Neighbors react after Hanscom Park gazebo destroyed by arson

Three fires were set, one of them destroying the park’s beloved, decades-old gazebo.
Neighbors in Hanscom Park are upset about an alleged arson fire.
Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 10:42 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha Fire investigators are looking into what appears to have been an arson at Hanscom Park Monday morning.

Three fires were set, one of them destroying the park’s beloved, decades-old gazebo.

“It’s just heartbreaking because it’s such a beautiful thing, and it’s just sad we can’t have nice things,” says Dawn Harpster, who lived in the Hanscom Park neighborhood for years.

As a photographer, Harpster returns to the park often to help families, and students take photos. On Saturday, she was taking senior school photos of her niece.

“This is one of my favorite places to shoot because there are so many beautiful places,” Harpster says about the park. “We usually start over at the Ford birth site, come over here, shoot in front of the flowers, and end up here at the gazebo and take nice pictures.”

Harpster had no idea that Saturday would be the last time she took photos at the park’s gazebo. It was burned to the ground early Monday morning.

“It’s sad because so many people use this, every time I’m here, I see people coming out here to sit for pictures or hang out in the gazebo because it’s shaded and it’s in such a pretty area.”

The fire set to the gazebo appears to have been intentional — the Omaha fire department also extinguished a fire set to a brush pile and tall grass at the park too.

“Public spaces are for everyone to enjoy and as I said, a selfish act like this to take something away from so many people, not just the park, it’s not just a nameless, faceless, entity, it’s the neighborhood, people coming to walk their dogs, or people just coming out to enjoy the fresh air. you know, you’ve taken something away and that’s really not fair,” Harpster adds.

“My initial reaction was holy cow!” says long-time Hanscom Park neighbor Tom Johnson.

Johnson is a member of the Hanscom Park Neighborhood Association and found out about the fire late Monday morning.

“This one has been here for so long that it just like any of the trees in the park, just something that everybody knew was going to be there and to not have it there anymore is just kind of...different,” he says.

Over the years, Johnson has hoped to bring more events to Hanscom Park, including music in the park. He’s choosing to look at the positive side of the gazebo fire and is hopeful the neighborhood and city can come together to create a new, more modern gazebo or facility to host larger events at.

“I’m tossing around if we build a new one, of calling it the Phoenix because it rises from the ashes,” Johnson says with a chuckle.

Anyone with information about the fire should call the Omaha Fire Department Arson Hotline at 402-444-5700.