Harvard Jail House – Harvard, Nebraska - Atlas Obscura

Harvard Jail House

Harvard, Nebraska

The two-cell building in Nebraska was briefly owned by a teenage boy and then a Hollywood dummy. 


In 1943, the city of Harvard, Nebraska, accidentally sold its jail. To a 16-year-old boy. For $1.50.

Robert Pinckney, teenage son of the local physician, was looking for lots to lease for victory gardens when he noticed the town had accidentally included the jail in the list of properties for sale. When he told the city council about its mistake, they laughed at him. So he bought it.

Even after he was given the deed, the town of Harvard refused to admit its mistake and kept housing criminals in the small building’s two cells.

Pinckney hired a lawyer in an attempt to sue the city for owed rent. Harvard agreed to pay but added some rather superfluous requests, including removing the sidewalk from the property.

Pettiness aside, the city attempted to keep the embarrassing matter under wraps, but once Time magazine and other news outlets got wind of Pinckney’s story, Harvard’s mistake was national news. Pinckney offered to sell the jail back, but he was too young: the law said he couldn’t deed the property to anyone until he was 21 years old.

A recovering sailor in Los Angeles suggested the teen put the jail up for sale at a West Coast war bonds auction. Charlie McCarthy, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s famous dummy, bought the place for $10,000 in war bonds.

In the end, after the publicity died down, the dummy quietly gifted the jailhouse back to the city. It still stands in the same place today, a testament to bureaucratic error and teenage enterprise.

Know Before You Go

Just follow the main road into this small town. You can't miss it.

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December 14, 2017

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  • The Press Democrat 3 Aug 1943 as found at Newspapers.com
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