A Nebraska Library's Human Scalp


Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura 

If you want to learn about someplace, you can always pick up a textbook. But if you want to get to know a place, you're going to have to dig a little deeper. And what you find there might be a little strange. The Strange States series will take you on a virtual tour of America to uncover the unusual people, places, things, and events that make this country such a unique place to call home.

This week we’re heading to Nebraska—the home of Kool-Aid, CliffNotes, and Johnny Carson.

W. Dale Clark Library's Human Scalp

At the W. Dale Clark Library in Omaha, Nebraska, residents can borrow books, use computers for online research, go through an extensive Microfilm archive, and look at a human scalp. The owner of the disembodied hairpiece was William Thompson, an Englishman living in Omaha who worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. In August 1867, Thompson and other repairmen were sent to Lexington, Nebraska to fix a downed telegraph wire, but while en route, 25 Cheyenne warriors derailed the train and killed (nearly) everyone on board, taking scalps as trophies. Thompson fainted after being shot in the shoulder and having the top of his head cut off, yet somehow survived, and was surprised to find his flowing locks lying next to him when he regained consciousness.

Thompson returned to Omaha and asked Dr. Richard Moore if he could put the hair back in place. Unfortunately, that was beyond the scope of late-19th century medicine, so Thompson tanned his own scalp and took it back to England, where he charged people to look at it. After his sideshow gig had dried up, Thompson sent the scalp back to Dr. Moore as a present, who donated it to the library in 1900. For decades the scalp was on display under a bell jar so all the library’s horrified guests could see it, but it has since been placed in secure storage and is now only brought out for special events.

Have the scoop on an unusual person, place or event in your state? Tell me about it on Twitter (@spacemonkeyx) and maybe I’ll include it in a future edition of Strange States!

Peruse the whole Strange States series here.