In her new book My Omaha Obsession: Searching for the City, the blogger and author mysteriously styled as Miss Cassette dives into researching the histories of historic Omaha homes and restaurants. It is not, by far, her first foray into this realm.
Her popular and aptly titled local blog, My Omaha Obsession, is filled with her obsessive quests to answer those questions about each structure that strikes her fancy. Now, Miss Cassette has assembled a crop of new “ghost stories,” as she calls them, in the form of a book.
The ghosts here are sometimes men and women of yesteryear, but often are the structures themselves, described in architectural terms and categorized according to their apparent styles. This work is truly a collection of differing stories, though there are threads that tie a few of the investigations together. But, there is one constant throughout the entire volume: Miss Cassette.
The book feels autobiographical in some ways, as the author weaves her experience of stakeouts, imaginative office settings, interviews with homeowners, and life events into each new uncovering. Miss Cassette is perhaps the central character in her own non-fiction detective novel. There is no self aggrandizing agenda here. She stands in awe of what she has found, fascinated by the minutiae as much as the cosmic.
The research she has done is staggering to the point of sometimes dizzying levels of depth. And most is described in detail. In “The Secret of the House That Moved,” street addresses and family names come flying in at a blistering pace, and when paired with dates and extensive external sources, it all becomes viciously complex. Take Miss Cassette’s advice and keep a notepad handy. Having a Maps app open on your phone to track addresses is helpful, too.
The reader dives into volumes of dusty city surveys, newspaper clippings and various real estate tomes from Omaha’s past. The accuracy of her “amateur gumshoe” work could not be called into question. And mostly, it makes for a fascinating read, even to someone such as me, with only a faintly passing interest in such things.
And even for someone with no interest in the structure and history of Omaha’s iconic domiciles, there may yet be a hook to snare attention. My personal favorite in the collection was the third entry, “For the Love of Rose Lodge.” It is as much a tale of grand real estate as it is an exploration of prohibition-era hijinx, including speakeasies, mysterious structure fires, liquor raids, high society underground, and fried chicken. Actually, fried chicken is at the same time the genesis, central figure, and conclusion of the story. Everything else is tangential.
And that’s how each of these investigations are told, through tangents. Some lead to amazing discoveries, while others seem to convolute the narrative, tying the story into knots. By the end of the volume, the knots begin to seem endearing, Miss Cassette lovably unable to overcome her own desire to tell absolutely all of the story, relevant or not.
The narrative style is, at times, almost a tangent to itself. If that sounds impossible, let Miss Cassette show you the ways. The style oscillates between conversation with the reader, straightforward non-fiction reporting, and the wistful nostalgia of autobiography. Between these abrupt stylistic shifts, Miss Cassette commands the language with aplomb. Her excitement, wonder, and sheer obsession come through in millions of colors. Descriptions of structures, places, emotions and people are vivid and almost tactile.
There are plenty of pictures included, which genuinely help to give life to the people and places. There are photographs, diagrams, newspaper clippings and just about everything her editor would let in, though she laments what was left on the cutting room floor.
In the end, Miss Cassette has written something worth reading. It is slices of Omaha’s history, written through the lens of a dedicated and obsessive investigator. The compiled research alone is enough to garner plaudits. But crafting those details into an engaging story takes something more than obsession. It takes heart and love of craft. Miss Cassette displays both in this debut offering.
The book should appeal to a fairly wide audience, especially locally. There’s plenty here for the architect, historian, real estate agent, and detective alike. But it’s especially appealing to someone who just loves Omaha. Miss Cassette very obviously embodies the latter.
Her book is Omaha, sometimes laid bare and stripped to its roots. It’s sometimes confusing, not unlike some of the very streets written about herein. But it cannot be classified as uninteresting. The peculiar histories Miss Cassette has unearthed are certainly worth tearing into her voluminous research.
My Omaha Obsession is available at these local booksellers: