Boystown, Nebraska


I’ll bet you’ve heard of Boystown, but did you know that it’s in Nebraska, that funny-shaped state bordering the Missouri River between South Dakota and Kansas.

I was born in Omaha, Nebraska and
Boystown was just another school that our football team played each fall. We had no idea that it was "famous" nor that a movie had been made about it.
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Boystown was founded by Father Edward J. Flanagan in 1917, as a place for abused, abandoned and neglected boys. The boys came from all over the country and many were on the rough side - tough and sometimes mean...living on the streets can do that to a kid.

Because of the circumstances which brought them to Boystown, some Omaha parents, mine included, were very adamant about their daughters not having anything to do with the Boystown boys. “You are NOT to date any of those kids!” …. I can still hear my father saying that, even after 50 years.

My nephew spent several years at Boystown after his parents divorced. After the divorce, he tried to get into as much trouble as he possibly could....stealing a bicycle, selling aspirin and claiming they were drugs, etc. The Boystown counselors said that he was trying to get his parents back together.....even if it meant being arrested and being sent to "juvie". They would HAVE to talk to each other. He has evolved into a wonderful young man with 3 children, a steady job and is the coach of his son's wrestling team.

When Father Flanagan bought 160 acres of land at 137th and Dodge Road, it was “way out in the country” ….10 miles from the Omaha city limits. Now, Omaha has expanded to the west, and has completely encircled the campus. Yes, although it’s called a campus its really a little village unto itself. The boys become citizens of a town rather than residents of a home. They elect their own government, Mayor, vice-Mayor, Council and Commissioners. Boystown has it's own fire and police departments....no, the boys aren't in charge but learn by actually taking part. In 1936, Boystown became an official village of the State of Nebraska.

The boys live in cottages with their family-teachers in a family situations. The teachers are guidance counselors or have been specially trained to help troubled youths, married and usually have children of their own. The boys learn to clean and cook, do chores, make their own beds, help with the dishes, mow the lawn, and are treated like any other kids would like to be. There are 8 to 9 boys to a cottage, usually two boys to a bedroom.

There are no fences in
Boystown other than the ones around the farm area. When Father Flanagan laid out the plans for Boystown, no fences were included nor locks on the doors. He said, “I am not building a prison. This is a home. You do not wall in members of your own family.” Occasionally boys would walk away from the campus but they almost always found their way back or were picked up by local police or county deputies and brought back.

I’ve often seen the boys and their teachers shopping at the nearby grocery store. (I live about 6 blocks from Boystown…our mail comes out of the Boystown postoffice and we often buy farm grown produce there in the summer.)

They are given a list of grocery items and they get their first "learn to shop" (Shopping 101) lessons. The boys are very respectful to other shoppers and will look you in the eye as they put their hand out to shake yours. “Hello, my name is ________”….this is something they are taught as soon as they arrive at the campus. It tends to be a little startling to shoppers if they haven't seen or met the Boystown shoppers before. Many of the kids came from abusive situations and looking someone in the eye and putting their hand out in friendship is the beginning of healing.

If you are in Omaha, attending the College World Series, here on business or vacation, make it a point to visit Boystown. They have free guided tours or you can wander around on your own.

Did you see the movie “
Boys Town" starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney? It was a true story and the boys will be proud to show you the Oscar it won which is on display in the Boystown museum.

"He ain't heavy, Father . . . he's m' brother"



2 comments:

Jude's BlogLoggin said...

I remember seeing boys town when I was small. During one of our family vay-cays from hell we stopped by there and I was facsinated with the whole idea. I wished I was a boy and could run away to see Father Flanagan. Oh the joys of youth and the misconceptions that come with it. Great blog!! Thanks for inviting me over!

JeanieBee said...

You are very welcome! Click on some of the highlighted words and you'll see much more.