 68131.
Football Player Breaks Color Line (1967) Former Tech High playerGale Sayers became the first African American NFL player to share a room with a white player. Visit his alma mater, the former Technical High School, 3230 Cuming St, Omaha, NE 68131.
Radical Black Youth Organizing (1967) The Black Association for Nationalism Through Unity, or BANTU, was a unique Omaha youth activism group that organized African American students in the city’s high schools. Focusing on black power and self-determination, BANTU claimed concessions from the Omaha City Council. BANTU maintained a unique relationship with the Omaha chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP). One of their most active sites was North Omaha’s former Tech High. Visit the former Technical High School, 3230 Cuming St, Omaha, NE 68131.
National Black Liberation Org Opens Shop (1967) In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Black Panthers were actively organizing Freedom Schools in Omaha’s public housing projects. They were blamed for starting several of the riots in the 1960s. Visit the site of Black Panthers Headquarters, 3508 N 24th St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Another Football Player Breaks Color Line (1968) Marlin Briscoe, a football star and graduate of North Omaha’s Tech High, became the first black quarterback in the American Football League. Visit his alma mater, the former Technical High School, 3230 Cuming St, Omaha, NE 68131.
Student Walkouts (1968) In March, 1,000 students walked out of Horace Mann Junior High School to protest against police brutality and for civil rights. Visit the former Horace Mann Junior High School, 3720 Florence Blvd Omaha, NE 68197.
Presidential Hopeful Speaks (1968) A month before he was assassinated, in May, Robert Kennedy visited North Omaha during his presidential campaign. He gave an impromptu speech in the neighborhood, and later spoke at Creighton University in support of Omaha’s civil rights activists. Visit the northwest corner of the intersection at N. 24th and Erskine, Omaha, NE 68110.
Wallace Sets Omaha Rioting (1968) In March, the NAACP Youth Council and others protested an appearance of racist presidential candidate George Wallace. After counter-protesters began acting violently toward the activists, police brutality led to dozens of protesters being injured. During the melee, Howard Stevenson, a sixteen-year-old African-American youth, was shot and killed by a police officer. Visit the site of the former Omaha Civic Auditorium, 1804 Capitol Ave, Omaha, NE 68102.
Policeman Kills Youth (1969) A 14-year-old student named Vivian Strong was killed on June 26 by an Omaha policeman named James Loder, sparking several days of rioting. Visit the site of the break-in leading to the murder at 1701 N 21st St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Legalizing Having Fun Together (1969) This the the year the Nebraska Legislature enacted the Act Providing Equal Enjoyment of Public Accommodations Discrimination. It says that discrimination cannot happen in the enjoyment of places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, or sex. Any establishment offering goods and services to the general public is affected, except for limited exemptions for bona fide private clubs and public accommodations owned or operated by religious organizations. Visit the Nebraska State Capital, 1445 K St, Lincoln, NE 68508.
Vivian Strong Liberation School (1969) The United Front Against Facism, which took up the cause of Black liberation promoted by Omaha’s defunct Black Panthers chapter, launched their version of a Freedom School in North Omaha. Visit the former school at 2616 Parker St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Everyone Can Legally Live Anywhere (1969) When the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 made it illegal to discriminate in the area of housing because of a person’s race, color, religion, or national origin, the City of Omaha adopted an open housing ordinance this year, effectively ending the effect of redlining and racial housing covenants throughout the city. The Omaha Human Relations Department (OHRD) is a FHAP that is responsible for the investigation, elimination, and prevention of all forms of prohibited discrimination in the City of Omaha. Visit the OHRD, 1819 Farnam St, Suite 502, Omaha, NE 68183.
Student-Led Activism (1969) Black Liberators for Action on Campus, or BLAC, was a student-led activism campaign at UNO designed to raise issues related to African Americans, including the creation of a Black Studies program at the university. 55 After more than 50 Black students conducted a sit-in in the office of the UNO president, some of their demands were met. Visit the Administration Building at the University of Nebraska Omaha, 6001 Dodge Street, Omaha, NE, 68182.
Longest Ever Serving Senator Elected (1970) Local barber and law school graduate Ernie Chambers was elected to the Nebraska State Legislature as the newest African American state legislator, preceded by several other African American politicians, including Edward Danner, John Adams Sr. and his son John Adams Jr. Visit the Nebraska State Capital, 1445 K St, Lincoln, NE 68508.
Life Imprisonment for Panthers (1970)Black Panther leaders David Rice and Edward Poindexter were charged and convicted of the murder of Omaha Police Officer Larry Minard with a bomb. Their case continues to be controversial, as Omaha Police allegedly withheld exculpatory evidence at trial. Targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO, Rice and Poindexter are supported by Amnesty International with calls for retrial or release. The Nebraska Parole Board has recommended the men for release, but political leaders have not acted on these recommendations. Visit the site of the bombing, 2867 Ohio St, Omaha, NE 68111.
Regional Black History Museum Opens (1976) The Negro History Society formally opened the Great Plains Black History Museum in 1976 with the goal of celebrating African American contributions to the city and region. Visit the site of their second Social Service Center, 2213 Lake St, Omaha, NE 68110, and; current site, 2221 N 24th St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Court-Ordered Integration (1976) The US Supreme Court mandated Omaha Public Schools, or OPS, begin a busing program to integrate schools. White student enrollment in OPS drops dramatically as white families move to suburban districts or enroll white students in private schools. The burden of busing fell on African American students to predominately white schools, instead of vice versa. The program ended in 1999 when the district adopted an open enrollment program based on income instead of race. Visit Omaha Public Schools, 3215 Cuming Street, Omaha, NE 68131.
Burning Houses, Not Crosses (1981) An Omaha Housing Authority scattered-site duplex under construction in East Omaha is burned down by arsons, and as of 2018, the crime remains unsolved. Visit the site, 4841 N 14th St Omaha NE 68110.
The Omaha Star Continues (1989) Dr. Margarite Washington takes control of The Omaha Star. She passed away in 2016, and the paper continues running today with new leadership. Visit the Omaha Star office, 2216 N 24th St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Discrimination Banned in Housing (1991) The Nebraska Fair Housing Act Discrimination is enacted by the Legislature. It bans discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status is prohibited in Nebraska. Residential property owners, property managers, realtors and multiple listing services are targeted. Exemptions exist for dwellings owned or operated by religious organization and bona fide private clubs for non-commercial purposes; housing for older people; and owner-occupied private homes in which no more than three sleeping rooms are rented. Visit the Nebraska State Capital, 1445 K St, Lincoln, NE 68508.
Torching Cars, Not Crosses (1995) At the same location as a previously torched Omaha Housing Authority duplex, an recently moved-in African American tenant’s car is tipped over and torched by arsons. As of 2018, the crime is still unsolved. Visit the site, 4841 N 14th St Omaha NE 68110.
MLK Memorial Dedicated (2002) The City of Omaha installed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Cornerstone Memorial at 24th and Lake Streets. Visit the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cornerstone Memorial, 2502 N 24th St, Omaha, NE 68110.
City Tries Again (2005) Omaha mayor Mike Fahey proclaims September 26-30 as Race Equity Week. Visit the Omaha City Hall, 1819 Farnham St, Omaha, NE 68183.
Re-segregating Omaha Schools (2006) Ernie Chambers proposed re-segregating public schools in Omaha. Nebraska Legislative Bill 1024 was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, creating three racially identifiable districts. After a case by the NAACP against Omaha Public Schools, the plan was retracted. Omaha Public Schools remain segregated today. Visit the Nebraska State Capital, 1445 K St, Lincoln, NE 68508.
Burning A Store, Not a Cross (2007) Bob’s Food Mart was started in East Omaha in the 1920s. In the 2000s, Ethopian immigrant Kassahun Goshime and his sister Tsedey ran the store. Regularly harrassed, in February the store was graffitted regularly. Then, Goshime was abductred, bound with duct tape, locked in the basement and his store was set on fire. He escaped, but the store was completely destroyed. Visit the site, 5301 N 16th St, Omaha, NE 68110.
Nebraska Backtracks (2008) In November, Nebraska voters decided to eliminate Affirmative Action Plans in public entities. The City of Omaha’s Minority Small Business program is ended because of this. Visit U.S. Small Business Administration, 10675 Bedford Avenue #100, Omaha, NE 68134.
Celebrating Change (2008) The Mildred Brown Memorial Strolling Park was dedicated next to the Omaha Star building in honor of her professional accomplishments and Civil Rights contributions. Visit the park, 2222 N 24th St, Omaha NE 68110.
Learning About Change (2015) The Mildred D. Brown Study Center was founded to help African American students establish careers as journalism and communications. Visit the center, 2221 N. 24th St.; Omaha, NE 68110.
Street Named for Civil Rights Icon (2016) The City of Omaha renamed a section of Lake Street in honor of Bertha Calloway, founder of the Negro Historical Society and the Great Plains Black History Museum. Visit Bertha Calloway Street, 2219 Lake Street, Omaha, NE 68110.
Adam’s Note: This is a guest post by Jody Lovallo, an administrator of the Omaha History Club. Its a great overview of Mrs. Brown’s life; for more info see the links at the bottom.
Mildred Brown was an unstoppable force in North Omaha history. As a matter of fact, Mildred Brown was an unstoppable force in the history of the whole Midwest.
She was both an award winning journalist and business woman. She and her husband founded and ran the Omaha Star, a newspaper by and for the African-American community.
She divorced him in 1943 and by 1945, was managing the business alone. By this time, it was the only African-American newspaper in Nebraska.
Not only was she a noted publisher and journalist, she was a leader of the Civil Rights movement in Omaha during the 1960s. She used the newspaper as a platform for civil rights and housing discrimination. She refused to sell ads to any business that descriminated.
Due to her strong influence in the city in the 60s, President Lyndon Johnson appointed her as a goodwill ambassador to East Germany.
Brown was one of only three women inducted into the Omaha Business Hall of Fame. She also has been inducted into the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame (2007) and the newly instituted Omaha Press Club Journalism of Excellence Hall of Fame (2008).
In 2007 the Omaha Star Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of the newspaper’s significance in the history of Omaha, journalism, and the civil rights movement.
Mildred (1905-1989) lived in an apartment above the Star offices until her death. It’s suspected that the Omaha Star is the only American newspaper founded by a black woman.
Equal education and economic opportunities, civil rights and protection from lynchings weren’t too much for young people to fight for nationally, and when African American youth in Omaha found they could join the struggle, they wanted to take action. The Omaha NAACP Youth Council wanted to stop Jim Crow in Omaha, and they succeeded on several fronts.
Following is a history of the group.
“You, the Youth of Omaha, are urged to take your place in planning, achieving, and leading in this great movement to help meet the challenge to lead your future to a bright and glorious future.”—Omaha Star, 10/21/1949
The Omaha NAACP Youth Council was formed in 1936. As part of a national campaign to energize young people in the struggle for civil rights, African American youth were trained to protest through marches and picketing, peaceful sit ins, and how to respond to any attacks from police or others.
In 1949, the national NAACP said their youth councils were for people ages 12 to 25. who “organize themselves against intolerance, discrimination and prejudice. They are making themselves felt in their communities. They are planning to achieve and to lead.” Leading a membership drive, they sought to involve every youth in Omaha in their fight. However, it took another decade before they grew exponentially and got busy…
The activities of Omaha’s NAACP Youth Council began slowly, including regular meetings and special events, as well as holiday programs throughout the early years. From its inception, the youth council was talked about importantly as a reference point in young peoples’ lives and as a civic contribution youth could make. For instance, in a 1938 featurette from the Omaha Star, Mabelle Longmeyer, the leader of the group that year, was heralded for her involvement and more.
During the early years, Omaha’s NAACP Youth Council competed for the attention and time of its constituents against the Negro Youth Council, a joint program of the Urban League, the Woodson Center, and the North Side YMCA, focused on civic engagement and highlighting the usefulness of youth. They quickly became ubiquitous in the reporting of the Omaha Star, and the NAACP youth council was quieted throughout the 1940s.
In 1955, the youth council was re-established and met regularly at Tech High School. Voncil Breakfield was the chairman of the youth council that year. One of their annual events became naming Miss NAACP for the Omaha chapter, which Joyce Pope held in 1956. The youth council celebrated the 100th anniversary of Emancipation Day in 1962 with an event in North Omaha.
In February 1962, the group became adamant in their promotional article in the Omaha Star, writing,
“It seems that most of the Negro youth of Omaha are satisfied with being second class citizens who are living in a segregated area. We have had very bad turn out at the meetings. We cannot accomplish anything because we do not have enough members… If the youth in Omaha get together they could make Omaha a first class place to live in, no matter what race, religion, or nationality. This is the place.”
Their recruitment campaign and ambition must have paid off. With training in nonviolence, influence from Omaha’s historical civil rights movement, and the rising tide of the national civil rights movement all at their backs, the Omaha NAACP Youth Council made change happen in the coming years.
Getting the Movement Moving
1963 was a banner year for the Omaha NAACP Youth Council. That year, Mrs. J. T. Calloway was the advisor to the group, and the direction action committee that planned movement activities was busy! Meeting frequently at the Near North Side YMCA and holding special events at the North Christ Child Center at North 22nd and Emmet Streets, they planned a series of actions throughout the city designed to uplift Civil Rights, build the movement and push forward equality. Archie J. Godfrey, Jr. was the president of the youth council that year. Holding dances and other activities, the youth council pushed into activism, protesting Omaha’s Jim Crow segregation and calling for change across the city.
In March of that year, the youth council was credited with negotiating policy change with a downtown Omaha dance hall. Before they did, the hall wouldn’t allow single African Americans, male or females, but would only accept African American couples. After meeting with the owner, the policy was changed.
After the brutal murder of Medgar Evars in June 1963, the youth council carried American flags during Omaha’s march in honor and awareness of the event. The flag bearers were Betty Jo and Debra Moreland, and Jeannie and Oscar Morgan.
During this same era, the Omaha NAACP Youth Council began testing local public entertainment establishments to see if they practiced de facto segregation. According to an 1892 Nebraska law, public entertainment establishments weren’t allowed to discriminate against people because of their race. The arms of Jim Crow were strong in Omaha though, and there were many unstated rules in theaters, restaurants, bowling alleys, roller rinks and other places. This is where the youth council took action. They’d send in groups of youth to see if they were served, and then report to the community through the Omaha Star whether they faced racism or not. One business ran into big trouble when they turned away youth council members, creating the biggest splash the group ever experienced.
Peony Park Policy Protest
Peony Park was generally viewed as a whites-only facility from its establishment in 1919 all the way into 1963. That July, the NAACP Youth Council led a boycott and picket of the establishment that brought its owners to their knees. Way back in 1955, the park was ordered by a judge to be open to African Americans because they were a public entertainment establishment, and segregation wasn’t legal in Nebraska’s public entertainment establishments. After closing for a short period, Peony Park “reopened as a private club—a popular Southern strategy for avoiding court-ordered integration of public places.”
After planning for a week, the youth council announced their intentions to the media and then took action. The Omaha World-Herald reported on the first protest action on July 14, 1963, with the heading:
“Peony Turns Back Negros: ‘Three carloads of Negros were refused admittance to Peony Park Saturday afternoon …'”
That day, a carload of Black youth were turned away by the gate attendant at the park. Pulling to the side of the entryway, another carload of Black youth pulled up and were denied entrance to the park. They pulled next to the other car, and a third car tried to enter. When they were denied entrance, they pulled next to the other, effectively forming a barricade to the park. Dozens of other cars filled with white people pulled up, but drove away from the park. The business was nearly closed down all day long.
With strategy and determination, throughout the summer of 1963 the NAACP youth council picketed outside Peony Park, leading many white people to stop going in great numbers. Peony Park lost big money. By the end of the summer, the pool at Peony Park, along with rides and more, was officially desegregated and African Americans were freely admitted throughout the park. The youth council is wholly credited with the success of this campaign, and in particular, members Bob Paris, Dale Anders, Bertha Callaway, Archie Godfrey and Leonard West. Other members like Joan Adams Davis, Herb Rhodes, Betty Jo Moreland, Laura Inns, Rich Janda, and Charles Galloway were active, going to Peony Park to protest and more.
Action Grows, Expands and Pays Dividends
In October 1963, members of the NAACP Youth Council picketed the leader of the Omaha Ministerial Alliance when that organization refused to participate in a sit-in in downtown Omaha. The youth, who were planning a march on city hall, were trying to pressure Rev. Albert Lampkin into making the city’s Black ministers get involved.
That same month, a voter awareness parade marched from Kountze Park to the Near North Side YMCA, with more than 200 NAACP youth council members marching along. 4,000 fact sheets were handed out along the parade route. On October 31, the youth council was lauded by the Douglas County election commissioner for registering 76 new voters in a 5-hour period.
Late in the month of October, a group of 20 African American youth spent 15 minutes in front of the Central Police Station in downtown Omaha singing spirituals. The group said they were protesting arrests of civil rights protesters that day, and nobody was arrested.
President Godfrey stayed busy and frequently represented the youth council at different events. He even led large gatherings in civil rights sing-alongs. Omaha’s Cathy Hughes, today a national media mogul, credits her experiences in the youth council with opening her eyes to the world beyond her city. Another one of the actions of the NAACP Youth Council in 1963 was to picket the State Theatre in downtown Omaha at 15th and Douglas Streets. For the 25 years the theatre had been open, Blacks could sit only in the balcony, and the youth council fought to end that segregation.
Early in 1964, the Omaha youth council won an award at the regional NAACP conference for their 1963 membership drive, which was massively successful, according to the Omaha Star.
In May 1964, Godfrey told the World-Herald the youth council was writing a national write-in campaign for Roy Wilkins, leader of the national NAACP, to become president of the United States. Although Wilkins didn’t respond to their campaign, Goodfrey said their campaign was important to show George Wallace that being American citizens meant Black people weren’t second-class citizens, as Wallace had asserted. They held a rally and continued their campaign through election day. Wallace wasn’t elected.
1965 was also a particularly newsworthy year.
On March 29, 1965, the youth council held an event called the Youth Freedom Rally at the Near North Side YMCA. Led by then-president Rudolph V. Smith (b. 1945), there were hundreds of people in attendance. Two Omaha ministers – Father James Stewart of Holy Family Catholic and Rev. R. F. Jenkins of Hope Lutheran – told their stories of the March on Selma on March 7 of that year.
Launching a voter registration drive the next week, the youth council signed up dozens of African Americans in North Omaha to vote from April through voting day. In April 1965, the fruits of the youth council’s labor came to bear with the testing of several Omaha restaurants. In prior years, they’d tested several restaurants to see whether they’d accept African American customers. After being turned away, during the spring testing in 1965 the youth were accepted and no restaurants turned any of the youth council members away.
Also in 1965, Smith went on to tour the devastation of Watts as the leader of Omaha’s NAACP youth council. Happening from August 11 to 16, Smith went a month afterwards and brought a report back to the youth council.
In Fall 1965, the youth council was credited with integrating afterschool activities in the Omaha Public School district. In 1965, The Crisis magazine reported that Smith met with the superintendent of Omaha Public Schools to “press for action in eliminating de facto segregation in junior and senior high schools and discrimination in school clubs.” The magazine said the superintendent assigned a student-led committee to address discrimination in school clubs by ensuring club by-laws include non-discrimination clauses.
The next summer, Rudy Smith was interviewed for an article in the Omaha World-Herald where he pleaded for new membership.
“The adults are fighting in the courts and conferences every day… and if we can clean up and fix up our areas, it will give them more to present on our behalf.” – Rudy Smith, president of the Omaha NAACP Youth Council (OWH 6/19/66)
When the Omaha zoo began charging admission in June of 1965, the youth council responded with a stern letter to the Omaha Zoological Society that ran it. Among other things, the letter said, “It places an undue hardship and discourages family participation for low income families who attend the zoo.” The youth council proposed a campaign to raise money for the maintenance of the zoo, but it didn’t gain traction. That year, the Omaha youth council won a national NAACP award for best newsletter.
Rioting began in North Omaha in 1966. Youth from throughout the community became involved, and others stayed out of the melees. In light of a sense of disenfranchisement and disillusionment that must’ve swept through the community, in August 1966, the youth council hosted a back-to-school drive to motivate African American youth who dropped out to return to school, and keep current students attending. “The purpose of the campaign is to encourage Negro and other minority group youth to return to school and complete their formal education.” In December 1967, they held a membership drive to recruit 200 new youth to their ranks.
In 1968, the youth council asked Mayor Sorenson “under what conditions chemical spray and riot guns are to be used by police to control disturbances.” That year, Pat Murrell was president. Under his leadership, the youth council stood up against white rioters at the infamous Wallace campaign melee that happened in early March.
On February 8, 1968, a group of 200 protesters was picketing against segregation in Orangeburg, South Carolina. The Orangeburg Massacre happened when state patrolmen opened fire on the unarmed protesters, murdering three and wounding 27 others. At the end of the month, the Omaha NAACP Youth Council led a march in North Omaha in honor of the lives lost in this horrific event.
Continuing Toward Today
By the late 1970s, the youth council was meeting at the Commercial Federal building at 30th and Ames, the Charles Washington branch of the Omaha Public Library, and at other times they met at St. John’s AME Church. However, in 1979 the youth council was defunct. Archie Godfrey and his wife Christina catalyzed the re-creation of the group, and by March 1979 more than 100 youth were registered to participate.
In 1981, the new Omaha NAACP youth council hosted a community forum on the construction of the North Freeway, leading the World-Herald to report the event as unsuccessful despite the protests of several editorial writers who insisted it was valuable. In 1982, they sponsored a “Fashion Elite Explosion” at the Civic Auditorium. Highlighting back-to-school fashion, the proceeds were used for scholarships and youth leadership projects. Luminaries like Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers and Omaha City Councilman Fred Conley also spoke to the group at their regularly scheduled meeting.
Starting in 1984, the Omaha NAACP youth council held an annual banquet. Preceded by a reception and featuring top-notch speakers, the event raised funds to send youth to the national NAACP conference held in various cities nationwide. Also in 1984, the Omaha NAACP held an “Olympics of the Mind” academic competition. ACT-SO, or the Afro – Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, had students in grades 9 through 12 compete for honors in the arts and sciences. Local winners attended the national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to compete against students from all 50 states for scholarships. In 1985, the youth council sponsored another banquet at Cleopatra’s on Ames Avenue, with Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers speaking, and later that year held a car wash to raise funds. The youth council was meeting at St. John’s AME Church in the mid-80s.
In the late 1980s, the youth council met at Flanagan High School. In 1987, the Omaha youth council won an award for their “outstanding work and achievement in Civil Rights.” Members that year included Markeita Edwards, April Hogan, Renee Richardson, Sheire Shields and Michael Thompson. The youth council formed a campaign in 1988 to promote literacy in Omaha’s African American community. Raising money, the youth went throughout the community to collect money to combat “the devastating problems illiteracy is causing in the black community.” Pulchratia Falkner, an Omaha youth council member, won the 1988 Roy Wilkins Scholarship from the national NAACP.
After another hiatus, the youth council became active again in the late 1990s. In a 1999 Omaha Star article, Omaha NAACP youth council advisor Rev. Wayne Reynolds was quoted saying, “Tomorrow’s leaders need training today if we as black people are going to keep up our momentum of the sixties, seventies, eighties and ninties… Parents who ‘know’ the struggle should impress upon their youth how they can help manage and improve the struggle by their participation in the NAACP.”
In 2006, the youth council hosted a college night in honor of the 70th anniversary of their existence.
The youth council continues today. With an annual golf tournament supporting their activities, in recent years notables like Judy Rhodes, LPGA; Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, and; Nia Station, the Metro Conference Girls Golf Tournament Champion, have attended in support.
Omaha NAACP Youth Council Timeline
1936—Omaha NAACP Youth Council was formed
1938—Mable Longmeyer serves as executive secretary
1940s—The youth council is dormant
1955—The youth council was re-established
1955—Voncil Breakfield was the executive secretary
1956—Joyce Pope named Miss NAACP for the Omaha chapter
April 1966—The youth council celebrated the 100th anniversary of Emancipation Day
February 1962—The youth council launched a recruitment campaign
1963—Bertha Calloway was the advisor to the group
1963—Archie J. Godfrey, Jr. was the executive secretary
March 1963—The youth council was credited with negotiating policy change with a downtown Omaha dance hall
June 1963—The youth council marches in honor of Medgar Evars murder
July 1963—The youth council begins campaign to integrate Peony Park
August 1963—The youth council wins their campaign to integrate Peony Park
October 1963—Youth council members picket the leader of the Omaha Ministerial Alliance
October 1963—Youth council members lead a voter awareness campaign. On October 31, they were lauded by the Douglas County election commissioner for their efforts.
October 1963—Youth council members picket the Omaha Police Department
1963—The youth council pickets Omaha’s State Theatre segregation practices
1964—The youth council won an award at the regional NAACP conference for their 1963 membership drive
May 1964—The youth council launches a campaign against George Wallace for president and nominates Roy Wilkins as a write-in candidate
March 29, 1965—The youth council held the Youth Freedom Rally at the Near North Side YMCA to stand in solidarity with the March on Selma
April 1965—The youth council launches a voter registration drive
Fall 1965—The youth council wins the integration of Omaha Public Schools clubs and after school activities
June 1965—The youth council launched a campaign to end a new fee system at the Henry Doorly Zoo run by the Omaha Zoological Society
1965—The youth council won a national NAACP award for best newsletter.
December 1967—The youth council held a membership drive to recruit 200 new youth to their ranks
1968—The youth council asked Mayor Sorenson “under what conditions chemical spray and riot guns are to be used by police to control disturbances.”
March 1979—Archie Godfrey and his wife Christina catalyzed the re-creation of the group and registered more than 100 youth to participate.
1981—The youth council hosted a community forum on the construction of the North Freeway
1982—The youth council sponsored a “Fashion Elite Explosion” at the Civic Auditorium. Highlighting back-to-school fashion, the proceeds were used for scholarships and youth leadership projects. Luminaries like Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers and Omaha City Councilman Fred Conley also spoke to the group at their regularly scheduled meeting.
1984—The youth council started holding an annual banquet
1986—Gayle Jones was the president of the youth council
1987—The youth council won an regional award for their “outstanding work and achievement in Civil Rights.”
1988—The youth council launched a literacy campaign in Omaha’s African American community
1988—Youth council member Pulchratia Falkner won the 1988 Roy Wilkins Scholarship from the national NAACP
Late 1990s—The youth council was defunct
1999—Youth council advisor Rev. Wayne Reynolds re-launches the group
2006—The youth council hosted a college night in honor of their 70th anniversary
2016—The youth council hosted an annual golf tournament to support their activities
The Blue Lion Center is located at 2419-2425 North 24th Street in North Omaha. Its long history extends over a century, including stores, offices, clubs and more. Unlike the other three corners in the main intersection of the 24th and Lake Historic District, this building survived the City of Omaha’s “slum clearance” programs in the 1970s, and the community is fortunate for that.
Discover why in the history here.
There were buildings on the southeast corner of North 24th and Lake Streets in the 1880s. Originally a wooden building on the corner Saunders Street and a county road, the corner building was home to Charles E. Wilson’s barber shop around 1900. Max Burkenroad, a longtime grocer in North Omaha, ran one of his chain of stores at 2421 North 24th at the same time. His building was wooden, too. Rumyhr’s Saloon was at 2425 North 24th in 1896, and “specialized in fine wines, liquors and cigars.”
After the Easter Sunday tornado of 1913 destroyed it, the corner was rebuilt with the brick beauty there today. Its commercial vernacular design was repeated on several corners throughout the area, with sandstone details variating against the brown brick exterior; flaring highlights around the windows; wide and tall storefront windows on the first floor with single wide office windows across the second; and bricks stacking towards the top of the wall. This same pattern was used on the northwest corner of 24th and Lake and the southwest corner of 20th and Lake, which still stands.
The Blue Lion a two-story brick building that has a long history of being occupied by dozens of businesses over the last century, including restaurants and a club, professional offices and medical services. Today, its home to The Union for Contemporary Arts, a prolific and successful nonprofit organization that’s building community throughout the 24th and Lake Historic District.
Blue Lion Businesses
As a home to dozens of businesses over the years, the Blue Lion has had a long history moving forward North Omaha. Magrum’s Cafe and the Loyal Diner Café were located on the first floor, too, until the 1960s. The Waiters and Porters Shoe Shine Parlor was at 2419 North 24th Street in the early 1960s, and the Near North Side Veterans Club was located there in the late 1960s. Right next door at 2425 North 24th was a neighborhood icon.
In the 1930s, Eugene McGill opened McGill’s Tavern on the corner of 24th and Lake. Omaha jazz great Preston Love said that McGill’s became an informal hub for jazz during those years, fueling jazz sessions and building culture with a house band. Then, from 1948 to 1963, McGill operated the Blue Room next door. Jazz, blues and more was played there by greats like guitarist Charlie Christian, pianist Sir Charles Thompson, saxophonist Buddy Tate, trumpeter Money Johnson, Doc Whidby, and drummer Debo Mills. Others who played there included drummer Gene Krupa, saxophonist Charlie Barnet and clarinetist Woody Herman. After McGill died in 1960, James Ballard ran McGill’s Bar from 1963 to 1972 and the Blue Room closed down.
There were several professionals who kept offices on the second floor of the Blue Lion. For more than 50 years between the 1920s and 1969, several iconic North O leaders who were doctors, dentists and lawyers had their offices there. These individuals included:
Dr. Craig Morris (est.1898-1977)—A dentist who grew up in Omaha and graduated from Creighton in 1915, Morris entered World War I as a commissioned lieutenant in the US Army Medical Corps. Afterwards, he practiced in North Omaha from 1919 to 1945. He was active in the Prince Hall Masons, Omaha Colored Commercial Club, and he helped establish the Urban League in 1928. Morris also helped establish an association of African American doctors, dentists and pharmacists in Omaha.
Dr. J. H. Hutten (est.1884-1939)—Graduated from Biddle College in Charlotte, North Carolina and Howard University. He was active in the Presbyterian church, the Colored Old Folks Home, the Omaha Community Chest, and he helped established the Urban League in 1928. He was recognized as the oldest practicing African American physician in Omaha when he died.
John Guilford Pegg—The son of an iconic African American leader in Omaha, Pegg became a lawyer at a young age. Pegg was active in the Urban League and NAACP, and was seen as a key in Omaha’s civil rights movement. Pegg was also involved in an early African American lawyers association.
Dr. William Solomon—After going to Creighton University and the University of Iowa, Solomon earned his medical degree from Howard University. He practiced in North Omaha from 1936 to 1977. Solomon active in the Urban League, the American Lung Association and the Nebraska Heart Association.
Each of these men were dedicated to African American empowerment in the community, and volunteered much of their lives to struggle for Civil Rights and against racism.
The Lion Products Company was at 2423 North 24th Street in a building that was built in 1918. That year, the building began its life as an automotive garage. Originally called the Crosby and Smith Garage, it became the Pep Service Station and later the New L Garage, staying that way until 1945. The next year, Lion Products Inc. began selling farm machinery there. Lion left the building in the late 1960s, and in 1983 the building became part of the renovated Blue Lion Center.
Other businesses in today’s Blue Lion included:
F. G. Knolls operated a garage at 2419 North 24th in the 1910s and 20s.
Sharp’s Inn Cafe, 2421 North 24th St. in the 1930s.
Mildred’s Cafe, 2421 North 24th St. in the 1930s.
Victory Cigar Store, 2421 North 24th St. in the 1940s and 50s.
E. R. Smisor, Jeweler, 2423 North 24th St. in the 1910s.
Jerry’s Cafe, 2423 N. 24th in the 1910s and 20s.
W. J. Stacey Bookstore, 2423 North 24th St. in the 1950s.
Calhoun Hotel, 2423 Lake St. – This was an African American-friendly hotel.
Peterson and Company Grocers, 2425 N. 24th in the 1890s and 1900s
Johnson’s Tavern, 2425 N. 24th in the 1900s.
Rabe’s Buffet, 2425 N. 24th St. – Owned by an African American and operated from the 1930s through the 1950s. It was a bar that served food.
Laborer’s Protective Welfare and Social Club, 2425 N. 24th St. in the 1970s.
Louis Henricksen’s Confectionary in the 1900s.
Gate City Printing, 2421 N. 24th St. in the 1920s through the 40s.
Morris Skolnik Clothing
Aaron Perlmeter’s variety store
A soda jerk shop
An auto repair shop
An agricultural supplier
However, after the fourth major riot gripped the intersection of 24th and Lake in 1969, every business inside the building abandoned it, and for more than a decade, the neighborhood cornerstone sat empty. After the riots, a few social service agencies were located in the Blue Lion over the years, too. They included the Native American WIA program, and the Goodwill Youth Opportunities program.
Between 1963 and 2017, each building on the corners of North 24th and Lake Streets was demolished except for the Blue Lion. Only one of the other corner buildings was replaced. One of the other corners is a parking lot, and the other is a memorial park. The Blue Lion still stands strong.
Inventing the Blue Lion Center
In the early 1980s, Ambrose Jackson Associates, the first African American-owned architectural firm in Omaha, designed the Blue Lion Center. Funded by the City of Omaha and North Omaha Community Development (NOCD), the renovation of the building on the corner and its neighbor to the south brought some hope to the neighborhood. Merging all the three buildings into one, there was new carpet and drop ceilings installed, and the old brick walls were covered up in an attempt to make the space seem less industrial. Walls were built or rebuilt throughout, and a chic 1980s façade pulled the space into the modern era. Awnings were replaced, windows were inserted and more changes were made.
The building was named in honor of its longest tenant and most important tenant; the names of the Lion Supply Company and McGill’s Blue Room were merged to make the Blue Lion Center name.
After opening in 1983, a restaurant moved in and out. Throughout the years, several small businesses opened in the Blue Lion, but none stayed.
Leaking ceilings and puddles on the floors; boarded up doors and windows and gigantic, empty spaces. This is how the Blue Lion stood for more than a decade. Emptied of business and hope, the building wasn’t doing well when The Union for Contemporary Art visited in 2014. However, that year they took action.
From 2015 through 2017, the building was renovated. With support from the Sherwood Foundation, the building was bought and the electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems were renovated. Adopting 16,000-square-feet of space, The Union secured almost $10,000,000 in funds to ensure their success.
The north building originally had vaulted spaces. Removing walls from the interior and bricks from window openings that had been filled in, the renovation put in huge sheets of glass both buildings. The original concrete floors got polished, and new wood floors went into offices and into a gallery. The south building, originally a garage, became a performance space.
Today, the space includes:
3,000 square feet of youth studios
2,000 square feet public work space for co-op studios
Wanda D. Ewing Gallery and performance theater
Public library room with Wi-Fi
Courtyard space for programs and performances
The renovation was honored with an Excellence in Interior Architecture Honor award by AIA Nebraska and AIA Central States in 2017; the 2017 AIA Central States Honor Award 2017; the AIA Nebraska Merit Award, and; the 2017 AIA Nebraska Architectural People’s Choice Award.
Throughout the week, The Union for Contemporary Art offers drawing, painting, sculpture, cooking, and other skill-building classes for kids and youth in the basement of the Blue Lion. It constantly hosts guest artists from throughout Omaha and beyond, and helps feed the community with a garden growing behind the Blue Lion. Neighborhood organizations are invited to use the space too, and there’s a tool bank for the community there as well.
Thanks to the leadership of The Union and its funders, there are visions for the future that rely on the Blue Lion. Its been hailed as an anchor for the continuing development of the 24th and Lake Historic District. Its seen as the future of the emerging North Omaha arts community. Despite all that, some community members are suspicious, but stay quiet because of the apparent success happening there.
We’ll see what the future brings to the Blue Lion, but it sure does look bright. The history of the buildings is what gives it a shine!
Adam’s Note: This is Chapter 22 of FRAMED by Michael Richardson. Find the rest of the book here. Please leave your thoughts, notes, memories or other information in the comments section below.
“That is just one more lie that Duane Peak told.”
—Rae Ann Schmitz on Duane Peak’s testimony
The murder trial resumed with Rae Ann Schmitz appearing as a witness for Mondo. Schmitz testified she was a student at Creighton Law School and had known Mondo since 1966 when they were both new students at Creighton University.
Although David Herzog called Schmitz as an alibi witness for the bombing, his poor trial preparation left Herzog unaware Schmitz was also an alibi witness for the alleged afternoon rendezvous with Duane Peak to pick up the suitcase. Schmitz would later explain that she believed she was to be a character witness and that Herzog only spoke with her briefly in the courthouse hallway before she testified.
Schmitz said she hosted a party at her house and Mondo was there from 7:30 p.m. to 4 a.m, including the time of the fatal explosion. Donald Knowles stumbled across the second alibi during cross-examination. Schmitz surprised everyone as she told of being with Mondo on Sunday afternoon when Duane Peak claimed he met with Mondo. “We had been with him earlier in the afternoon. On that Sunday. At Memorial Park.”[i]
“It was between about 1:30 and 4:30, probably, in the afternoon.”
“We left together. I took him to Kountze Memorial Park. About 4:30… There was to be a rally there that afternoon and he was going to speak.”[ii]
Schmitz said the drive between the two parks put the drop-off time close to 5:00 p.m., approximately two hours after Duane Peak claimed during pre-trial questioning he had talked with Mondo at NCCF headquarters. Frank Morrison asked no cross-examination questions, apparently unaware of the significance of Schmitz’s testimony contradicting Peak’s version of events.
Schmitz remains angry, years later, that the jury believed Duane Peak instead of her. However, because of the defense failure to develop the timeline of Sunday afternoon the jury did not realize they were listening to alibi testimony. Schmitz summed it up in an interview over forty years later. “That is just one more lie that Duane Peak told.”[iii]
Charles Terry, warden of the Douglas County Jail, testified that none of his prisoners, including Poindexter and Mondo, received the kind of treatment Duane Peak got at the Dodge County Jail. Terry’s prisoners got no outside family visits, stays in motels, or meals at the Silver Lining restaurant.
Peak’s lawyer, Thomas Carey, was the next witness. Carey was asked about a deal with prosecutors for a lesser charge. “I talked to them about it, yes.”[iv]
Mondo began his testimony in the trial for his life. Mondo’s mother, Vera Rice, was in the courtroom as she had been throughout the trial. Questioned about the construction of a bomb, Mondo flatly denied any role in the fatal bombing the summer before. No secret meetings with Duane Peak, no suitcase, no dynamite.
When asked if he hated policemen, Mondo was quick to respond. “No, I don’t hate anybody. I don’t have an angle like this.”[v]
Donald Knowles conducted the cross-examination of Mondo. Knowles asked if the two had any prior contact before the trial proceedings. Mondo replied both were in attendance at the Democratic State Convention. “You was kind of perturbed because I was teasing you.”[vi]
Knowles asked about Mondo’s duties as Deputy Minister of Information for the National Committee to Combat Fascism and questioned Mondo’s authorship of certain newsletter articles. Mondo admitted writing that Congressman William Scherle from Iowa was an imbecile.[vii]
Mondo said that during the time of Peak’s bomb stories, he was busy trying to save his outreach worker job. “Well, at that time I was trying to get my job back at GOCA… I was running around to different people working in the organization and the fair employment thing trying to get my job back and get a hearing established.”[viii]
Mondo was asked about the day before the bombing when he was with Rae Ann Schmitz. Mondo said she dropped him at Kountze Park about a quarter to five. “There were about five or six people who had shown up which wasn’t nearly enough and I talked to them for a while. A few minutes, maybe twenty minutes.”[ix]
Sometime after 5 p.m. Mondo walked to the NCCF headquarters where he stayed for a few minutes before hitchhiking home. Mondo did not recall seeing either Poindexter or Peak.
Knowles asked Mondo about the discovery by police of dynamite and blasting caps at Mondo’s home. Mondo said he had a coal bin in his basement but not a cubbyhole as testified to by Jack Swanson. When asked about blasting caps Mondo was blunt. “Not in my house.”[x]
Mondo admitted that a set of pliers which police seized from his kitchen were his which he used to hook up stereo equipment. Mondo quipped that he would not need blasting caps for the stereo. Mondo repeated that Duane Peak had never been to his house with a suitcase and that no bomb was ever built at his house.
The defense rested their case at after calling fourteen witnesses. Judge Hamilton informed the jury that the next time they would return to court they should be prepared to stay overnight. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. You have heard all of the evidence that you will hear in this case.”[xi]
Frank Morrison’s closing argument has been called one of the finest speeches in his long career. The former three-term governor’s plea to the jury has been lost as no record was made. Newspaper accounts summarized the content but lacked the passion that Morrison poured out to the jury. Some observers have credited Morrison’s closing argument with saving the lives of Poindexter and Mondo by convincing the jury to not sentence the two defendants to the electric chair.
Morrison told the jury that in his entire lifetime he never had a more important assignment than defending Edward Poindexter.[xii]
Morrison’s voice, choked with emotion, said that for the first time in his life he has seen the prosecution “try to convict basically on the testimony of one witness… That witness is an admitted perjurer.”
Morrison said the writing in the newsletters put out by the National Committee to Combat Fascism, which the prosecution said helped establish intent, reminded him of “things that came from Paul Revere, Patrick Henry and John Hancock.”
Morrison described Duane Peak as “this fanciful young man who can spin yarns with unbelievable felicity.” Morrison said Peak had a mind “so paranoid and demented that when this tragedy happened, he spent a day laughing about it.”
Morrison told the jury to consider what motivated Peak. Morrison said Peak was moved to act because a “white policeman shot and killed Vivian Strong” and that another white policeman once called Peak a “fat dirty nigger.”
The ex-governor mentioned his friendship with five presidents while explaining justice to the jury. Morrison alluded to slavery, the Bible and the Gettysburg Address in his plea to acquit Poindexter. Morrison quoted Shakespeare. “The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.”
Unaware of FBI manipulation of evidence under a COINTELPRO directive from J. Edgar Hoover, Morrison prophetically said it was this nation’s system of justice that was on trial in Omaha and not just Mondo and Poindexter.
Morrison used a large balance scale to illustrate his points placing the scale on the rail in front of the jury. While Morrison discussed the evidence he dropped a weight on one of the two trays. When Morrison finished the scale tipped sharply in Poindexter’s favor.[xiii]
The jury received the case at 3:50 p.m. and deliberated until 11 p.m. after a two hour supper break. The jury was taken to the Hilton Hotel for the night. The jury remained sequestered for the next two days while they deliberated. At 10:43 a.m. on Saturday morning, the jury buzzed the bailiff to report a verdict had been reached.
The news media was notified through telephone calls by deputies to individual reporters that the jury had reached a decision. Spectators had to sign in to enter and only a few of them were in the courtroom when the jury entered around noon.
Mondo sat quietly waiting for the verdict. Poindexter sat at upright looking straight ahead. The jurors, who had deliberated for nearly twenty-five hours since Wednesday afternoon, took their seats in the jury box. Judge Hamilton asked the jury if a verdict had been reached.[xiv]
The court clerk read the decision of guilt with life sentences, first for Poindexter then for Mondo. Hamilton ordered the two defendants taken to the Nebraska State Penitentiary to serve their sentences “at hard labor.”[xv]
Mondo said in a short interview following the verdict that he “did not get a fair trial” calling the case against him a “maze of conjectures.” Mondo criticized the Omaha World Herald and local radio and television stations for slanting “towards the prosecution” in news broadcasts.[xvi]
“I’m not going down to the state pen and say everything is beautiful. I’m going to fight it and I’m going to go back onto the streets and do the same things, speaking out against the evils of the system which got me convicted.”
Ed Poindexter cursed when asked if he wished to be interviewed and he was led away without making a statement.
Within an hour after the jury found them guilty, on April 17, Mondo and Poindexter where taken from the Douglas County Jail where they had been held since August and transported to prison in Lincoln to begin serving life sentences. The two men were shackled and each taken in separate cars.[xvii]
Following the trial, the jury foreman whom Poindexter accused of sleeping during the trial, Myron Widger, Jr., was asked what took the jury so long to reach a verdict. “There were a lot of little things.”
Widger said the jury agreed they would not discuss details of the deliberations.[xviii]
If Poindexter had given a statement about his trial, it is likely he would have complained about his defense attorneys. In letters from prison, Poindexter outlined some of the mistakes made by his lawyers. “There was ineffective assistance of counsel at the trial by failure to interview six potential witnesses with exculpatory information.
“George McCline said he had knowledge of who committed the crime and where the dynamite used was stored. Tyrone Stearns said he knew the source of the dynamite used in the crime.”
“Richard Gibson had information regarding who killed the policeman. Anthony Sanders had knowledge of two white men holding bomb making classes in the community.”
“Patrick Jones had information regarding who sold the dynamite to the individual who planted the bomb that killed the policeman. Finally, an “unnamed informant” tipped police that a black male was selling dynamite.”
“The attorneys failed to vigorously pursue Donald Peak’s testimony concerning the contents of Duane’s suitcase.”
“There was the failure to vigorously pursue a valuable lead in a Social Security card found at the crime scene belonging to Johnny Lee Bussby.”
“Counsel called Robert Cecil to the stand, asked a few questions and excused him without asking him how he got dynamite particles all over his hands.”
“There was failure to at least enter an objection into the record for allowing a sleeping juror to remain on the jury, but wearing a pair of sunglasses.”[xix]
“The jury foreman slept all throughout the trial, I complained to the lawyers, they took a short recess, then returned with the man wearing sunglasses for the rest of the trial as he continued sleeping.”[xx]
“Raleigh House was implicated by Duane Peak, but the state did not pursue it because they were after only Mondo and myself, the so-called ringleaders. Selective prosecution is the term for that. Robert Cecil was found to have had dynamite particles all over his hands, but the state never pursued him.”
“Also note that he was not even asked any questions related to the dynamite particles found on his hands during his testimony at the trial, not by the prosecution or defense.”[xxi]
“The state also always knew Duane did not make that 911 call, but did not care who really made it because they were only after Mondo and myself.”[xxii]
Mondo had more criticism of the trial. “Regarding the testimony of Duane Peak, from the time he was arrested to the time of the trial, Duane Peak gave a minimum of six different versions of the plan to “off a pig”. Of all these versions, only one, which he gave at the trial, implicated me as having anything to do with the death of Minard.”
“How can a witness tell even two different stories and one of them not be a lie? Duane Peak told a minimum of six. Duane Peak is a perjurer.”
“All of Duane Peak’s testimony linking me to the blowing up of Minard was negated by witnesses for the defense, two of them his own cousins.”[xxiii]
“I don’t believe he acted on his own. But I did not use him. I did not put his life in jeopardy.”[xxiv]
“The prosecution claimed a piece of copper wire was found at the “scene of the bombing,” that markings on this wire were compared in a lab to markings left on a piece of lead cut by pliers found in my house. The wire wasn’t actually found at the scene of the bombing but in the basement of the house next door, about three feet from a tool bench.”
“The only copper wire testified to as being used in the bombing was that from the blasting caps. That wire was a half to two-thirds smaller in diameter than the wire found at the house next door to the bombing.”[xxv]
“There are all kinds of things about the case that are really pretty basic and pretty outrageous that are part of the record that people don’t know about.”[xxvi]
“I was sentenced, as was Poindexter, to life imprisonment. But this was a case of two Africans who called police “pigs,” who preached self-defense against unprovoked police attack, who called for revolutions, and who occasionally carried guns. Had that jury been convinced of my guilt, it is inconceivable that I would have been sentenced to anything other than death. That jury had deliberated from Wednesday to Saturday. Its members, or some of them, were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, they simply could not let an African man who called police “pigs” get away with that.”[xxvii]
[i] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1018, April 13, 1971
[ii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1020, April 13, 1971
[iii] Rae Ann Schmitz, interview by Kietryn Zychal, July 2014
[iv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1037, April 13, 1971
[v] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1058, April 13, 1971
[vi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1063, April 13, 1971
[vii] Mondo did not know that the Omaha Police Department provided testimony to Scherle in October 1970, when Mondo was falsely blamed by Captain Murdock Platner for supplying the dynamite that killed Larry Minard.
[viii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1086, April 13, 1971
[ix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1091, April 13, 1971
[x] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1094, April 13, 1971
[xi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1104, April 13, 1971
[xii] “Minard Jurors Break for Sleep,” Robert Hoig, Omaha World Herald, p. 1, April 15, 1971
[xiii] “Minard Jurors Break for Sleep,” Robert Hoig, Omaha World Herald, p. 2, April 15, 1971
[xiv] “Appeal Route Likely To Aim at Evidence,” Robert Hoig, Omaha World Herald, p. 2, April 18, 1971
[xv] “ Rice and Poindexter Start Life Terms in State Pen,” Robert Hoig, Omaha World Herald, p. 4, April 18, 1971
[xvi]Rice Says Trial Wasn’t Fair,” Omaha World Herald, p. 2, April 18, 1971
[xvii] Appeal Route Likely To Aim at Evidence,” Robert Hoig, Omaha World Herald, p. 1, April 18, 1971
[xviii]“Rice and Poindexter Start Life Terms in State Pan,” Omaha World Herald, April 18, 1971, p.2
[xix] Edward Poindexter, letter to author, November 17, 2008
[xx] Edward Poindexter, letter to author, July 28, 2010
[xxi] Edward Poindexter, letter to author, March 3, 2008
[xxii] Edward Poindexter, letter to author, February 25, 2008
[xxvii] Mondo, Can’t Jail the Spirit, Prison Activist Resource Center, Fourth Edition, 1998
About The Author
Michael Richardson is a former Omaha resident who attended Westside High School and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Richardson was a VISTA Volunteer on the Near-Northside and served on the Nebraska Commission on Aging before moving from the state. Richardson attended the Minard murder trial and reported on the case in 1971 for the Omaha Star in his first published article. After a nineteen year career as a disability rights advocate, Richardson worked for Ralph Nader coordinating his ballot access campaigns in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. Richardson has written extensively for the San Francisco Bay View, OpEdNews.com and Examiner.com about the trial while spending the last decade researching and writing the book.
I have never come across a comprehensive list of firsts in the city. So, this is a list of African American firsts in Omaha, Nebraska. This is meant to be an inclusive list.
There are countless problems with lists of firsts. They reduce the daily struggle of living down to accomplishments. They focus on middle class and upper class people with the means and opportunities to become “firsts” in anything. They don’t acknowledge the giants upon whose shoulders people stand. White people (like me) tend to see only firsts, and don’t recognize the real legacies of African Americans today. Concentrating on people who accomplish firsts takes the importance off of community building by focusing on individuals; we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and we all owe to the communities that raised us. Lists of African American firsts don’t mean equality has been achieved, and they don’t let white people (like me) off the hook for our racism, white supremacy or otherwise.
Do you have items to add? Criticism, concerns or criticism? Please share in the comments section below.
A List of African American Firsts in Omaha
1804—The first Black person in the Omaha area was “York,” a slave who belonged to William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
1811—The first African American to live in the Omaha area was Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who came from Chicago to work and travel extensively from Spanish-American fur trader Manuel Lisa’s Fort Lisa until 1814.
1854—The first free Black person to live in Omaha City was Sally Bayne when she moved to the city this year.
1856—The first barber shop in Omaha was opened by African American Bill Lee at the Douglas House at 1301 Harney Street.
1929—Omaha’s Alpha Eta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity became the first Black Greek Organization in Omaha on September 29, and continues serving both the University of Omaha and Creighton University today.
1929—The first Black Congregational physican-missionary from Omaha is Dr. Aaron M. McMillan.
1931—Omaha’s Lloyd Hunter Band became the first Omaha band to record a long play record.
1934—Omaha’s Thomas Mahammitt became the first African American to be awarded the “Silver Beaver Award” by the Boy Scouts of America.
1937—Omaha’s first African American “mayor” was John Owen after a community-wide vote.
1938—Omaha’s Mildred D. Brown (1913-1989) became the first Black woman in the United States to start a newspaper, called the Omaha Star.
1930s—Omaha’s Pitmon Foxall became first black patrolman in the Omaha Police Department.
1940—The first African-American to earn an accounting degree from Creighton University was Omaha’s William A. Woods.
1942—The first African American from Omaha to graduate from flight training at Tuskegee Airfield and earn his wings in the US Army Air Corps was Tech High School 1939 valedictorian Captain Alfonza W. Davis.
1944—The first African American student in Omaha to obtain the rank of captain in JROTC was Herbert Phillips at North High.
1945—The first African American pilot from Omaha to lose his life was Captain Alfonza Davis.
1946—Nebraska’s first black-owned banking institution was opened by Omaha’s Charles Davis at 2414 Lake Street as Carver Savings and Loan. It closed permanently in 1965.
1947—The first African American principal in Omaha Public Schools was Omaha’s Eugene Skinner, who served at Long School among others.
1948—The first Black woman to graduate from the Creighton Law School was Omaha’s Elizabeth Davis Pittman (1921-1998), became the first African American attorney in Nebraska.
1949—The first certified African American architect from Omaha was Harold L. Biddiex.
1940s—One of Omaha’s first black women taxi drivers was Marge Rose, who worked for the United Cab Company and the Ritz Cab Company over the years.
1950—The first African American elected to public office in Omaha was Elizabeth Davis Pittman, also making her the first African American woman elected to the Omaha School Board.
1950—One of the first black faculty members University of Nebraska (1950 to 1954) and at Creighton University (1951 to 1952) was Whitney Young.
1951—The first black priest ordained in the Omaha Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church was Father Anderson, who preached for the first time at St. Benedict’s on June 17th.
1952—The first African American in Omaha to become a master electrician was Boyd Calloway.
1952—The first Black radio announcer in Omaha, Harry Besse, works for KSWI.
1953—The first black patrol sergeant in the Omaha Police Department was Omaha’s Pitmon Foxall II, nephew of Pitmon Foxall.
1954—The first African American bus drivers were hired by the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway and ended the Omaha Bus Boycott. They included included Arthur Lee (Jack) Williams and Charles (Lucky) Abram.
1955—The first African American player on the Omaha Cardinals semi-professional baseball team was first baseman Tom Alston.
1957—The first time the Omaha Fire Department was integrated was this year.
1958—The first African American teacher in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Omaha was Tessie O. Edwards, who taught for 46 years.
1959—The first Black lieutenant in the homicide unit of the Omaha Police Department was Omaha’s Monroe Coleman.
1960—The Omaha Fire Department’s first Black battalion chief was Omaha’s Herbie Davis.
1964—The first African American NFL player to share a room with a white player was Omaha’s Gale Sayers.
1964—The first Black captain in the Omaha Police Department was Omaha’s Monroe Coleman.
1964—The first Black female principal in Omaha Public Schools was Omaha’s Edmae Swain.
1964—The first Black woman to be appointed to the Douglas County attorney office was Elizabeth Davis Pittman.
1966—Omaha’s Coleman Jr. became the first African American deputy chief in the Omaha Police Department.
1966—Omaha’s James Pittman, an African American veterinarian, developed the New Horizons subdivision just southeast of 108th and Blondo Streets as Omaha’s first intentionally mixed-race neighborhood.
1968—Omaha’s Marlin Briscoe became the first black quarterback in professional football.
1968—Omaha’s Darryl C. Eure became a co-founder of Nebraska’s first black theatre called the Afro-Academy of Dramatic Arts.
1968—The first Black TV news anchorman, Harold Dow, appeared on KETV until 1971.
1969—Omaha’s Don Benning became the first black U.S. Olympic wrestling committee member.
1969—Omaha’s Rudy Smith became the first African American graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha School of Journalism.
1969—The first credit union to serve low-income people in Nebraska is founded by Rodney S. Wead.
1969—Omaha’s Rudy Smith became the first black newsroom staffer at the Omaha World-Herald as a photojournalist.
1960s—Omaha’s Pitmon Foxall II became the first black lieutenant in charge of the homicide unit in the Omaha Police Department.
1970—Omaha’s Ernie Chambers was elected to the Nebraska Legislature for the first time, and was reelected to serve a record 38 years, extending to today.
1970—The first Black-owned radio station in Omaha, KOWH, was opened by Rodney Wead.
1970—The first Black faculty member at the University of Omaha was Omaha’s Don Benning.
1970—The first African American head coach at a predominantly white university was Omaha’s Don Benning, who led the wrestling team at the University of Omaha.
1970—The first African American head coach to lead a team to a national championship was Don Benning in wrestling.
1970—The first Nebraska’s first national title in a college sport was won by African American coach Don Benning’s UNO wrestling team.
1971—The first head African American basketball coach in the Omaha Public Schools was Gene Haynes, who coached at Tech High until 1984.
1971—The first celebration of Black History Week at Central High happened for the first time.
1971—The first African American to chair a department of surgery at a predominantly white medical school was Omaha’s Claude J. Organ (1926-2005) at Creighton University.
1971—The first African American and the first woman to be appointed as a judge in Nebraska was Elizabeth Davis Pittman; she was also the first Black woman in the United States to be appointed to a judgeship by a state governor.
1971—The first Black doctorate recipient in the NU College of Education was Omaha’s Don Benning.
1971—The first Black athletic director at an Omaha Public Schools high school (Central) was Omaha’s Don Benning.
1971—The first recipient of the Nebraska State Athletic Director of the Year Award was Omaha’s Don Benning.
1971—The first African American studies program in Omaha was founded at UNO by Lillian D. Anthony (1925-2014).
1972—The first African American to win the Heisman Trophy was Omaha’s Johnny Rodgers. He was also the first Nebraska Cornhuskers player and the first wide receiver to win the award, too.
1972—Omaha’sHubert G. Locke became UNO’s first African American dean and was the first permanent dean of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service until 1976.
1973—Omaha’s Dr. Skinner became the first African American district leader when he was hired by Omaha Public Schools as the assistant superintendent for human relations.
1973—The first Black-owned bank in Nebraska was founded by Rodney Wead.
1974—The first Black Omaha Omaha Public Schools principal in west Omaha was Katherine Fletcher.
1975—The first woman vice president and general manager of a radio station in the nation’s capital and creator the “Quiet Storm” format was Omaha’s Cathy Hughes.
1976—Omaha’sEdwina Justus became the first female African-American engineer to work for Union Pacific Railroad.
1976—The first Black advertising accounts executive at the Omaha World-Herald was Preston Love.
1976—Omaha’s Bertha Calloway establishes the Great Plains Black History Museum, one of the first of its kind in the United States.
1978—The first Black candidate for the MUD board was Bob Rodgers, Sr.
1979—The first Black-owned car dealership in Omaha opens as Sentury Buick.
1970s—The first Black public-safety director in the Omaha Police Department was Omaha’s Pitmon Foxall II.
1980—The first first Black female police officer in Nebraska was Omaha’s Brenda Smith while she served the Omaha Police Department.
1981—The first African American elected to the Omaha City Council was Omaha’s Fred Conley, who served until 1993.
1982—The first African American woman to become president of the Omaha School Board was Brenda Council.
1983—The first African American hockey player in the city was Omaha’s Tony Fagan, who played for the Omaha Knights youth travel team.
1983—Omaha’s first Black-owned, -operated and -oriented cable TV channel launched, and was called Classic Video.
1983—The first Black-owned dinner theater in Omaha was opened at The New Showcase at North 23rd and Lake.
1984—The first African American and the youngest member ever of the Nebraska State Board of Accountancy was Omaha’s Frank L. Hayes.
1987—The first African American female firefighter in the Omaha Fire Department was Omaha’s Linda Brown.
1988—The city’s first African American mayor was Omaha’s Fred Conley who was appointed to serve for a short period, but lost in a special election.
1990—The first African American female paramedic in Omaha, and thus, the first female paramedic in the Omaha Fire Department was Omaha’s Linda Brown.
1991—The first four-time president of the Omaha School Board was Brenda Council.
1992—The first African-American woman elected to the Douglas County Board of Commissioners was Omaha’s Carol Woods Harris. She served three terms until 2004
1993—The first African-American appointed to be the U.S. Marshal for the State of Nebraska was Omaha’s Cleveland Vaughn, Jr.
1994—The first African American woman elected to the Omaha City Council was attorney Brenda Council, who served until 1998.
1996—The first African-American man appointed to a judgeship in Nebraska was Omaha’s Wadie Thomas Jr.
1997—The first African American female to reach the rank of captain in the Omaha Fire Department was Omaha’s Linda Brown.
1997—The first African-American Professional Golf Association, or PGA, professional in Nebraska was Omaha’s Steve Hogan.
1999—The first African American woman to head a publicly traded corporation was Omaha’s Cathy Hughes. She leads Radio One, which she founded.
2002—The first woman-owned radio station to rank number one in any major market is led by Omaha’s Cathy Hughes.
2003—The first African American Chief of Police for the City of Omaha was Omaha’s Thomas Warren.
2004—The first African American full-time, tenured faculty at the University of Nebraska at Omaha was Wanda Ewing who served in the Department of Art and Art History.
2005—The first African American appointed to serve as a district court judge in Nebraska was Omaha’s Marlon Polk.
2005—The first Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame inductions happen in August.
2008—The first African American women elected to the Nebraska State Legislature were Tanya Cook and Brenda Council. Council served until 2012; Cook continues serving today.
2011—The first chief administrative officer for Omaha Public Power District was Sherrye Hutcherson.
2011—The first African American female major general in the Army was Omaha’s Marcia Anderson; she was also the first African American Brigadier General to serve as the Deputy Commanding General of the Army’s Human Resources Command.
2012—The first African American executive at the Union Pacific Corporation was announced. In March, Omaha’s Eric Butler was named executive vice president of marketing and sales.
2015—The first African American female executive at the Union Pacific Corporation is Omaha’s Sherrye Hutcherson.
2018—The first African American superintendent of Omaha Public Schools was Cheryl Logan.
Please share any additions, corrections, criticisms or concerns in the comments section below!
Adam’s Note: This is Chapter 21 of FRAMED by Michael Richardson. Find the rest of the book here. Please leave your thoughts, notes, memories or other information in the comments section below.
“I was unjustly accused of a crime.”
—Edward Poindexter, April 12, 1971
Detective Jack Swanson was called to testify. Sam Cooper asked Swanson about dynamite he claimed he removed from Mondo’s basement. Swanson said samples of the dynamite were taken by Thomas Sledge after it was transported to the detective bureau. Thomas Kenney asked Swanson to refresh his testimony about where he found the dynamite in the basement.
“No, it wasn’t in a hole dug in a wall, it was just a place that didn’t go all the way down to the floor but there was—like starting right here, there was a place where you could store different things back there. When you looked back in this space, you could see it.”[i]
Swanson answered that he was the first one to find the dynamite then listed others present. “As I recall, it may have been Sgt. Pfeffer or Agent Sledge from the Alcohol, Firearms Division. I couldn’t tell you for sure. I informed someone that I thought we had some dynamite in the basement. Well, there were at least four or five other parties because we examined this carefully before we moved it. We were looking for the possibility of a–that there might have been wire or something. It wasn’t moved for at least ten or fifteen minutes after we discovered it.”[ii]
Asked again who saw the dynamite before it was removed, Swanson tightened his answer. “Well, Agent Curd was there and Sledge and Bob Pfeffer.”[iii]
Paul Klotz, an evidence technician, took the stand and told the jury that neither Duane nor Donald Peak, Jr. were tested for traces of dynamite although Robert Cecil was hand swabbed.[iv]
Cooper questioned Robert Pfeffer next. Pfeffer was asked about blasting caps he said he found.
“There were four all told that were found on a radio in the front room.”[v]
“No, pardon me. The dynamite caps were found in a roll of linoleum alongside of the radio in the front room.”
When asked about dynamite, Pfeffer quickly answered, “Sgt. Jack Swanson found the dynamite.”[vi]
Kenney asked Pfeffer when he first saw the dynamite. “When Sgt. Swanson carried the box up from the basement of the Rice house.” Kenney then asked if Pfeffer ever saw the dynamite in the basement. Pfeffer contradicted the testimony of Jack Swanson, “No, I never went down.”[vii]
Pfeffer was asked to read a supplemental report he wrote on the search of Mondo’s house where the dynamite “was in the basement hidden under a wooden door.”[viii]
Jerald Volcek was the next witness and he described the crime scene search. “I worked with Officer Dalgleish from the Alcohol, Tobacco Tax Unit….I found a small piece of copper wire in the basement of the residence which is Roscoe Vaughan’s residence.”[ix]
Volcek said he found the wire in the basement of 2875 Ohio, near a toolbench.[x]
Thomas Sledge identified himself as a “Special Investigator.” Sledge said he had been with ATF for a little over two years, following nine years with the Omaha Police Department. “I went down to the police station about five A.M. and checked on my brother.”[xi]
Sledge then went to the crime scene for a twelve-hour stint collecting evidence. Sledge also told of trips to Washington, D.C. “I delivered the evidence on the 20th of August. I delivered it at the Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms laboratory; turned the evidence over to chemist Kenneth Snow.” Sledge made a second trip five days later delivering more evidence to Snow.
Sledge said he removed dynamite with Jack Swanson from the residence and that the first time he saw the dynamite was in the basement. “Yes, we took it down to the police station and a special investigator, Dailey, and myself emptied two of the sticks….We also took samples of each stick and the dynamite was placed in plastic sacks.”[xii]
Sledge then got caught in a lie while reviewing personnel present at the crime scene. Sledge was asked if he knew David Singles. “Yes, I do.”
Sledge was then asked if Singles was present at the crime scene. “Well, I don’t really know who he is.”[xiii]
Kenneth Snow, a forensic chemist at the ATF Laboratory, testified that dynamite particles in the clothing of Mondo and Poindexter were ammonia dynamite. Curiously, Snow found small chunks of the explosive. “They were small aggregate particles which contained visual, first impression, I would say that they were on the brown side. They contained small particles of sulphur, yellowish material, white particles of sodium ammonia nitrate and some type of building material.”[xiv]
Snow said the particles of dynamite found in Poindexter’s jacket pocket could have been there “two or three months” or “longer.” Snow said the particles removed from Poindexter’s pocket were similar to particles in vials that Sledge transported to the laboratory.
Frank Morrison had Snow tell the jury he found dynamite particles in a pants pocket of Robert Cecil, who was not charged in the case. Cecil also failed the hand swab test and had traces of dynamite on both hands. Snow testified that swab tests of Poindexter’s hands revealed no trace of dynamite. Mondo’s hand swabs were also negative for dynamite. Snow also tested swabs from someone named Peak, first name unknown, and from someone named Johnson.[xv]
Robert Scroggie, a specialist on explosives from the ATF Laboratory, testified a three-stick dynamite bomb could be detonated with only one blasting cap’[xvi]
Scroggie revealed he had been coached by Thomas Sledge on the construction of the model bomb exhibit presented in court. “I was summoned to Omaha and at that time Agent Sledge showed me a diagram, an electrical diagram of a bomb.”[xvii]
“Agent Sledge asked me to assemble the bomb in this suitcase according to the diagram, which I did.”[xviii]
Scroggie’s other consultant on the bomb model, was Duane Peak. Scroggie said he met with Peak three days earlier. However, Scroggie didn’t find Peak so knowledgeable about bombs. “Mr. Peak indicated on Tuesday that he thought it had been rigged with one of each of the contact wires from the battery running directly to each thumbtack on the clothespin. Anybody who would wire a device this way would immediately set off the cap because you would have a direct circuit.”[xix]
Frank Morrison conducted cross-examination of Scoggie and asked if the County Attorney’s office had requested “certain examinations.” Scroggie said he had not been asked by prosecutors to participate in the investigation. “Investigator Thomas Sledge was the one who asked me to do it.”[xx]
Scroggle went on to describe the bomb as “one of the most common” and that any “normal fifteen-year-old boy” could construct it.[xxi]
Roland Wilder, a tool marks examiner from the ATF Laboratory, testified. Wilder said that under a comparison microscope he looked at marks on a piece of copper wire and a lead sample cut with a pair of long-nose pliers submitted for examination. Wilder said he found fifteen “points of identification” and thus formed an opinion that the pliers cut the wire.[xxii]
David Herzog asked Wilder if he had equipment capable of photographing the points of similarity. Wilder said the laboratory had photographic microscope equipment but that he did not use it on the wire because it was difficult to photograph such an uneven surface as the wire.
Mondo whispered to Herzog and told him to ask how many points of dissimilarity there were. Wilder gave a surprising answer given his opinion the pliers and wire were a match. “There would be approximately 25…they would be scattered across the width of the edge, also.”[xxiii]
Wilder continued to insist that fifteen points of similarity outweighed twenty-five points of dissimilarity and there was a match. Wilder was forced to admit that he had failed to conduct a comparison test with a similar pair of pliers. Wilder said the pliers were common unbranded Japanese pliers that probably cost one dollar and had not been used much.
Before leaving the courtroom at the end of the day, Mondo examined the wire to discover it was corroded and had a different diameter than the blasting cap wire.
David Herzog implored Judge Donald Hamilton to limit his consideration of the search warrant for Mondo’s house to the “four corners” of the document and not include extraneous information in a review. Hamilton explained why he ruled against the motion to suppress evidence. “I based it on two grounds; one, I could go outside the instrument and two, on exigent circumstances. Really, my ruling was on both. I just kind of slid that exigent circumstances in.”[xxiv]
The prosecution rested its case after calling thirty-two witnesses and submitting forty-two exhibits.
Linda Walker was the first witness for the defense. Walker testified she was with Ed Poindexter the evening before the bombing and that he was with her until after the explosion. Walker said she and Poindexter went to a movie and then went out to eat before ending up at her grandmother’s home where she was staying. After talking on the porch for an hour, Poindexter departed. “I went back into the house and as soon as I shut the door, I heard a large noise, a loud noise. It sounded like an explosion of some kind and I opened the door and Eddie was coming back in the gate.”[xxv]
“I asked him what the noise was and he said he didn’t know.”[xxvi]
Roosevelt McCoy was the next witness. McCoy testified he saw Duane Peak with a suitcase on the evening prior to the bombing at Delia Peak’s apartment. McCoy said he asked Peak about the suitcase but got no answer.
Russell Peak followed on the witness stand. The eighteen year-old cousin of Duane Peak had been transported from the Nebraska Penal Complex where he was imprisoned. The obviously reluctant witness told of a conversation the prior summer with Duane about the construction of a bomb. Russell confirmed a statement he gave police on the matter. “He was just telling me how, how the way you could construct a bomb out of a suitcase. He didn’t specifically go into any details, he was just telling me how this can be done….the way he was explaining it, it seemed to me he didn’t actually know how to go about making such a thing.”[xxvii]
Raleigh House, the man Duane Peak testified supplied the suitcase and dynamite for the bomb, was the next witness. Curiously, House escaped serious questioning by the prosection during cross-examination. The only question House was asked about the bomb was from Thomas Kenney, who merely asked if House remembered giving a suitcase to Duane Peak, to which House said, “No.”[xxviii]
House said after his arrest his hands were not tested for traces of dynamite.
House said he was Minister of Finance for the United Front Against Fascism and confirmed an article he wrote for the local newsletter explaining the name change to the National Committee to Combat Fascism House said that he had not been to the NCCF headquarters since the end of July.
William Peak was called after House. William said he was a third cousin to Duane Peak and gave some family history about how Duane came to be homeless. “Well, Duane’s daddy used to like to drink a lot and he would go down the street and come back and beat up his wife and the kids and he stabbed Jackie two or three times and they used to fight all the time and so one day he got mad and pulled a shotgun on all of them and told them to all get out and not come back.”[xxix]
William Peak denied that Duane had met and left with Poindexter at the Peak house anytime during the week before the bombing. William recalled an encounter with Duane and police. “Duane was with me and the police stopped us, first one car stopped us and they put us both up against the car and then about six more cruisers came and they started to handcuff Duane and me so they grabbed me and threw me on the ground and commenced to beating me and kicking me and Duane told them to stop it, not to do that to his cousin, and so they grabbed Duane and hit him two or three times and threw him in the other car.”[xxx]
Peak showed the jury three scars from the incident and he testified he also suffered from a torn ligament in his knee. “The police said, “We are going to kill these niggers,” and they grabbed Duane and they said, “We are going to kill this little fat nigger here.” They began beating on folks.”[xxxi]
William Peak denied being at the American Legion club on Friday night before the bombing and said he was at a party at Jim Grigsby’s house with Ed Poindexter. Peak also confirmed Poindexter’s account of Duane once shooting a gun at NCCF headquarters. “A sparrow flew in the window and so he started shooting and he shot seven holes, two through the floor, one through the ceiling, so I took the gun away from him before he grabbed the shotgun.”[xxxii]
Frank Peak, Jr. took the witness stand and denied that Duane and Poindexter were ever at his house together.[xxxiii]
Virginia Rivers, Ed Poindexter’s mother, was the next witness. Rivers told how Ed joined the Army when he was seventeen years-old, just after high school. Ed’ mother testified he lived with her following his honorable discharge from the Army. She said Poindexter never had any explosives or bombs around the house.
Morrison conducted the examination of Ed Poindexter. Poindexter, clad in a denim jacket and bell-bottom pants, appeared confident and described his Army life. After discharge from the Army, Poindexter said he went to work for the Post Office in Atlanta but moved back to Omaha in February 1969 after his marriage soured.
Poindexter said he first met Duane Peak in November 1969 when Frank or Will Peak brought Duane to the United Front Against Fascism headquarters. Poindexter told of disciplining Peak for drug use. “Well, I never actually saw him take them but I remember sometime during the winter of ’69 and ’70 he was put on two weeks’ suspension for being out, for being on red devils.”[xxxiv]
Poindexter said he never showed Peak how to make a dynamite bomb in a suitcase. Poindexter also denied giving Peak any instructions about the bombing or meeting Duane at Frank Peak’s house. Poindexter denied going to Mondo’s home with Raleigh House or having anything to do with construction of a bomb.
Poindexter related that after his arrest, his clothes were confiscated and he was released from jail without them. “I was almost naked.” The clothing was taken by Thomas Sledge to deliver to the ATF Laboratory.[xxxv]
Poindexter said he did not know how particles of dynamite got into the pocket of his camouflage jacket. The jacket was acquired in Vietnam, Poindexter testified. He said he helped transport some dynamite while in Vietnam but had no other contact with explosives than that. Poindexter also said that prior to Kenneth Snow’s testimony he did not know that Robert Cecil had dynamite traces on his hands.
Poindexter denied being at the American Legion club as Duane Peak testified and said he was at a party instead. “I think I stayed there pretty late. I got drunk and I woke up after everybody was gone.”[xxxvi]
Testifying in a clear and steady voice, Poindexter told the jury that he never talked with Duane Peak about “how to kill a pig” and never knew Larry Minard nor had any reason to kill him. “I was unjustly accused of a crime, or accused of a crime I haven’t had anything to do with.”[xxxvii]
Poindexter testified he joined the Black Panthers during 1969. When the national organization disbanded the Omaha chapter later that year, Poindexter testified he joined a successor group, the United Front Against Fascism and later another group, the National Committee to Combat Fascism, which he headed.
Poindexter’s affiliations created hostility by police. “Well, they didn’t like me personal because I criticized them and because the organization criticized them, other members of the organization criticized them, you know.”
When asked directly about involvement in Larry Minard’s murder, Poindexter promptly replied. “I had nothing to do with it.”[xxxviii]
Arthur O’Leary asked Poindexter to examine six issues of NCCF newsletters which were introduced as evidence. Poindexter confirmed authoring some articles in some of the newsletters but said he had no knowledge of some of the other writings.[xxxix]
O’Leary asked Poindexter if he knew what the expression “Off the pig” meant. Poindexter replied, “It means defend yourself from them.”[xl]
[i] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 712, April 8, 1971
[ii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 713-714, April 8, 1971
[iii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 714, April 8, 1971
[iv] The failure to test Duane and Donald for dynamite traces despite multiple witnesses who placed then with a suitcase in the hours before the bombing was a collosal omission which compromised the investigation.
[v] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 729-730, April 8, 1971
[vi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 730, April 8, 1971. Nearly four decades later Pfeffer would change his story and claim he, not Jack Swanson, found the dynamite. Pfeffer was never charged with perjury.
[vii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 732, April 8, 1971
[viii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 733-734, April 8, 1971. Pfeffer’s version of events changed with each telling. At post-trial proceedings Pfeffer contradicted his own trial testimony.
[ix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 740, April 8, 1971
[x] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 745, April 8, 1971
[xi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 747, April 8, 1971
[xii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 757, April 8, 1971
[xiii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 766, April 8, 1971
[xiv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 808-809, April 8, 1971
[xv] The hand swab tests on someone named Peak must have been on Frank, William, or Russell as neither Duane nor Donald were tested. Johnson was an alias of the man caught with Duane Peak.
[xvi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 843, April 9, 1971
[xvii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 844, April 9, 1971
[xviii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 845, April 9, 1971
[xix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 849, April 9, 1971
[xx] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 852, April 9, 1971
[xxi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 853, April 9, 1971
[xxii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 859, April 9, 1971
[xxiii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 867, April 9, 1971
[xxiv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 874, April 12, 1971
[xxv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 882, April 12, 1971
[xxvi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 886, April 12, 1971
[xxvii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 900, April 12, 1971
[xxviii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 903, April 12, 1971
[xxix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 915, April 12, 1971
[xxx] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 919, April 12, 1971
[xxxi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 919-920, April 12, 1971
[xxxii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 934, April 12, 1971
[xxxiii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 937, April 12, 1971
[xxxiv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 965, April 12, 1971
[xxxv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 970, April 12, 1971
[xxxvi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 972, April 12, 1971
[xxxvii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 977, April 12, 1971
[xxxviii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 981, April 12, 1971
[xxxix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 986, April 12, 1971
[xl] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 989, April 12, 1971
About The Author
Michael Richardson is a former Omaha resident who attended Westside High School and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Richardson was a VISTA Volunteer on the Near-Northside and served on the Nebraska Commission on Aging before moving from the state. Richardson attended the Minard murder trial and reported on the case in 1971 for the Omaha Star in his first published article. After a nineteen year career as a disability rights advocate, Richardson worked for Ralph Nader coordinating his ballot access campaigns in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. Richardson has written extensively for the San Francisco Bay View, OpEdNews.com and Examiner.com about the trial while spending the last decade researching and writing the book.
Much has been written about the DePorres Club, a 1950s civil rights group in Omaha. This is an informal timeline. This outline was informed greatly by Matt Holland’s book, See “Elsewhere Online” below for other references and related articles.
November 3, 1947—The Omaha DePorres Club was founded by Father John Markoe, high school and college students, and community members. They met at Creighton University. According to Black and Catholic in Omahaby Jack D. Angus, the original members of the club included Max Brownell, Bertha Calloway, Tessie Edwards, Oscar and Alma Hodges, Denny and Jean Holland, Ola McCraney, Wilbur Phillips, Irvine Poindexter, Louis Ries, Darrel and Agnes Stark, Harold Tibbs, Tom and Virginia Walsh, Margarita Washington and Helen Woods.
February 16, 1948—The DePorres Club talks with African American Robert Hollins, whose daughter was refused access to the white-only Sacred Heart High School. The surrounding neighborhood was found to have signed a restrictive covenant, too, and few parish members didn’t sign it; there was no blatant resistance to it, either.
February 1948—Several members of the DePorres Club report that Creighton University School of Dentistry clinic refused to serve African Americans. By March, Father Markoe reported to the club that the clinic would not refuse Black people anymore.
1948—Black and white members of the DePorres Club face racism at Dixon’s Top Hat Restaurant near Creighton.
1948—The DePorres Club staged Omaha’s first sit-in at a restaurant in the Douglas County Courthouse. 30 members joined, and the restaurant eventually committed to desegregation.
1948—The DePorres Club begins campaign to end racism in Omaha industries, contacting the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company, Northwestern Bell and the Omaha World-Herald.
May 1948—Members of the DePorres Club are refused service at the Dunk Donut Shop at 2409 Farnam Street.
1948—Members of the DePorres Club file lawsuits against restaurants in Omaha, including Bertha Calloway against Harry’s at 1819 Farnam Street.
October 1948—Creighton University administration gives the DePorres Club notice to stop meeting on campus.
October 1948—The DePorres Center opens at 1914 North 24th Street. Activities included weekly forums on racism, dances, and youth groups.
February 1949—Taking Dunk Donuts to court under an 1893 Nebraska law against racial discrimination, members of the DePorres Club won a judgment of $25 against the owner.
May 1950—Manuel Talley, founder of the Los Angeles chapter of the Congress on Racial Equity, or CORE, is hosted in Omaha by the DePorres Club.
July 1950—The DePorres Club forms the Omaha Mobilization for Fair Employment, a committee focused on ending racial discrimination in hiring practices throughout the city.
July 1950—The DePorres Club launches a boycott against Edholm-Sherman Laundry for their racist hiring practices. The company’s owner defended her practice of barring Black people from working in the main office or driving delivery trucks
September 1950—The Omaha DePorres Center closes because the club couldn’t pay the $40 monthly rent. They met at the North Omaha YMCA for a few weeks afterward.
October 1950—The Omaha Star starts hosting the DePorres Club meetings at their offices for free.
December 1950—The DePorres Club protests racist student activities at Central High School.
January 1951—The Edholm-Sherman Laundry closes permanently.
February 1951—The DePorres Club succeeds in integrating the Emerson-Saratoga Laundry after threatening the same treatment that the Edholm-Sherman Laundry received.
May 1951—The DePorres Club starts boycotting Omaha’s Coca-Cola Bottling Company against their racist hiring practices. It ends in June when an AFrican American is hired there.
August 1951—Club members begin tests on local restaurants and hotels to identify which places were actively racist. Reports of racist reactions came from Blackstone Hotel; Castle Hotel; Regis Hotel; Paxton Hotel; Henshaw Hotel; Hill Hotel; Harvey’s Restaurant; Miller Hotel, and; Tess’s Fish Market.
July 1952—Crosstown Roller Rink owner Ralph Fox refuses to admit DePorres Club members. Fox is taken to court and found guilty of discrimination, and ordered to pay the minimum fine of $25. He admits African Americans afterwards.
September 1952—Club members start meeting with Safeway managers in the 18 stores across Omaha. The North Omaha store by North 24th and Evans Streets served Blacks but only hired whites. Only two of Safeway’s 500 Omaha employees were African American, and they were janitors. The stores agree to hire more Blacks, but stalled for years afterwards.
September 1952—DePorres Club members visit the Coryell Oil Company to discover their policy was “not to hire Negroes.”
January 25, 1953—The DePorres Club launches a boycott of Reed’s Ice Cream in Omaha, along with the NAACP Youth Council. It lasts five months before the company changes their racist hiring practices and hires a single African American.
April 1953—The DePorres Club announces they kept names of Reed’s customers they recognized, and would publish entire list of people who supported the racist ice cream business.
May 30, 1953—The DePorres Club hosts a “Don’t Buy Racial Discrimination” dance party at the Carnation Ballroom.
1954—The Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company starts hiring African American drivers due to the campaign by the Omaha DePorres Club, along with partners in the Omaha NAACP and the Omaha Urban League.
October 1954—The Omaha Star stops hosting the DePorres Club meetings at their offices and the club takes a 5-year break.
July 1959—Wilbur Phillips restarts the club to fight Omaha Public Schools’ racist hiring practices.
July 1960—The DePorres Club ends permanently.
—The DePorres Club boycotts Harry’s Tea Club
—The DePorres Club boycotts the Greyhound Bus station
—The DePorres Club boycotts the Hotel Fontenelle
—The DePorres Club boycotts the Paxton Hotel
—The DePorres Club boycotts Eppley Air Field for not hiring black workers.
Many of Kountze Place’s finest homes are gone now, demolished by indifferent landowners and city planners who are blind to the value of the neighborhood. One of these homes stood at 2214 Wirt Street, and it was clearly one of the biggest homes in the area. This is a short history of the address.
Building on Building Buildings
The mansion at 2214 Wirt Street belonged to J. J. McLain (1828-1912), a businessman and aspiring politician in Omaha for more than 50 years. The McLains were married in Ohio in 1855, and came to Omaha in 1857. Building on the building of buildings throughout the young city, J. J. ran a painting and roofing company for a long time, and kept regular ads for his company’s services in the newspaper for decades.
The McLain’s massive home was built in the Kountze Place district before it was platted for development. At the time, the house would’ve sat on an early block Augustus Kountze himself laid out, including making sidewalks and curbs and planting trees. Wirt Street connected to the Florence Road, Saunders Street and Sherman Street – but not much more! The surrounding blocks weren’t laid out yet, and even Binney Street wouldn’t have been laid out for a decade. This was truly a pioneer-era mansion, far out in the countryside north of Omaha and south of the town of Saratoga.
The McLain Mansion was designed in the Italianate Revival style that was popular in post-pioneer Omaha. Built in the 1870s, it was a single family mansion with three stories and a full basement. It had 24 rooms, a large front porch and a tightly gardened yard. It sat on Wirt Street, which thanks to the McLains and other early residents, became a highly desirable strip of mansions with tall towers, fine fixtures and immaculate social standing.
J. J. and Mary McLain (c.1838-1916) became charter members of First Methodist Church as soon as they arrived in Omaha City. They became charter members of the Trinity Methodist Church at 2017 Binney, just a few blocks from their home, when it opened in the 1890s. The couple was busy around town, too. Mr. McLain was a founding member of the Methodist Episcopal Hospital and Deaconess’ Home Association, and when a group of Methodist society women across the city joined together to establish a charity, Mrs. McLain became a founding member with them.
Serving Women or Kids or Old People?
The Women’s Christian Aid Association was founded to help Omaha’s ill and indigent in 1883. In 1887, they bought a house at 2718 Burt Street to focus on sick women and children, and in 1902, they were given the old McLain Mansion at 2214 Wirt Street, and the massive building was named the Old Peoples Home. Mrs. McLain was responsible for ensuring they got it, and she and her husband moved just a few blocks away. At that point, their stated mission was to serve “Persons 65 years old, or over, residents of Omaha, Nebraska” who were “admitted by paying an entrance fee of three hundred dollars.”
When she died in 1911, notorious madame Anna Wilson left her mansion to become the next Old Peoples Home. However, the charity rejected the idea of moving their residents into her large house that was located less than a mile away. Instead, they took possession of the house and then sold it, staying at 2214 Wirt Street all the while.
However, the end of the McLain Mansion’s role in the life of the Old Peoples Home came soon enough. In 1917, the George and Sarah Joslyn donated money to build a new home at 3325 Fontenelle Boulevard, which was designed by John and Alan McDonald in the Colonial Revival style. That facility was called the Fontenelle Boulevard Home. The name was changed to the Leo Vaughn Manor later, and in 1987 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, Leo Vaughn Manor are senior living apartments.
Next, the building at 2214 Wirt Street was called the Woodbine Apartments. Featuring 12 units of 2 bedrooms apiece, in the 1920s they were considered high end apartments. In the 1930s, they were advertised as modern, newly decorated apartments that were close to the 24th Street streetcar line and were offered at reasonable rates.
By the early 1960s, redlining boundaries were extending into the neighborhood and apartments in the building were being advertised “for colored renters.” White flight was sweeping North Omaha, and white people moved out of the neighborhood fast. This caused housing values to plummet, and made the City of Omaha anxious to run their bulldozers in the name of “slum clearance.” Targeting the historic mansions and fine homes they thought were decaying throughout North Omaha, they began plowing down the McLain Mansion’s neighbors. It wouldn’t be long before this one-time posh address would meet its fate.
Demolishing A Pioneer Mansion
In early 1969, the building was advertised as having three and four bedroom apartments. Its historical provenance wasn’t mentioned, and as far as my research has shown, its place among Omaha’s history wasn’t acknowledged.
At 1:22pm on October 9, 1969, a fire was reported at the 2214 Wirt Street. The Omaha World-Herald said it was a “vacant, condemned apartment dwelling,” and made no further report. The building doesn’t show in any other reports afterwards, so its easy to assume it was demolished immediately afterward, probably before 1969 was over.
The lot has sat empty next to the former Calvin Presbyterian Church since then, for more almost 50 years.
“I blew up that pig” —Duane Peak to sister Theresa
The trial resumed with cross-examination of Duane Peak by Thomas Kenney, who paced slowly before the jury box. During the day’s testimony the court room audience swelled to one hundred and fifty spectators, filling all the seats. The defendants appeared to be calm and relaxed. However, during Peak’s testimony they were somber and attentive, made notes and conferred with their attorneys.
Peak admitted he had rehearsed his testimony with Arthur O’Leary a number of times. When asked if he intended to kill a policeman Peak answered coolly. “I had thought of the idea.”[i]
“I just left it there not to harm anyone. As far as my thinking at the time, I felt that it would put a particular feeling on the Omaha Police Department and make them lighten up on their attempts to abuse people.”
“Well, in various attempts the police had abused people and I felt if they found a bomb at a house which they was called to go to, this would in some way frighten them.”[ii]
Peak said he left the suitcase unlocked and admitted giving two versions of what happened to the key. Peak told the police he had thrown the key behind the door while he testified to something quite different. “I tossed it in a field next to my sister’s house, Delia.”
Peak told of his familiarity with 2867 Ohio Street and the immediate neighborhood as he lived just down the block at 2809 Ohio Street while he was in junior high school. Peak was a student at North High School for a “quarter of a semester” when he was expelled for fighting with a white student as part of a racial disturbance. Duane said he left his father’s house when he was fourteen and had lived with Delia and at NCCF headquarters but couldn’t remember how long. Peak moved around several different locations for a night or two at time.
Peak started taking “red devils” in the spring of 1970 and admitted lying to Dr. Beitenman, an examining psychiatrist, about his use of barbituates. When questioning turned to the National Committee to Combat Fascism and its activities, Peak answered succinctly. “Everyone was aware of the conditions. We were just trying to bring it to political awareness.”[iii]
Peak recalled an encounter with police where he was attacked. “I think it was in the middle of January, at Caniglia’s at 30th and Fort Streets. We were in a fight, me and Frank Peak and William Peak were in a fight with a bunch of white racists and when the police came, they attacked all three of us.”
“I was struck….They called me various names such as Black nigger.”[iv]
Peak was asked about the Omaha Police Department. “I didn’t like it. They represented a Fascist government that was oppressing people….I could give one instance when Vivian Strong was shot for being on capitalist’s property.”[v]
Peak admitted stealing a shotgun out of a police car and knowledge of a burglary at a gas station. Duane admitted talking about blowing up the police station with Donald and Russell Peak. “If I remember, it was discussed but not of us doing it.”
Kenney turned his questions to the 911 phone call and asked Peak how he felt making the call. Peak replied, “I felt somewhat strange.”[vi]
Kenney mentioned Peak’s first statement to police where Peak claimed to have found a note which directed him to Lothrop Drug Store to pick up a suitcase by an incinerator. Kenney asked Peak about a different version of his story given to O’Leary three days later. Peak said he couldn’t remember making any statement implicating Ed Poindexter. Peak didn’t remember changing his answer about the location of the suitcase in Mondo’s house from the basement to the bedroom.[vii]
Peak admitted making two false statements about his placement of the suitcase. The first incorrect statement was, “I put in the living room in the middle of the floor.” The second was, “I set it down and it was setting straight up.”[viii]
Kenney moved to the preliminary hearing and the oath Peak took to tell the truth. Peak said he believed in God but admitted telling Theresa that he didn’t. Peak admitted he testified at the preliminary hearing that he did not see Ed Poindexter as he now claimed at trial. He remembered his testimony that he didn’t go to Mondo’s house with Poindexter. Peak also remembered testifying that he did not see Poindexter at the American Legion club.
Peak denied laughing about the explosion. Peak also denied ever telling anyone how to construct a bomb. Multiple witnesses would soon contradict each denial.
Duane discussed his siblings and said that he was closest to his brother Donald and confided in him. Peak admitted telling Theresa the reason he planted the bomb was, “Because I wanted to.”[ix]
David Herzog took over cross-examination. Peak denied telling Olivia Norris that the next time a “dumb cop” sees a suitcase he won’t pick it up.
Herzog questioned Peak’s denial of laughing at Larry Minard’s death. Peak said that he couldn’t remember if anyone saw him laugh. Then Peak said, “Maybe, yes.”
“If I remember right, Donald and I were sitting in front of the television and talking.”[x]
“I don’t remember for sure….That is about the only time and I don’t even remember that time.”[xi]
Peak denied that Annie or Olivia Norris heard him laugh about the bombing. Peak also denied that Willie Haynie, Margaret White, and his sister Theresa heard him laugh.[xii]
Peak denied discussing construction of a suitcase bomb with his cousin Russell. Herzog asked about the conversation with Russell. Duane repeatedly denied telling his cousin how to make a bomb when suddenly the story changed.
“I explained to him how to make a people’s hand grenade…..Excuse me. I do remember telling him now….I remember telling him that.”[xiii]
Peak admitted also talking to John Jerks about making a bomb. Peak said that when he was arrested he was in the company of a deserter from the Marine Corps but he did not know the man’s name. The only person he named from the arrest was James Perry who questioned him. Donald Peak was also present at the arrest.
Herzog reviewed Peak’s contradictory statements. One of the statements was telling police he left the suitcase in a field next to a fence and not at 2867 Ohio Street. Another contradiction was Mondo’s alleged role in construction of the bomb.
Herzog established that every version of Peak’s story was different in the details. Peak admitted telling O’Leary he left the suitcase in the middle of the floor at the vacant house and not the doorway or in a field next to a fence. Peak also confirmed that O’Leary told him, “As a practical matter, it doesn’t make any difference what the truth is concerning you at all.”[xiv]
Herzog turned to the preliminary hearing and Peak admitted making false statements to County Attorney Donald Knowles. Peak recalled a recess in the hearing when he was transferred to the city jail and met with his grandfather and his brother Donald before changing his testimony. Peak remembered
being afraid during his arrest that he would be killed by police officers and later being threatened by police with the electric chair if he didn’t answer questions. Peak recalled being again threatened with the electric chair during the recess at his preliminary hearing.[xv]
Peak told of repeated discussions with O’Leary about triggering the bomb. “He just helped me remember it.”[xvi]
Duane Peak was back on the witness stand the next day. Peak said his false statements to police were an attempt to protect Ed Poindexter and Mondo. Peak ended nearly ten hours of testimony with the introduction of a letter he wrote to his grandmother, Hazel Goodlett, from the Fremont County Jail. “I had always thought that when Mama died everything about being good went with her so I turned to hate.”[xvii]
“I was so absorbed in hatred I could barely see….So to quench my anger and revenge I would beat people.”[xviii]
“I decided to turn against everyone….I was worse than the devil himself.”[xix]
Theresa Peak was the next witness. Theresa saw Duane with a suitcase Sunday evening. Theresa told the jury she had a conversation with Duane about Larry Minard’s murder. “You know, because he was sitting up laughing and I said, “What are you laughing about?” and then he told me, he said, “I blew up that pig,” and I asked him why did he do it, and he said, “Because I wanted to.”[xx]
On cross-examination, Theresa remembered Duane saying, “I did it on my own.”[xxi]
Delia Peak followed her sister to the witness stand. Delia said that Duane and Donald had come to her apartment with a suitcase on Sunday evening. Delia watched Duane take the suitcase to the bathroom.
“I asked him what was in it and he said, “Some clothes,” and I didn’t press the question too much because I figured he had stolen the suitcase.”[xxii]
Delia recalled her deposition testimony that Donald Peak was laughing at the news of Larry Minard’s death. “Yes, laughing.”[xxiii]
Willie Haynie, Delia’s boyfriend, testified next. Questioning turned to the first news broadcast when Duane and Donald learned about Minard’s murder. “They joked around.”
Haynie said he and the two Peak brothers drove to the scene of the crime. On the way there the pair continued to joke about the bombing. Haynie parked near the bombed house where they could watch police search the rubble. Haynie said that Duane and Donald continued to joke about the explosion.[xxiv]
After the afternoon recess, Donald Peak, Jr. was called to testify. Donald was asked if he and Duane ever laughed while Duane had the suitcase. “We always laughed and joked. We must have been laughing and joking.”[xxv]
When asked directly by Kenney if he and Duane had laughed about the bombing, Donald answered with a vague reply. “I couldn’t say, really, because I don’t remember. I may have smirked about it, I don’t remember whether I was laughing about it.”[xxvi]
Donald denied going into Olivia Norris’ kitchen and laughing with Duane about his suitcase. “We didn’t go in the kitchen. And we always laugh and joke. It all depends on what you mean as to what we were laughing about.” [xxvii]
David Herzog began his cross-examination asking about the suitcase. Donald Peak said while at the Norris home he noticed the suitcase had a hole and wires sticking out. Herzog pressed Peak about this new testimony and asked him why he never told police about the hole and wire. “I probably did. I don’t know, really.”[xxviii]
Donald admitted he stayed with Duane after the explosion and traveled from place to place. Donald admitted being with Duane on Sunday evening and Monday morning, before and after the bombing. Donald said he was present when Duane was arrested.
Herzog asked Donald about his deposition statement he would lie to protect Duane. Donald remembered the sworn statement. “Even if it required lying….My first concern is my brother.”[xxix]
Mondo later questioned why Donald Peak was never charged in the Minard murder. “Only two people were actually implicated: Duane Peak and his brother, Donald. Testimony was given to the effect that these two parties had been seen together with the suitcase, had been observed holding whispered conversations while in possession of the suitcase, had been seen and heard laughing and joking together about the bombing several hours after it had taken place, etc. But Donald Peak was never brought to trial to face any charges whatsoever in regard to the Minard death.”[xxx]
Annie Norris was the next witness. Norris testified she saw Duane Peak with a suitcase the night of the bombing. Norris said Duane and Donald were at her home Sunday evening for about fifteen minutes before they left carrying the suitcase. Norris saw the two brothers together in the kitchen with the suitcase. “Talking and laughing, yes.”[xxxi]
Norris testified her deposition statement about Duane talking about killing policemen was true. “Him and Donnie and whole bunch more boys be sitting around talking and sometimes they are going to say they are going to blow up the police station, but I thought they must be joking.”