Starting & Ending Point: Omaha, NE
Miles Driven: 34
Today I decided to start out with some of the more understated, peripheral attractions of Omaha. Using the trusted oddities app Atlas Obscura I mapped out two cute little destinations I thought would be interesting, or at least yield some amusing photos for this blog.
The first was the World’s Largest Stamp Ball, located at the Leon Myers Stamp Center which is in turn located at the Visitor’s Center of Boys Town, Nebraska.
I naively assumed Boys Town to be a run-of-the mill suburb, perhaps a rather quirky one at that if it decided to feature a big stamp ball in its Visitor Center. But in fact upon my arrival I was chagrined to find a small, self-contained campus with brick homes, a few humble medical and administrative buildings, and a large Catholic church.
I went inside the humble visitor center and a kind woman in a business-meets-tour guide suit educated me on the history of Boys Town. It’s basically a giant home for underprivileged or otherwise troubled kids (both male and female) which functions as its own municipal entity (the kids even elect their own mayor amongst themselves). It was founded in 1917 by Father Edward J. Flanegan, who wanted to save young boys from abuse & poverty while providing them with a moral education. The whole story was even made into a 1938 movie starring Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy.
The kids at Boys Town are often juvenile delinquents referred to the community by the Nebraska judicial system. They’re not allowed to use cell phones or surf the internet without adult supervision. I tried to wonder what it might be like to live in a place like that…
So what does this all have to do with stamps? Honestly I never quite figured that out. You walk into the Boys Town Visitor center and are immediately confronted with the Gift Shop, replete with all sorts of Christian memorabilia and books about Father Flanegan.
If you can make it past that you’ll find the Leon Myers Stamp Center, which is kind of a half-hearted attempt at a stamp museum. There’s a brief timeline delineating the history of postage stamps and a few small exhibits of various stamp themes throughout history. Pretty cool (especially for a free attraction) but I doubt it would impress any serious stamp nerds. That said, the ball itself is pretty dope. It’s truly surreal to examine it up close and see stamps across generations from places like Canada, Italy, The Philippines, Congo, etc. Worth a visit if you can stomach all the Catholic stuff.
My other Atlas Obscura-inspired destination was in the hip neighborhood of Dundee. This neighborhood, on the corner of 50th and Underwood specifically, was the site of a Japanese balloon bomb explosion in 1945.
I’m a bit of a history nerd and I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this. (It’s especially interesting this never came up in light of the recent Chinese spy balloon drama). But it turns out that during the war the Japanese sent over 9,000 of these incendiary balloons toward the continent, 300 of which made it in North America. They were intended to start forest fires and cause mass panic, but they never really did a good job of causing fires, and a hyper-rigorous censorship campaign by the U.S. government kept any potential panic at bay.
I don’t know about you, but to me the fact that Uncle Sam was so effective at squashing a major event like this is probably the most disturbing part of the story. In any case the bomb’s ground zero is now the site of a taco shop (I kind of wish it was a sushi restaurant, just for irony’s sake).
I was really looking forward to the zoo visit
My next destination was the Henry Doorly Zoo, widely considered to be one of the best in the nation. I won’t pretend to be a conosseiur of zoos but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. They featured animals from just about every corner of the globe and the whole space was walkable and aesthetically pleasing.
I was really looking forward to the zoo visit because I thought it would yield some sick photos for this blog. But alas I think my photographer’s eye failed me today. Nevertheless, here’s a little gallery for your perusal:
(By the way, more photos will be available on my Instagram story @an.evil.tick so make sure you’re following me there (sorry not sorry for the shameless plug))
I did make one crucial mistake at the zoo: I forgot to bring sunscreen. In fact I forgot to bring any sunscreen for this entire trip; a rookie mistake I’ve made time and again. Thus after a good 3 hours outside in the hot sun I was left with raw red skin and a thoroughly exhausted spirit.
This makes it all the more important that I rest up for tomorrow, when I’ll be driving a good 14 hours to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I know from experience that this is one lonely, desolate, brutal drive so this is really going to take all of my strength.
I have my podcasts downloaded, I have my bags of granola in the passenger seat. Let’s do this. Bring it on, middle America!