Boys Town Logo
Boys Town Logo

Father Flanagan Email Series: Issue 3

From Humble Beginnings: The Birth of Boys Town

As Father Flanagan welcomed abandoned youth from across the country, it was not at all uncommon for Father Flanagan to get a phone call from the bus station with someone telling him they had a boy who had just arrived for him. One boy arrived with a note pinned to him that said, "Father Flanagan -- Omaha"…other boys rode the rails to present themselves at the Boys Home.

In October of 1921, a strange and wonderful procession left South Omaha. Father Flanagan had persuaded the owners of Overlook Farm, outside of Omaha, that his work with homeless boys was important enough for them to sell their farm. Father Flanagan rented a large truck to move the younger boys, while the older boys walked, suitcases in hand, the twenty miles to the farm.

Boys boys walking into Overlook

To say that the Boys Town was started on a shoe-string budget would be an understatement.

Many times during the dust bowl and the Great Depression, Father Flanagan’s Boys Home stood on the brink of disaster. Ruined crops meant empty pantries, dwindling coal supplies made it difficult to heat the home during winter, insufficient clothing for growing boys and missing school supplies worried Father to no end. But in his heart, he knew God and his devoted supporters would provide. During these perilous years, Father Flanagan reached out for help through his Boys Home Journal that he’d published since the first home on Douglas Street in 1917, and now, through the exciting medium of radio, he conversed and told his supporters the stories of his young charges.

In August 1931, Father’s herculean attempts to manage the Home, raise funds to keep it open, all while making sure he had time for the boys took a toll on his health and he was hospitalized in Denver with respiratory problems. Even from his hospital bed he wrote letters to judges asking for boys to be admitted, wrote Journal articles and raised funds to keep the Home afloat. By 1936, the Home had stable enough finances to be incorporated into the Village of Boys Town, recognized by the State of Nebraska.

Photo of Father Flanagan's Boys Show

Boys Town Becomes a Hollywood Star

For the first time ever, Boys Town had achieved a level of stability which ensured its continued existence and had generated interest across the country. In 1938, Hollywood came calling when MGM president Louis B. Mayer approached Father Flanagan about making a movie about Boys Town. Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy starred in the film and Father Flanagan reviewed the script daily to ensure his boys were being portrayed accurately. After initially being shelved as not racy enough, the film was released and became a national hit! Spencer Tracy won an Oscar the next year for his portrayal of Father Flanagan.

Donations to Boys Town plummeted! But due to the publicity, boys poured in from around the country.

Supporters everywhere assumed that Boys Town was making big money off “their” movie, when in fact Father, not being Hollywood savvy, had not negotiated a portion of the proceeds. But the film put Boys Town on the map and over time many national dignitaries and celebrities became supporters. Abbot and Costello bought the boys baseball uniforms. Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, both orphaned at an early age, became lifetime supporters. Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and George Burns all toured Boys Town and lent support.

The Official Boys Town Movie Trailer

There is nothing the matter with our growing boys that love, proper training and guidance will not remedy.

Father Flanagan

Next Issue… Father Flanagan, Beyond Boys Town.

he aint heavy statue

We’re still building Father Flanagan’s dream one precious child at a time.

Your donation holds the key to breaking cycles of adversity, offering hope, and nurturing dreams.