Do you want to uncover the places that only a select few have even heard about, let alone visited?
In truth, the spots that some of us may consider as weird, in reality, might contain intense histories, serve a greater – sometimes spiritual – purpose. Other times, they are downright inaccessible to the public.
But so long as you are a responsible investigator, here are ten weird places in the Omaha and Lincoln area that you can and should check out, plus a few at the end that you can find in Council Bluffs.
Enter the Museum Of Shadows
- 1110 Douglas St |(402) 885-7557
A museum dedicated to horror isn’t that weird, but the Museum of Shadows is a unique freaky experience, plus it’s weird just how much info you can find here.
A museum that can scare or weird you out as it teaches you makes for a good time, but make no mistake: this place is thorough. And it excels at presentation: a haunting archive of horror history with caverns with cool chaotic tidbits that suck you right in.
Are you squeamish about ghosts? Some visitors have reported poltergeists, heard disembodied voices, and more. If you feel like it, wander inside the Satanic room, and perform the “sit in total darkness for ten minutes” challenge.
The Museum of Shadows is open from Wednesday-Sunday between 2-10 p.m. Tickets are $20 per person, and the facilities recommend that only mature audiences attend. Take the opportunity to do something cool indoors during the winter season!
And if you want to donate one of your haunted artifacts, the museum will gladly take it.
Track down the abandoned grotto
A hand-built grotto with unknown origins stands the test of time outside of what once was the St. Joseph Hospital (later the now-closed Creighton University Medical Center), but it often goes unnoticed.
For decades, mental health patients and visitors gathered peace or prayed inside the stone structure during the day. But by the mid-2000s, after surviving decades of instability – alongside the surrounding facilities’ ownership changes, closings, and rebuilds – the new owners sealed away the mysterious grotto to the public.
What’s more, the St. Joseph hospital was pivotal in the national mental health movement to treat the suffering of patients as illnesses or diseases. The facilities expanded the mental health wing significantly in the 1940s by adding 100 beds.
While you can’t go inside, locate the mysterious vine-covered grounds, maybe with a cross peaking through, next to the Victory Apartments. Does the place feel older than its speculated 80-100-year age? See what it looks like during a walk!
Read the Dundee Balloon Bomb Memorial
- 5003 Underwood (Hoppy Taco)
It’s one of the more obscure aerial strategies used in WWII. Bombs disguised as harmless balloons floated into several cities, including Omaha, and exploded – almost without harm. However, one unassuming projectile killed six people near Bly, Oregon.
At the time, the U.S. government kept the foreign missiles secret to ensure Japanese forces knew as little as possible about the results of their wartime experiments. And meanwhile, in America, the bombs became more fuel for xenophobic propaganda.
Interestingly, in a post-Pearl Harbor America, UNL was one of the few colleges that accepted Japanese-American students. And Boystown in Omaha housed around 200 Japanese-American refugees escaping FDR’s oft-overlooked U.S. internment camps.
Rarely does our social location as Omahans come up in the curriculums, but it’s there, and it reaches back far. Yet also fascinating is how far away we can get from history. So, pick up some awesome tacos and read the memorial!
(Try to) find the scalp of William Thompson
- Omaha Public Library
When the new library opens in March 2023, it is unlikely that the donated scalp of William Thompson will be there with it. But since the owner, Omaha Public Library, busts the headpiece out for special occasions, here’s to hoping it will be there for the grand opening!
An Englishman and Union Pacific Railroad worker named William Thompson got scalped by a Cheyenne warrior in 1867 and lived to tell the tale. Not only that, but the warrior curiously left the scalp for the UP worker to find once he awoke. Thompson kept the scalp and, in a roundabout way, donated it for historical preservation in 1900. It ended up in the hands of OPL.
Once a display item at the main library for over half a century, the library has stashed the decomposing relic in a dark room for decades. For unknown reasons, the Thompson scalp started to gross out the library-goers and possibly even the staff.
Contemplate life with Chef Boyardee
- 707 Conagra Dr (Building Six)
It also might surprise some to know that The Chef is based on the real-life Ettore Boiardi, who Americanized his name as “Hector Boyardee.”
Boiardi moved to New York in 1914 when he was 16, and eventually, he scored success by starting a business in packaging and canning food products. On top of that, the Chef was awarded a Gold Star order of excellence during WWII for providing rations to Allied forces.
John Lajba created the sculpture, which greets anyone entering the Conagra Plaza. Numerous parking spots surrounding the six-foot statue make it easy for anyone to park, pose, or stay a while.
Is it weird to pay your respects for all the cans you have put away in your time?
Visit the Gatsby-esque Joslyn Castle
- 3902 Davenport St | (402) 595-2199
At 119 years old, The Joslyn Castle is a relic of a different time, but it remains a stunning piece of architecture. The grounds have been maintained beautifully over a century, and The Joslyn Castle Trust even throws regular events and offers tours during business days.
The building is officially called the George and Sarah Joslyn Castle Home. The Joslyn family had it constructed as a mansion with over 30 rooms in 1903, and it sits on what was once the outskirts of Omaha.
Today, the Castle sits tucked away, mostly hidden off 40th and Dodge Streets, but it’s accessible to the public. You can even walk through most of the grounds during the daytime.
Folks get married there all the time, and it’s easy to see why, but they also host programs that include telling scary stories during the Halloween season, so check out their monthly calendar online for the latest while the Joslyn Museum remains closed.
Meander through eerie parks
There might as well be a list of all the eerie parks you can find in Omaha, but even the most unsettling can be peaceful or beautiful in their own ways.
In Hummel Park, much has been said about the stairs that are impossible to count correctly, as you supposedly get a different number counting up than down. But it’s more likely that the long outdoor staircase is somewhat falling apart, so mind your step. Still, the nearly 100-year-old park is worth checking out, as there are splashes of beauty throughout the daytime, even during wintertime.
Freedom Park is different because it’s more like an outdoor museum filled with lifesize submarines and aircraft. It reopens from May 2023 to October 2023, during which time you can usually take a self-guided tour on Saturdays during the day. But you can also schedule group tours during the touring season.
Pay respects at lesser-known cemeteries
- Pioneer-Mormon Cemetery: 3301 State St
- Potters Field Cemetery: 4901-5163 Young St
- Prospect Hill Cemetery: 3202 Parker St
Potters Field in North Omaha is a dedicated burial site for graves with no names. Sadly, many of the 4,000 deceased buried in Potters Field from 1887-1957 were notably poor, homeless, sex workers, prisoners and other marginalized people.
Prospect Hill is likely the oldest pioneer cemetery in Nebraska, with origins tracing back to 1858. The early development leaders, politicians, and judges — many of whom our future Omaha areas, schools, and streets would become named after — are buried here.
Pioneer-Mormon Cemetery honors 359 Mormons who died during the 1,300 mile travel from Illinois to Utah from 1846-1847. It was officially designated a landmark in 1990, partially to commemorate the fallen but also to remind us that the Mormon Trail was pivotal in opening up transportation to the West.
Weird places in Lincoln
- Wilderness Park: 4700-4798 S 1st St |(402) 441-7847
- Nebraska State Capitol: 1445 K St, Lincoln, NE |(402) 471-0448
At Wilderness Park, visitors have documented the hauntings in the vast 1,400 miles in Lincoln quite well. There are regular ghost hunts on the grounds, and it is said that a witch lives in the park, but that’s for you to find out. The grounds are mostly accessible to the public and open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
The 100-year-old Lincoln Capitol building is said to be haunted, and even the local government office hams it up nowadays, throwing tours around the Halloween season. In 1935 and 1945, two people died falling off the 14th floor, and in the interim, FDR presented a speech before 30,000. The building offers free tours every weekday, every hour except for noon, from 9 until 4.
Weird places in Council Bluffs
- Black Angel Statue: 623 N 2nd St, Council Bluffs
- Squirrel Cage Jail: 226 Pearl St, Council Bluffs | (712) 323-2509
- The Dodge House: 605 S 3rd St |(712) 322-2406
Cross the bridge to Council Bluffs and prepare for the freaky.
Shortly before she died in 1916, while dreaming, a fallen angel visited Ruth Anne Dodge, who told her daughters after she awoke. The legend has persisted about her death, and eventually, Daniel Chester French, who sculpted Abraham Lincoln seated inside the Lincoln Memorial, built the Black Angel dedicated to Ruth Anne’s memory.
Next, the house of Ruth Anne and General Grenville Dodge, The Dodge House, is another weird attraction in CB, eerie somewhat for its attachment to loss. The Union soldier was a prominent figure in expanding the railroad system Westward. Today, the city of Council Bluffs owns the home, transformed it into a museum and gives tours inside.
Lastly, built in 1885 and closed in 1969, famous criminals such as Jake Bird stayed in Squirrel Cage Jail. The three-story rotary jail had a unique design, allowing guards to “manage” inmates with ease and minimal contact between inmates.