Today in 1871, railroad tracks reached a spot which would become the community of Harvard, Nebraska.

Harvard is home to about a thousand people and six historic markers, one of which tells the strange but true story of a teenager who ended up owning the city jail.


His name was Robert Pinckney.

He was 16 during World War II, and he wanted to help the war effort by growing his own food in a Victory Garden.

So he was looking through a list of unused land that the community was auctioning off, and he noticed a mistake: one of the so-called unused plots was actually the site of the local jail.

He told the powers that be about the error, but they either didn’t believe him or didn’t take him seriously.

So Pinckney proved himself right by purchasing the land for $1.50, though even after the sale people still didn’t believe him.

Police continued to bring the people they arrested to the jail, even though it was officially private property.

When Pinckney put a lock on the door, they removed it and went on with business as usual.

After the teen hired a lawyer and tried to collect rent from the city for using his property, the authorities started paying attention.

They eventually agreed to buy the property back, except there was a legal hurdle: even though Pinckney had bought the jail at age 16, the law said he couldn’t sell it until he was at least age 21.

By now, the story of the teenage jail owner had the attention of the national news, and that led to a solution.

Pinckney agreed to put the jail up for auction, and the winner was Charlie McCarthy, the ventriloquist dummy made famous by Edgar Bergen.

He “bought” the jail and then deeded the property back to Harvard, Nebraska in exchange for $10,000 worth of U.S. war bonds.

The whole story started with Robert Pinckney trying to help the war effort.

And after some strange twists and turns, that’s what he ended up doing.


If you’re still looking for a present for somebody this week, here’s an idea: an official Tetris waffle maker!

Pour batter into the waffle iron and it will create seven different Tetris shapes, formally known as Tetriminoes, for you to drop onto your table.

You don’t have to fill an entire line to eat them, unless you want to.

The Jailhouse That Got Accidentally Sold (Amusing Planet)

History of Harvard (Harvard, Nebraska)

Tetris Waffle Iron (The Awesomer)

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Photo by Jimmy Emerson via Flickr/Creative Commons