Douglas County Historical Society Event for On the River is June 23

A quick note that I’ll be at the Douglas County Historical Society’s “Pages from Our Past” event on Tuesday, June 23 to read from my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown. We’ll discuss the elements of Omaha history that went into the writing of the book–and probably a few elements that didn’t.

If you missed the local launch party at Pageturners and my reading at Indigo Bridge Books, here’s your chance. Come meet the author!

See below for all this info:

Tuesday, June 23. 530-630pm. 

Douglas County Historical Society / Library Archives Center

Fort Omaha / 5730 N. 30 St, Omaha, NE 

omahahistory.org/calendar.html (See the bottom of the page for information on how to register.)

Douglas County Historical Society will feature Nebraska author Theodore Wheeler’s novella On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown at our June 23rd Page from Our Past author event taking place from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the DCHS Library Archives Center. The program focuses on history-based authors, both of fiction and non-fiction, and is held the fourth Tuesday of each month in the evening. A Page from Our Past is a casual and intimate roundtable discussion, where the audience has the opportunity to get up close and personal with the authors. Each program concludes with a book signing and time to meet one-on-one with the featured author.

On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown is the story of an immigrant boy who’s caught up in a race riot and lynching, based on events surrounding the Omaha Race Riot of 1919. While trying to find a safe place in the world after being exiled from his home during a global war, Karel Miihlstein is caught in a singular historical moment and one of America’s most tragic episodes.

Theodore Wheeler lives in Omaha with his wife and two daughters, where he is a legal reporter covering the civil courts of Nebraska.

Cost to participate in these discussions is $5 for members and $10 for non-members. Pre-registration is required and seating will be limited to 20 participants. To register, email members@douglascohistory.org or call 402-455-9990, ext. 101.

“Minstrel Show, or The Lynching of William Brown” to be Performed on January 11

A quick note that “Minstrel Show, or The Lynching of William Brown” is to be performed as a reading next Sunday, January 11, as part of the Douglas County Historical Society’s Second Sunday lecture and performance series. The play was written by DCHS researcher Max Sparber and takes for its subject the 1919 Courthouse Riot in Omaha. The play retells the events of the riot from the perspective of two itinerant performers.

Originally produced in 1998 by the Blue Barn Theater, and performed in the rotunda of the Douglas County Courthouse in addition to the Blue Barn, “Minstrel Show” has since been performed around the country to rave reviews. An actor from the Blue Barn will participate in the reading on Sunday, and Max Sparber will take questions afterwards.

Here’s more info:

“Minstrel Show, or The Lynching of William Brown”

Sunday, January 11, 2015, 2pm

Douglas County Historical Society

5730 N 30th St, #11B, Omaha, Neb.

(You must e-mail members(at)douclascohistory(dot)org for reservations. The event is free for members and costs $5 for non-members.)

Also, if you can’t make it to the performance, you can find video of a 2006 Blue Barn production of the play on YouTube here, here,here, here, and here.

Found: Tom Dennison’s House

Tom Dennison’s Northwest Omaha home at 7510 Military Ave. Pictured here in 2006, shortly before it was demolished.

[Please note, some of the information on this page is outdated. See this link for updates.]

It took a while, but I was finally able to track down the exact address (and approximate location) of Tom Dennison’s estate house! More accurately, Gary Rosenberg, Douglas County Historical Society archivist, was able to track it down. Thanks, Gary and the DCHS!

The address? 7510 Military Avenue.

ORDER KINGS OF BROKEN THINGS, A NEW NOVEL ABOUT DENNISON-ERA OMAHA!

Tom Dennison was first listed as living in the house in 1931, just three years before he died. He didn’t live there long, and his involvement in Omaha politics and crime was all but through by then. This was his retirement home. He raised wire-haired terriers on the back acres. He lived there with his daughter, Frances, and her husband, Vernon Ragan. This was during Prohibition. The house was surrounded by cyclone fencing, there were security guards, Dennison kept a sub-machine gun under a blanket on the seat next to him in his car. (It’s fascinating how Prohibition transformed the political machines of the early 20th Century (which mostly focused on gambling, prostitution, and government-centered rackets) into deadly criminal syndicates. In earlier decades, Dennison lived in the city (at 1507 Yates, among other places). He stood on the sidewalk and fed pigeons in the morning. They did a lot of bad things in those days too, but the machine never engaged in gangland killings until Prohibition. The Omaha Race Riot of 1919 is potentially a different matter altogether.)

Dennison remarried late in life, but his young wife, Nevajo Truman, never lived in the same house as Tom. She lived at 2201 Country Club Avenue with her mother. Tom would come by and visit most every day, but that’s as far as that went. Such a strange and sad sounding relationship.

Tom Dennison with his second wife, Navajo Truman.

Last year I hypothesized that Dennison’s house was put to new use as part of Marian High School–specifically the convent–but was disabused of that notion by Sister Joy (another devoted archivist, this time with the Servite Sisters). I wasn’t too far off, however. As told by my sister-in-law and Marian alumna, Sara Magnuson West, the house was still on the Marian campus until recently, although she didn’t remember if it served a purpose there. She remembers that it was back by the motherhouse, where the nuns live. Maybe it was torn down when the soccer field and athletic complex was built? Gary Rosenberg tells me that the building was demolished in 2006, approximately.

I’d greatly appreciate it if you could share any information, stories, memories, or rumors you might have of the building. Do you know what it was used for, if anything, by Marian? Do you know anything about the history of the house? Do you have friends or family who went to Marian, or taught there? Maybe they know something? In the picture above, the house appears to have been kept in good shape, there were security lights installed, the windows were maintained. I’d imagine this effort wasn’t for nothing.

If you know something about this house, please pass it along.