Nebraska’s Perfectly Peculiar People

Each state has its share of wonderfully wacky, unique, and downright fabulous people. Here are a few of ours.


Miles Maryott

Miles Maryott, born in Burt County in 1873, played professional baseball during his youth. He later became a taxidermist, artist, marksman, and outdoorsman. In 1927 he was sentenced to life in prison for murdering Oshkosh, Nebraska, marshal George Albee. Maryott continued painting behind bars, producing works such as “Flying Ducks,” completed in 1932. He gave his creations to people he liked or wanted to thank, and also used them to barter for goods and services. After discovering he had a terminal illness, Maryott was freed shortly before his death in September 1939. 

Miles Maryott

Flying Ducks by Miles Maryott (NSHS 10220-93)

(Source: Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation. 10220-93)

Edward Harden

Edward Harden (RG2411.PH2134)

Edward Harden, a Georgian appointed to the Nebraska Territorial Supreme Court in 1854, looks both ridiculous and uncomfortable in this Indian costume. So much for judicial dignity! (NSHS RG2411-2134)

Mary Partington

Bloody Mary book cover

Frances G. Reinehr’s 1989 book tells the true story of long-time Lincoln resident Mary Partington, who became known as “Bloody Mary.” Mary’s old-fashioned dress and her house with no electricity caught the attention of area teenagers, who made a sport out of taunting and harassing her. Mary received her cruel nickname after shooting and killing a youth who attempted to break into her house. She was not charged with a crime on the grounds of self-defense. (Source: Loaned by Dale Bacon, Lincoln)

Cecil Wadlow

Cecil Wadlow (RG2183.PH1930-0908-2)

Cecil Wadlow of Lincoln and an unidentified man are pictured with Cecil’s nephew, Robert Wadlow, the tallest man who ever lived. Robert, of Alton, Illinois, reached the height of 8′ 11″ due to a glandular disorder. Robert was only twelve when this photo was taken in Lincoln in 1930. (NSHSRG2183-1930-0908-2)

Emery Blagdon

Emery Blagdon, Nebraska native and former hobo, was considered just another eccentric bachelor when he died in 1986. Few of his neighbors knew that, for thirty years, Blagdon had been creating a masterpiece of folk art in his dilapidated Sand Hills farm shed. The collection consisted of nearly one hundred paintings and about four hundred and fifty wire sculptures, embellished with wood, ribbon, beads, tin, and plastic. His work filled every corner of the 800-square-foot shed and was illuminated by twinkling Christmas lights. Blagdon believed that his pieces created an electromagnetic field that could treat various diseases. When asked to explain, he would simply say, “I don’t know why, it just works.” (Source: Loaned by Dan Dryden, New York)

Blagdon shed



Emery Blagdon

Blagdon art

Blagdon art

Blagdon art

Blagdon art

Blagdon art

Blagdon poster

William Thompson

In August of 1867 Union Pacific railroad worker William Thompson was attacked by a band of Cheyenne Indians, scalped, and left for dead. Reviving from the attack and retrieving his scalp, which the Indians had dropped, Thompson made it to Omaha with the scalp in a bucket of water. Doctors were unable to reattach the scalp, and it was eventually donated to the Omaha Public Library, where it was displayed for many years. 

Famed explorer Henry M. Stanley saw Thompson on the train to Omaha: “His scalp, about nine inches in length and four in width, somewhat resembled a drowned rat as it floated curled up on the water.” Stanley, My Early Travels and Adventures in America and Asia (1895)

William Thompson (RG2411.PH5587-b, c

Source: NSHS RG2411.PH5587-b & c

William Thompson scalp (RG2411.PH5587-a

Source: NSHS RG2411.PH5587-b & c

David P. Abbott

David P. Abbott was born in 1863 near Falls City and lived most of his life in Omaha. Although Abbott was a businessman, he was best known as an amateur magician, investigator of paranormal claims, author, and inventor of the “talking teakettle,” an illusionist’s trick. Most of his performances were held in his home, and many influential magicians were known to visit him. Abbott’s Behind the Scenes with the Mediums (1916) exposed the tricks used by mediums, many of whom were located in eastern Nebraska.

David P. Abbott (RG0813.PH683)

Abbott the Magician cutting off a woman’s head (NSHS RG0813.PH683)

Behind the Scenes with the Medium (NSHS Library 133/Ab2b)

Behind the Scenes with the Medium cover (NSHS Library 133/Ab2b)

Dollitta Boyken

Dollitta Boyken

The World Herald, Omaha

Mrs. Joseph Foltz

Mrs. Joseph Foltz

Chadron Democrat, November 3, 1892

Harry Arms

Henry Arms

Gretna Breeze, May 27, 1938

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