Nebraska August 11, 2019
The Strange Story Of This Little Nebraska Town Is Almost Too Crazy To Believe
Every town has its story, some more fantastical than others. The former town of Paplin, Nebraska has an interesting history involving a miraculous story, a year of tragedy, and people who refuse to give up on it, even today.
The tiny former town of Paplin, in Howard County, began its life like any other rural Nebraska town when it was founded in 1883. Sadly, it was abandoned a relatively short time later when the railroad's route was not laid nearby. This modern photo shows what's left of the town: the fellowship hall, the cemetery, a few farms, and the historic Our Lady of Mount Carmel church.
Today, the church looks like many other rural churches; a bit worse for wear but lovingly maintained by those who are determined to protect it.
In the late 19th century, this beautiful double-steeple structure beckoned area residents to Sunday mass each week.
But in 1888, the town feared for the future of this lovely building. Legend has it that a tornado blew the church right off of its foundations. Before the townspeople could fix the damage, another strong storm blew it right back to where it had been.
Locals called it a miracle. While some are skeptical about the tale, people from the area are quick to tell them it's absolutely true. Indeed, the church's foundation does show signs of long-ago repairs.
Not long after the church incident, the town suffered a tragic loss in 1892-1893. A diphtheria epidemic struck hard, killing approximately 100 children. The victims were buried in unmarked graves in the church's cemetery; today, a granite gravestone memorializes these little lost souls.
The diocese attempted to decommission Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1974. Strong-willed locals pushed back (even going so far as to change the locks on the building so the bishop couldn't get in) and were able to keep their beloved church.
Today, only one mass is held here every year, in the summer around the time of the Feast of Mount Carmel. But the spirit of community is still alive and well; a local group is committed to maintaining the structure for generations to come.
To learn more about the “Little Church That Could,” and to find out how you can help keep it going, read
this article from the Friends of Paplin.
To read about another Nebraska town with a fascinating history, check out
this article from the archives.