Kelly: Brothel owner knew her real estate - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:58 am
Kelly: Brothel owner knew her real estate

Omaha, to say the least, wasn't always the No. 1 city in America to raise children — so named this week by Kiplinger's magazine.

Far from it. David Bristow's book about old Omaha, published in 2000, is titled “A Dirty, Wicked Town.”

This week, a tie to that late 19th-century era was renewed with a Memorial Day observance in Prospect Hill Cemetery at the grave of Anna Wilson, madam of “a house that was not a home.” In the late 1800s, she ran a 25-room brothel at 914 Douglas St.

From her later real estate investments downtown and near the riverfront, she also was a generous donor to charities, including the Creche Home for Children. She donated the Douglas Street house to the city, which used it for a hospital. The building was razed in the 1940s.

For years starting on Memorial Day 100 years ago — the first one after her death — flowers were placed on her grave. On Monday, the Prospect Hill Preservation Society conducted an “Anna Wilson Centennial Tribute.” A brass band played, a yellow flower was laid.

In a wry, offbeat way and wearing an old-fashioned bowler hat and red suspenders, Jim Fogarty of Omaha told of Anna's real estate investments long ago in the area that today is home to TD Ameritrade Park, Lewis & Clark Landing, the CenturyLink Center and more.

“All have risen from or near properties that Anna Wilson once owned,” he said. “Anna, the real estate tycoon, was no fool when it came to site selection.”

The Durham Museum in the former Union Station hasn't forgotten her, either. Among the museum's trolley excursions is the “Gritty City” tour, which includes sites related to Madam Anna, as well as other historical sites.

The 90-minute tours — $15 for members and $20 for nonmembers — next will leave at 2:30 p.m. on June 27 and 10:30 a.m. on June 30.

Besides the Kiplinger's honor and the world's largest travel website, TripAdvisor, naming the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium the best zoo in America, now comes another Omaha splash.

Southwest Airlines' Spirit magazine devotes a 20-page spread of photos and text to our town.

“Quick, think Omaha,” the article begins. “If only lush fields of corn come to mind, think again. This Midwest metropolis brims with rockin' local music, Art Deco digs and, yes, some of the country's best steaks. ... Big O, here we go!”

Besides the world's largest indoor desert and the country's largest indoor rainforest, the magazine says, the zoo offers the renovated aquarium, the Kingdoms of the Night exhibit and much more.

Among other places mentioned are the Durham Museum, the Holland Performing Arts Center, the Omaha Creative Institute, the Joslyn Art Museum, the Slowdown concert venue and the Film Streams art movie house.

The article also gives a shout-out to the growing “downtown Benson” neighborhood of restaurants and music venues.

Postscript: Adam Epstein, who won a Tony on Broadway as a producer of “Hairspray,” was impressed last weekend by the Omaha Community Playhouse version of the show.

Afterward, with the audience gone, the cast sat in the theater and heard praise from Adam, who said they had performed it “as it was intended, with heart and truth.”

By phone from Los Angeles this week, he called the playhouse production “jubilantly performed and expertly staged” with “a uniformly excellent cast.”

Omaha native Harry Friedman, who has won 10 Emmy Awards, received a Peabody Award May 21 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York as executive producer of “Jeopardy!”

It's sometimes said in Hollywood that “you count your Emmys, but you treasure a Peabody.” The award is given not for popularity but for meritorious public service and excellence.

Former Creighton basketball player Dave Hickey, 64, died of a heart attack Monday near his hometown of Covington, Ky. He played for then-coach Red McManus in the late '60s.

Red, 87, had just seen him and other former players in March at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis.

Gene Jordan, an Omaha native and former Omaha public works director, has died at 86 in Clearwater, Fla.

The Tampa Bay Times noted his calm temperament and an engineer's love of problem-solving. As a B-29 pilot in World War II, he took fire near Hiroshima the day after the atomic bomb fell.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1132, michael.kelly@owh.com

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