The State Capitol BuildingThe State Capitol Building

from Ghost Stories of America Volume I
by Dan Asfar

No one is really sure exactly when it began, but over the last few decades, the sound of a lone man sobbing atop the State Capitol Building in Lincoln, Nebraska, has become something of an attraction. People have been coming up to the observation deck on the dome of Nebraska’s state capitol for years. School field trips, tourists, couples on dates and people just looking to kill a day—countless observers have taken in the view of Lincoln sprawling below the legislature building’s dome. But locals’ attention started being diverted from the vista of the corn husker capital city when they began hearing a faint weeping. It was a strange sound, clear if one listened carefully enough, but somehow distant, as if heard from the end of a long tunnel. Yet the soulful wails seemed to be coming from all around—very near, yet unfathomably distant. The first people to hear the cries thought that someone on the observation deck was in trouble, but thorough searches of the walkway on the dome never yielded a thing.

Word spread that there was an invisible weeper on the top of the Capitol Building, and more visitors started to appear on the dome, straining their ears for a trace of a sound. To be sure, there were many who didn’t hear the sounds but enough could discern the piteous cries coming from the very air, and the tale of the sobs on the Capitol Building began to gain currency.

It was not long before the human need to explain the inexplicable sent the curious to the newspaper archives and history books, where it was discovered that there is more to Nebraska’s Capitol Building than policy debate and legislation. Indeed, enough tragedy has transpired there to make a grown man cry, or enough to send a wayward spirit into tears, anyway.

In the frigid December of 1968, a single man was strapped into a rope harness, hanging from a cord tied to the Capitol’s dome. He was engaged in what was probably the least enviable yuletide duty in all of Lincoln: stringing up Christmas lights on the rounded roof of the Capitol Building. Dangling from a rope on a dome 13 stories above ground in a brisk winter wind, the man was not happy about his current place in the world; in fact, he was petrified.

It was horrible work, and no one in Lincoln was too eager to volunteer for the service. So it became a tradition to offer the job to inmates at the state penitentiary. Those who signed up for the task were usually looked on favorably on their next parole board review. That was until 1968, when the last convict was to perform the yearly ritual.

No one knows for certain if the convict had a weak heart or if he suffered from an inordinate fear of heights, but the prison guard who was watching over the man as he crawled across the dome was struck by how slowly he was moving. His steps, short and tentative, were so pathetic the guard stuck his head out onto the roof to see what the problem was. It was then, in the dim moonlight, that he saw the look on the man’s face. There was no question the prisoner was struggling with a debilitating terror. His face was contorted into tearful horror as he tried, unsuccessfully, to contain mortified sobs. The guard did not have a chance to say a word to his stricken ward. In the next instant, the man’s entire body convulsed violently and he looked suddenly surprised, as if hit with a sudden realization; a moment later, he was dead. The coroner’s report revealed that the convict had suffered a massive heart attack as he hung from that rope, unable to deal with what must have been a virulent fear of heights.

Many have linked this convict’s fear-filled demise with the mysterious sobbing on the observation deck. It is believed that the terror this man felt during his last moments was so intense, it somehow engraved itself into a psychic space on the dome. As a result, these sobs, the plaintive expression of the convict’s mortal dread, are forever being replayed, faintly heard in the material realm by visitors to the Capitol Building today.

The other prevalent theory regarding the sobbing on the dome involves an event that took place in the late 1950s, when a heartbroken Nebraskan wandered up the legislative building right after breaking up with his girlfriend. Today, the long spiral staircase he walked up to get to the roof is closed to the public, barred by a wired gate that is usually locked. The staircase has been restricted for many years; it does not have a central support beam, so a person leaning too far over the inside rail could fall, unobstructed, for 13 stories. This is precisely what happened to the poor man who stumbled up the staircase in a desperate attempt to rise above his troubles. Some say he jumped once he reached the top, others believe he tumbled over the rail accidentally. Whatever the case, he fell from the very top, plummeting the 13 stories and dying instantly when he hit the ground. The staircase was sealed off soon after. Could the weeping be this man’s sorrowful moans just before he fell to his death?

With these two tragedies to pick from, no one is sure exactly who is sobbing at the top of the Capitol Building. But there is even more unsettling information regarding Lincoln’s legislative building. It is rumored that long before Nebraska was settled, local American Indians considered the hill the building is constructed upon hallowed ground. Many people claim to have felt a horrible chill in the lowest floors of the Capitol Building and are haunted by a distinct sense that they shouldn’t be there. Those who have experienced this feeling in the basement have never again been comfortable anywhere in the legislature. It was as if they were told by some inaudible voice that they were not welcome there—that they would never be welcome. Perhaps, then, the entire Capitol Building is haunted, charged with the negative energy of disconsolate Indian spirits, upset by the fact that their holy ground has not been treated with the proper respect. Maybe it is this negative energy that gives voice to the miserable spirits who lost their lives on the top floor, who continue to sob out of mortal fear or inconsolable heartbreak, sending futile wails into an indifferent Nebraska sky.

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You have been reading an excerpt from Ghost Stories of America Volume I.
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