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Omaha Magazine

The Ghosts of Omaha's Past: Tales of Hauntings in the Heartland

Sep 29, 2022 04:36PM ● By Sean Robinson
eerie staircase in wooded hummel park

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202-acre park with a stairway to hell. High school halls that are never quite empty—even when there are no students or teachers in sight. Bars with both booze and boos.

Omaha, with its idyllic Midwestern way of life, isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind when thinking of haunted America. This isn’t the home of American voodoo like New Orleans, and the Omaha metro doesn’t have a bewitching past like Salem. Yet, decades of supernatural stories haunt the city’s past. 

“Omaha is pretty high on the list of most haunted Midwest cities,” said Brian J. Corey, host of the Necronomicast podcast, which discusses horror movies, true crime, and all things that go bump in the night. “We’re such a melting pot in a lot of ways. When you go through the cemeteries that date back to the 1800s, you’ll see a mixture of different heritages and stories. That history formulates folklore.”

In anticipation of Halloween, here are Omaha tales for those looking for a scare. Readers, beware.

Park or Portal to Hell? 

There can’t be a discussion of haunted Omaha without mention of Hummel Park. Located just 15 minutes north of downtown, this heavily wooded area is known as more than just a place to catch a good hike. With its steep hills, winding dirt roads, and deep ravines, Hummel would make the perfect setting for the next Friday the 13th. 

“The scariest places for me in Omaha are the outdoor haunts…places like Hummel,” Corey said. 

For decades, urban legends have surrounded Hummel, including everything from apparitions and animal sacrifices to satanic cults and the sounds of drums at night. Most of it can be likely credited to overactive imaginations—but a dark history exists here, too. 

Back in 2005, 12-year-old Amber Harris disappeared after getting off her school bus. Six months later, her remains were found inside the park. But crimes in Hummel date back to 1933, when a radio repairman was murdered there. Tragedy struck again in 1983, when sex worker’s body was found just outside the park, and again in 1992, when a high school student was kidnapped and murdered inside. 

Then there’s the matter of the morphing stairs. 

On one side of the park is a staircase roughly 200 steps long. However, many who count them will get a different number going up than they do down. 

Visitors–both living and dead–watch your step.

The School Day that Never Ends

As the oldest active high school in the city, downtown Central High’s history is both esteemed and eerie. The grand building standing today was built in 1900. Before it, at the same site, was the Nebraska territory capitol. 

Today, Central’s halls are said to be haunted by a school custodian and former dean of students. A shadowy entity has been known to wave at the living through the dean of student’s office, and sounds of sweeping in the main hall have been heard by witnesses. 

There have also been reports of unexplained cold spots and a disembodied voice that says, “I know you’re all here.” Both rumored apparitions are believed to be as friendly as Casper and just keeping an eye on the place from beyond the grave. 

“One thing I try to impart is we don’t know what ghosts really are, so to automatically assume they are scary or evil is a stretch for me,” Corey said. “A spirit might just enjoy being around or be residual emotional energy from the past.”

Sharing Spirits with Spirits

Drunken 19-year-olds using fakes. Sticky, beer-soaked floors. Shots of Fireball. 

There are plenty of scary sights at the bars around Omaha—but none quite like the specters found at the Monster Club and Brother Sebastian’s Restaurant and Winery. 

Located in the Old Market, the horror-themed Monster Club contains spookier sights than the life-sized replicas of Pennywise and Frankenstein that greet visitors at the door. In October 2015, while the bar was still O’Connor’s Irish Pub, the paranormal group PRISM conducted an investigation after one of the owners witnessed a 1920s-dressed apparition. 

When the team asked for any spirit who was present to make themselves known, the bar lights mysteriously turned on. 

While we don’t know if that means some ghosts are scared of the dark, the haunting of Brother Sebastian’s leaves little room for mystery. Everyone recognizes the ghost who calls this watering hole home—it’s former regular Bill Wolcott, always appearing is his favorite tweed smoking jacket and ascot. 

Staff and patrons both have reported seeing him, even after his death. The smell of cigars sometimes wafts with him.

“Sights, smells, scares–maybe that’s how ghosts reach out and communicate with us,” Corey said. “One thing that unites us as humans is we’ve always wondered what the afterlife is. Sharing ghost stories is important because it’s part of our shared traditions.” 

For more haunted tales, join Corey at the Benson Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 8, as he hosts Historic Haunted Heartland. He and three paranormal experts—John E. L. Tenney, Johnny Houser, and Jamie Nestroyl—will be celebrating and sharing true haunted tales in Omaha and the Midwest.

This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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