The Jailhouse That Got Accidentally Sold

It takes quite a stretch of the imagination to call Harvard, Nebraska, a city. With an area just over a half a square mile and a population of about 1,000, Harvard is little more than a town. Nobody ever goes there unless they have family, friends or business there. If, however, you’re passing through Clay County, you can make a quick stop at Harvard to marvel at the nondescript 2-room brick building and chuckle at the historic marker that describes how the small structure put Harvard on the map. In 1943, the city was disposing of several unused plots of land, selling them for just $1.50 each. Robert Pinckney, the 16-year-old son of the local physician, was looking through the list of plots and noticed the city had accidentally included the plot upon which the jailhouse stood. As any responsible citizen would have done, Robert notified the city council of their mistake. In a move they would later regret, they laughed at him. Robert decided the best revenge would be to buy the plot, which he did. The city, realizing their mistake, pretended as if nothing happened and continued to house criminals in the jail. Robert put a lock on the jail, but the city officials smashed it and threw him off the premises. Robert then hired a lawyer and sued the city for owed rent. In fact, at one point, he threatened to tear down the jail. After all, he did own it. The city eventually agreed to buy back the jail, but because Robert was underage at the time, the sale was prohibited until he turned 21. In the end, Robert put the jail up for auction to further the war bond drive. Charlie McCarthy, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s famous dummy, bought the jail for $10,000 worth of war bonds. After all the publicity had died, the jail was quietly deeded back to the city. The story might be embarrassing for the city council, but the selling of the jail did have two benefits. For one, it made Harvard famous, and the sale also benefited the nation by contributing an enormous amount of money to the war effort. Today, the jailhouse still stands on the same site, although it’s no longer used to house criminals.