Judging by the abundance of trivia nights in Omaha, you all like your random facts. Me too. So, I figured it’s time to unload all of my Omaha facts into one post to satisfy everyone’s love of useless knowledge. If you know of some great facts about the city and/or its inhabitants, leave a comment. Thanks!
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1. There’s a Star Wars-themed movie theater
We have two Alamo Drafthouse cinemas located in the Omaha metro area, but only one can claim the coolest lobby. The entire lobby of the La Vista Alamo is designed to feel like the interior of an Imperial ship. Be on the look-out for the 10-foot Death Star looming over you.
There’s even a replica Emperor’s throne from “Return of the Jedi” that you can sit on for an epic photo op.
2. Here lies the world’s largest ball of stamps
You don’t hear about it much at Boys Town, least not on their website, but the Boys Town Stamp Center at 13628 Flanagan Blvd. is home to a massive 600-pound ball of stamps. Measuring at 32-inches in diameter, the ball is the world’s largest and supposedly, it contains more than 4.6 million canceled stamps.
Father Edward Flanagan founded Boys Town in Omaha in 1917. The then-named Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys grew in a few months to house 100 boys. It’s now called the Village of Boys Town and it’s free to visit and tour.
Fun bonus fact: One of the first five boys at the Home for Boys grew up to open Oddo’s Drive-In, one of the restaurants I featured in my book “Lost Restaurants of Omaha.” I remember this vividly because the restaurants had a sandwich called the Pookie Snackenberger
3. Meet Mr. Magnificent Mr. Majestic, the swamp white oak tree
Yes, few people take the time to name a tree, but when it comes to one impressive swamp white oak at Elmwood Park, it had to be done. The tree is named Mr. Magnificent Mr. Majestic and you’ll know if you find it when you discover its plaque. It was once deemed a Nebraska State Champion tree.
4. The man who saved the Old Market
Omaha’s Old Market was a vibrant epicenter of the community with primarily produce being the driving force behind the commotion. From the late 1800s to about 1950, the area was abuzz with produce dealers, buyers and transporters. And then, it all screeched to a halt. If it weren’t for Sam Mercer, many of the gorgeous brick warehouses we’re recognize today would’ve been destroyed.
Mercer saw potential in the buildings and in 1968, he began renovating them as part of Mercer Management. First up was the Gilinsky Fruit Co., which was turned into the French Café in 1970 (now it’s Le Bouillon). From there, other Old Market legends emerged including Homer’s M’s Pub, Mr. Toad’s and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.
5. Zooland animals live on
The department store chain Richman Gordman used to have fiberglass animals for kids to climb on in locations throughout the Midwest, including Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas. The first one was created in 1964 at the 73rd and Blondo streets location. Many of us remember these structures, but after the chain closed, the animals went to home of individuals.
And then one year, a blue elephant surfaced. And Omaha Children’s Museum rescued it, refurbished it and found its companions. Now, four animals of Zooland are inside the museum and children can keep the tradition going, sliding down the elelphant slide and climbing on the hippo.
6. Famous people born in Omaha
1. Warren Buffett, AKA the Oracle of Omaha, was born in Omaha in 1930 and he still lives here. The billionaire is considered as the most successful investor in history, and has a net worth value of $102.1 billion of December 2021.
2. President Gerald Ford was born in 1913 in Omaha, and lived in the city for just a short time. He was the 38th President of the U.S.
3. Fred Astaire, the actor and dancer, was born in Omaha in 1899.
4. Academy Award-winning director Alexander Payne was born in 1961 in Omaha. He was the editor of his high school yearbook at Creighton Prep.
5. The Godfather, actor Marlon Brando, was born in Omaha in 1924.
6. Television and film actress Gabrielle Union was born in 1972 in Omaha. She’s talk about her Cornhusker football-loving family.
7. YouTuber, singer and dancer JoJo Siwa was born in 2003 Omaha. In 2020, she was named by Time as one of the “100 most influential people in the world.”
8. Baseball Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs was born in Omaha in 1958 to a military family (so he wasn’t here for long).
9. Terrance “Bud” Crawford, the undefeated World Champion boxer, was born in 1987.
10. The comedic actor Adam Devine was born in Omaha in 1983.
11. The human rights activist Malcom X was born in the city in 1925. The Malcolm X Memorial is located at 3448 Evans St.
12. Actor Nick Nolte was born in 1941 in Omaha.
13. Singer-songwriter Conor Oberst, AKA Bright Eyes, was born in Omaha in 1980. He was named the Best Songwriter of 2008 by Rolling Stone.
14. Hello! Broadway performer and Tony nominee Andrew Rannells was born in 1978 in Omaha. He’s another Creighton Prep graduate.
15. Comedian Amber Ruffin was born in 1979 in Omaha. She’s a graduate of Benson High School.
7. Most tragic roller coaster accident in its day
I love the chill Krug Park bar in Benson, but few knew it got its name from Krug Park the amusement park that once stood at 2936 N. 52nd St. Opened in 1895, it was billed as a beer garden with amusement rides. What’s the worst the can happen? As you guessed, the country’s most deadly roller coaster accident in its day – a bolt came loose and four cars fell from the park’s Big Dipper. Four died and 17 were injured.
8. Omaha, Nebraska had a beach
Yes, we did. It was man-made and at an amusement park, but we still count it. Peony Park, which closed in 1994, was located at 78th and Cass streets and back in the day, it had a 4.5-acre pool with sandy beaches. Incidentally, it practiced a strict segregated swimming policy until 1963.
Fun bonus fact: The pool area had three slides, and in 1983, there was a competition sponsored by the radio station Sweet 98 in which the winner slide down the four-story water slide 1,710 times. It took him 87 hours and 19 minutes.
9. Omaha was founded during a picnic
Omaha was established on July 4, 1854 during a rather informal picnic on Capital Hill (now home to Central High School).
Of course, the Omaha area was occupied well before that. Depending on who you ask, the land that is now Omaha has been occupied since the 17th century. Native American people have occupied the land that is now Omaha include the tribes of Omaha, Ponca, Pawnee, Otoe, Missouri, Ioway, and Dhegian-Siouan-language people.
10. How Omaha got its name
Omaha, the word, has been interpreted to mean “those going against the wind or current,” though others say it simply means “upstream.”
11. We’re No. 39 – in population
Omaha is the 29th largest city in the U.S., with a population of 486,051 (as of the 2020 census).
12. Biggest show on dirt is held here
College baseball fans have been flocking to Omaha for more than 60 years to watch the NCAA Men’s College World Series, AKA the champion ship tournament for baseball. It’s a big deal, and hotel rooms are hard to come by the closer you get to the ballpark.
The city started hosting the CWS in 1950 back at Rosenblatt Stadium, and now it’s held annually at the soon-to-be-named Charles Schwab Stadium.
13. Worth a fortune?
Omaha is home to four Fortune 500 companies. There’s Berkshire Hathaway, which hosts its annual shareholders meeting in the city every May; one of the world’s largest construction companies, Kiewit Corporation; insurance and financial firm Mutual of Omaha; and the United States’ largest railroad operator, Union Pacific Corporation.
14. Weird broadcast fact
When it comes to broadcast stations in the United States, the first letter generally is K for stations west of the Mississippi River and W for those east of the Mississippi River. That is, except for here in Omaha, channel 6 is called WOWT, a station that is far west of the Mississippi.
The station was allowed to retain its W in its call letters since it had its original call letters (WOW) assigned byfore the K/W dividing line moved to the river.
15. Another interesting fact about WOWT
Probably the most famous personality to have been on WOWT was Johnny Carson in the 1950s. The former “The Tonight Show” host had a comedy show called “The Squirrel’s Nest.”
16. Things invented in Omaha
If you consider yourself a foodie, no doubt you know the Reuben sandwich is said to have been invented in Omaha (in the former Blackstone Hotel, now Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel). But, there are other inventions Omaha can claim, too.
- Butter brickle ice cream (try a version of it at Coneflower Creamery)
- The ski lift, invented in 1936 by James Curran for Union Pacific Corp.
- Top 40 radio format
- Cake mix, a food item developed by Duncan Hines (it was part of the business that is now today’s ConAgra Foods)
- Frozen TV dinners, invented by Carl A. Swanson who was the first to sell them on a national level
- Raisin Bran, created by Skinner Macaroni Co.
- The “pink hair curler” invented by Tip Top Products
- Center-pivot irrigation, invented by a business that now is known as Valmont Co.
17. There was a surprise Jack White concert at a candy store
Most of us heard about it afterwards, but in 2012, a small crowd of people crammed into a tiny room at Hollywood Candy to listen to a 30-minute Jack White concert. He had a show at the Music Hall later that night, but at 4 p.m., he and his six-member band captivated 100 lucky fans who’d seen the tweet moments earlier.
18. Omaha was bombed by Japan in 1945
Little known fact, a Japanese balloon bomb exploded in the Dundee neighborhood during World War II. No, it wasn’t typical of those bombs to make it so far inland. You can find a plaque commemorating the site where it exploded on Underwood Avenue, between eCreamery and the Dundee Dell.
19. Home to the world’s largest indoor swamp
There are a few things you need to know about Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. Things aren’t small there. Head to the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit, Kingdoms of the Night, to walk the boardwalk over the world’s largest indoor swamp. It opened in 2003 beneath the Desert Dome exhibit.
20. And home to the world’s largest indoor desert
In 2002, Omaha’s zoo opened the Desert Dome. The highly recognizable glazed geodesic dome is the largest of its kind and exhibits three different deserts of the world (Namib, Central Australian, and Sonoran). Construction of the exhibit took three years.
21. But we’re most proud of what was once the world’s largest indoor rainforest
The Lied Jungle is a marvel. The two-level Lied Jungle opened in 1992 as the world’s largest indoor rainforest at the time. Now, it’s simply America’s largest indoor rainforest, complete with waterfalls and free-flying bats. (But it’s still pretty awesome)
22. The Fonda-Brando connection in Omaha
Omaha is home to one of the country’s largest non-profit community theaters, Omaha Community Playhouse. But probably the most interesting story I know about the organization is that Henry Fonda took acting lessons from Dodie Brando, Marlon Brando’s mom, at the Playhouse.
23. Dodge Street and Farnam Street annoy and confuse everyone
Let’s get it out of the way, Dodge Street is just awful, and yet, it seems you can get to everything from Dodge so you have to drive it. Why is it confusing though? A large stretch of Dodge is a no-lefthand turn area…except for turning left into businesses. Most of us are aware of this law, but refuse to ever turn left and will honk wildly at anyone who dares to try it.
But wait, there’s more. The five-lane road notoriously changes which lanes are open depending on the time of day. Driving eastward in the morning, you’ll enjoy three lanes while opposing traffic has two. Driving westward in the afternoon, it’s vice versa.
And Farnam Street. There’s a stretch in Midtown when traffic is only allowed to go one direction for a few hours in the morning; it then switches directions in the afternoon. I can’t remember which is which and when it happens, so I just avoid the street altogether.
24. Warren Buffet brings his friends here
Who hasn’t seen the most famous Omaha selfie ever of the boy standing near Paul McCartney and Warren Buffett outside eCreamery? Omaha’s own billionaire, Warren, has always called Omaha home, bringing his Berkshire shareholders to the city each year for their annual meeting.
It’s his other friends I’m talking about though. It’s not uncommon to find out Bill Gates was in town, for instance.
True story: My husband was nearly hit by Bill and Warren when he obliviously stepped in front of their car at the Hilton guest drop-off drive one December.