More popularly known as Father Flanagan, the late Edward Joseph Flanagan developed an interest in young people and their struggle to grow into responsible, productive members of society. This interest lasted a lifetime; and from it came the founding of Boys Town in Nebraska.
Hall of History at Boys Town in Nebraska
Although visitors are welcome to tour much of the Village of Boys Town, one particular focus of interest is the Hall of History, which is a museum that is located in the former dining hall built by Father Flanagan in 1939.
This neon sign welcomes visitors to the Hall of History upon entering the building at the start of the self-guided tour of permanent exhibits with audio and video presentations. The neon sign at the display which details the move to Overlook Farm after the humble beginnings of Boys Town at a rented house and then an abandoned larger building.
Some of the artifacts on display in the Hall of History include the Best Actor Oscar presented to Spencer Tracy for his role as Father Flanagan in the 1938 motion picture Boys Town; and the 1952 Flxible Visicoach bus that once carried Boys Town athletic teams across the United States. Visitors can board the bus to sit and watch a video.
The Hall of History museum is a great place to discover how Boys Town programs developed over the decades; and how the mission continues to change the way children and families are cared for in the United States — especially for visitors who know little about Boys Town.
The equipment and artifacts on display alone are sure to fascinate anyone who is interested in history. Viewing them up close results in a closer connection to that history — as well as fosters an appreciation for the work that was performed at Boys Town as it developed.
“A bit of a showman himself, Father Flanagan knew the value of entertainment when it came to spreading the Boys Town message”, according to this official Internet web site. “He understood that seeing is believing, and if he wanted people to support Boys Town’s mission, he needed to educate them about the organization and show them the results. So, during the early 1920s, Father Flanagan’s ‘Boys Shows’ traveled the countryside in a bright red circus wagon, stopping in various towns to perform a two-hour variety revue of singing, dancing and light comedy. Some communities weren’t so eager to welcome these racially diverse groups, but others did so with open arms.”
The red show wagon was used to demonstrate the belief that all boys were deserving — regardless of their faith, culture, or color of their skin — and it sometimes created problems with accommodations in a country that was segregated. A replica of the red show wagon is currently on permanent display at the Hall of History museum, which advertised the “World’s Greatest Juvenile Entertainers”. Visitors can walk around most of it to view it for themselves.
Literature, signs, and posters on the walls describe in detail the significant accomplishments of the children who were once troubled, abused, unloved, and unwanted.
Having been involved in the graphic arts industry, printing presses have particularly interested me. This printing press was used to print newsletters and other publications related to Boys Town. The first issue of Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home Journal was printed in 1918.
Aa an incorporated village with its own ZIP Code in the state of Nebraska since 1936, Boys Town grew over the years to include its own tailor shop, fire station, post office, research hospital, music hall, schools, and other entities. It has been a National Historic Landmark since 1985; and is now the only National Historic Landmark District in Nebraska. Approximately 400 boys and girls live in the village at any given time, as they receive care and guidance for a wide range of behavioral, emotional, and academic issues.
The work of Father Flanagan was admired and respected by members of other faiths — including Judaism. On the wall of photographs and documents memorializing the work of Father Flanagan after he passed away in Berlin in 1948 at the age of 61 is a certificate which commemorates the planting of a tree in his memory.
In addition to the Hall of History museum, other attractions of interest are located at Boys Town as well — including but not limited to the Garden of the Bible, the Father Flanagan House museum, two different chapels, and the Village Drive.
This statue is a replica of the original statue that was inspired by a photograph taken in 1921; and it became an important symbol which represented Boys Town. Replicas of each iteration of the statue over the years are on display — along with pictures above them. Click here to watch a video to find out the history of the iconic words “He ain’t heavy, Father…he’s m’ brother!”
Can you get through this part of the article without hearing the 1969 hit song He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother by The Hollies going through your head? Here is a little fun music trivia for you: the piano in that song was played by Reginald Kenneth Dwight, who was a session musician who later became more popularly known as Elton John.
Visitors can explore the campus of Boys Town with an interactive tour.
Final Boarding Call
As a society, we can learn a lot from Father Flanagan, as it only takes the passion and effort of one person to start a movement that has since positively affected thousands of children over the decades and has made the world a better place for them.
Visiting Boys Town is one of several interesting things to do in the Omaha metropolitan area.
Boys Town is located due west of downtown Omaha and is easily reached by United States Highway 6.
Hall of History
14057 Flanagan Boulevard
Boys Town, Nebraska 68010
Hall of History Hours of Operation
Open daily from 10:00 in the morning through 4:30 in the afternoon
Open Sunday from 11:00 in the morning through 4:00 in the afternoon
No admission is charged to visit Boys Town — although a donation of any amount is suggested and appreciated at the Hall of History.
You can take a virtual tour of the museum by clicking here.
All photographs ©2023 by Brian Cohen.