NEBRASKAland December 2018

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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10 NEBRASKAland • DECEMBER 2018 ew people visit their own grave – especially not when part of their body already lies buried beneath the headstone. But Omaha police captain James MacDonald was such a man. In the early morning hours of Dec. 21, 1921, MacDonald and several other patrolmen responded to a call that safecrackers were looting a grocery store at 40th and Dodge. The safecrackers – or "yeggmen" in the slang of the day – were attempting to blow open a safe with nitroglycerine. MacDonald's police car had barely pulled up when the burglars opened fire. "MacDonald had scarcely stepped to the sidewalk … when a shot from the lookout's gun shattered his left ankle and the bone clear to the knee," the Omaha World-Herald reported in a Dec. 30, 1928, retrospective. "He slipped to the pavement and, sitting with his back to a hitching post, continued the assault with the shotgun he carried, from this position. Here started a battle in which it has been declared more than one hundred shots were fired – a fray lasting nearly half an hour, and heard by neighbors for blocks around." As the bandits tried to shoot their way out of the drug store, MacDonald drove them back inside with his shotgun. Another bullet struck him in the left knee. The World-Herald continues: "'You got me again!' Jim called, and fired back, the shot striking the man's hand, knocking down his pistol. Checks and securities, which were wrapped around the handle of the automatic, fell to the floor covered with blood. 'You got me too,' replied the bandit." Did they really say that, or was it a bit of storyteller's license? The original 1921 reports don't include this particular detail about the men politely informing each other about the results of their marksmanship. On the other hand, each man may have been trying to lure his adversary to come closer. Or they may simply have been in shock. One of the burglars threw a bottle of nitroglycerine, but it failed to explode. Finally, "jammed weapons and lack of ammunition forced the cracksmen to surrender." The three men were arrested. They'd been blowing safes all over Omaha for weeks, but claimed they'd barely broken even due to the high cost Omaha World-Herald, Dec. 27, 1921. The bandits admitted to 18 safe-blowing jobs in about a month's time. Omaha police badge, ca. 1920s. History Nebraska 9380-57-(1) Omaha Bee, Dec. 27, 1921. A Brief History One Leg in the Grave F By History Nebraska (Nebraska State Historical Society)

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