Puzzling Times – Omaha 1915 edition #1

We here at Creighton’s Attic are excited to introduce a new jigsaw puzzle series. This series features panoramic photos of Creighton’s campus and the surrounding area captured by Fr. William Rigge, S.J. and Jesuit scholastic Alphonse Schmitt over a century ago. Several attempts were made by Fr. Rigge in 1880, 1897, 1909, and 1910 to document the areas around campus, but it wasn’t until 1915 that Fr. Rigge finally found success. (For more on the earlier attempts, scroll to the bottom of this blog post.)  With Schmitt’s help, Fr. Rigge produced a series of 12 photographs taken from the cupola, long since gone, atop what we now call Creighton Hall.  (We have 11 of those, and we (actually Greg) will be stitching those together to create a full 330-degree view.  If you have the missing image and will share it with us, Greg can show the entire 360 degrees.)

In his memoirs Fr. Rigge  declared that “The perfection of these pictures could not be surpassed.”  Fr. Rigge’s  dream for these images was that they would preserve for posterity an image of Creighton and its surroundings in their early days, but for a long period following the closing of the Creighton observatory the images were thought to be lost.

Over the next few weeks Creighton’s Attic  will be looking at how the images were re-discovered, as well introducing a new puzzle accompanied by a  brief look of some points of interest included in the image. We will start off with the puzzle for West by Northwest and move  clockwise to finish facing West, which was the last plate re-discovered.


There are several points of interest visible in this plate, some of the highlights of which include:

The football field in the foreground ran north to south and was located to the north of the church.  It was used until the Creighton Stadium was built in the 1920s. Behind the football field we can see a pair of circus tents for the Hugo Brothers Shows, located in an area that is now the green space east of the Hixon-Lied Building.

Image A – Methodist Hospital, constructed in 1908, near 38th and Cuming streets.  After the hospital relocated, the Salvation Army used the building until it was torn down in 2017.

Image B – Walnut Hill Reservoir’s pump house, which in this image appears to show damage from a 1915 fire.  A new facility was constructed not long after the photograph was taken.

Image C – The Poor Clares Convent, a brick structure (the convent’s second at this location) financed by John A. Creighton in 1903-04.  The structure, still in use, now serves as the Starlight Chateau reception hall.

Image D – Thomas Mansion, which Rigge’s memoirs refer to as “The House with the Tower,” was located where the interstate now passes.  The house’s distinctive tower was a favorite sighting point for Creighton students doing surveying work.

Karl has done the heavy lifting of researching the images and writing the information here.  For more information on these highlighted places and others from North Omaha, he suggests reading the North Omaha History website, specifically the parts on Methodist Hospital, Walnut Hill Reservoir, Poor Clares Convent, and Thomas Mansion.

Karl also describes Fr. Rigge’s earlier efforts to capture the landscape around campus:

From almost as soon as he arrived on the Creighton campus as a scholastic in 1878, William Rigge, S.J. had an interest in capturing a panoramic view of the landscape of the University and its surroundings for posterity. His earliest effort in the project came in June of 1880 when, lacking access to a camera or the support to acquire one, Rigge constructed and used a Camera Obscura to draw several images of the area surrounding campus. Following a 15-year absence as he finished his religious studies, Fr. Rigge returned to Creighton in 1896 and shortly after in May of 1897 partnered with a Mr. G.A. McGovern, a chemistry instructor, to attempt to capture a series of panoramic shots from the tower of Creighton Hall. Unfortunately, this effort fell apart after only three views were captured due to a combination of the poor results from those initial views, scheduling conflicts, and a lack of fund for the large photographic plates the project required. Fr. Rigge’s poor luck with the project would persist and attempts in 1909 and 1910 to partner with different photographers would prove fruitless due to his partners’ failures to produce or turn over completed work.

1912 proved to be a reversal of fortune for Fr. Rigge and his project with the arrival at Creighton of a scholastic named Alphonse R. Schmitt who had experience as a photographer. Mr. Schmitt and Fr. Rigge worked together in 1913 to capture twice a series of panoramic shots from the Creighton Observatory. The first attempt proved to be another setback as a result of wind conditions, but the second produced a series of eight shots looking in the cardinal directions and their halfway points.  After the lines used plotting coordinates on the celestial sphere were added to the sky of these images, they were reprinted in Popular Astronomy in 1914.

Over a two-day period in June of 1915 Fr. Rigge and Mr. Schmitt finally reached the culmination of Rigge’s 37-year dream. On the 7th and 8th of the month from atop the tower of Creighton Hall they took a series of 12 photographs carefully spaced to allow for enough overlap to enable the creation of the panorama shot Rigge had long desired.



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