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Little Known Facts About Boys Town

June 2nd, 2017     By Tom Lynch |Director of Community Programs and the Boys Town Hall of History

Boys Town History

Most people know that Father Flanagan started Boys Town in 1917 as a refuge for homeless boys who otherwise would have lived on the streets. Many would have led lives of crime and addiction. But there’s a lot more to the story than that. In fact, over the past 100 years, many interesting details have been forgotten or otherwise lost to history. We’ve collected some of that information below.

  • In 1917, Father Flanagan rented an old boarding house for his first boys home. The original staff of two Sisters of Notre Dame left after several weeks because of the huge workload taking care of the boys.
  • Boys Town was once a farm. Father Flanagan purchased the Overlook Farm in 1921 to make room for his expanding group of young boys.
  • For Christmas one year, Father Flanagan gave the boys a puppy, which they named Carlo. When the dog passed away years later, he was stuffed and placed in the lobby of the first building. The boys petted him each day, and he had to be removed because he was falling to pieces. An author later wrote a book based upon the life of Carlo.
  • In 1926, the boys voted to change the name of Overlook Farm to Boys Town. Father Flanagan wrote that he did not like the new name, but he decided to go along with the boys’ wishes.
  • Boys Town became an official village of the state of Nebraska in 1936, electing its own government and operating its own post office.
  • Father Flanagan believed that all boys, regardless of race or religion, deserved a second chance. This progressive view caused many troubles for Boys Town in the first half of the 20th century, when much of the country was segregated.
  • Father Flanagan’s desk was made by the residents of Boys Town and consists of hundreds of thousands of pieces of inlaid wood. The desk took nearly three years to complete and can still be seen in his house today.
  • Spencer Tracy’s 1939 Oscar ® for Best Actor for the movie Boys Town resides in Boys Town’s Hall of History. Spencer gave it to the organization himself.
  • Father Flanagan refused to let Boys Town athletic teams or other school groups travel south of the Mason-Dixon line after an incident in which African-American students were banned from taking the field in a football game in Miami, Florida.
  • The Boys Town choir recorded an album with the Everly Brothers in 1962.
  • In 1979, Boys Town admitted its first group of girls, the first five of whom graduated in 1983.
  • Boys Town was named a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

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