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A troll prequel: Origin story will add to 'the folklore of Omar'

A troll prequel: Origin story will add to 'the folklore of Omar'

Soon, Kerrey Bridge visitors will be able to scan a code on his new walking stick to watch backstory

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A troll prequel: Origin story will add to 'the folklore of Omar'

An interactive story will follow Omar's growth from a diaper-wearing toddler to a headband-ocking teen to an adult who arrives in Omaha. The troll, it is said, started life as a raindrop.

Omar, the 300-pound blue troll that guards Omaha's Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, is getting an origin story.

It turns out he started life as a raindrop. How a raindrop grew into the goofy blue behemoth that calls Omaha home will be explained in a virtual addition to the troll sculpture.

Later this month or sometime in October, Omar is expected to be joined by a concrete walking stick sculpture that will feature a QR code that can be scanned by a smartphone or tablet.

The code will take visitors to omarthetroll.com, where they can watch an interactive, virtual story that follows Omar's journey from a raindrop to a diaper-wearing toddler to a headband-rocking teenager to an adult who arrives in Omaha.

The 4-foot-tall, blue-haired troll with three toes on each foot arrived beneath the Bob a year ago. He was commissioned by Visit Omaha, or the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau, to spur engagement and excitement about the riverfront pedestrian bridge.

People love to sit by Omar, sneak a hug or take a selfie with him. But Deborah Ward, interim executive director of Visit Omaha, said visitors sometimes want to know more about the statue's origins.

"We thought we could create a full backstory that could add to the folklore of Omar," Ward said.

Ward noted that the story is best viewed with the sound on because it includes rhyming passages that accompany the illustrated graphics.

The interactive story allows people to slide back and forth through four different scenes with moving clouds, buzzing bees, jumping fish and a "magical cloud" that directs the troll in the direction of Nebraska's biggest city.

Visit Omaha will pay for the walking stick and the interactive story with a $68,200 Douglas County Visitors Improvement Fund grant, which by law must be used for the development of tourist attractions.

Ward said the organization began planning the Omar upgrades in 2019. The grant disbursement is subject to Omaha City Council approval.

The virtual experience includes closed captioning, a map featuring other Omaha attractions and a link to the Omaha Savings Pack, which offers discounts to local attractions. Omar is short for Omaha Metro Area River troll.

It also provides a link where people can purchase "Omar Finds a Home," a book in which the troll travels to different spots in the city. The books have been distributed to third grade classrooms in several area school districts.

Omar has helped students of different cultural backgrounds learn more about Omaha, Visit Omaha says. Some local districts have used Omar's book to introduce parts of the city to students who don't speak English.

Three signs on the bridge have codes that link to existing videos that feature the troll. Visit Omaha is working to translate those videos into Spanish.

Officials estimate that in 2019, about 1 million people used the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. That figure is based on a count by the city's Parks and Recreation Department, Ward said.

Snapchat users can pull up a special filter that will give them spiky blue hair and a scruffy beard to match Omar's look. In the first three months of Omar's existence, about 3,300 Snapchat users shared a snap with the filter, Visit Omaha said.

Omar greets visitors from a grassy area near one of the bridge's pillars north of the National Park Service building. He sits atop a concrete cottage designed by Michael Torres, who also is designing the walking stick. The bronze troll was sculpted by John Lajba.

At the conclusion of Omar's new interactive story, visitors learn that rubbing one of the troll's toes will bring good luck. Ward said Visit Omaha employees had noticed that the paint had rubbed off some of the toes, so they incorporated it into the story. Because people already were doing it, she said, officials decided, "Let's make it a thing."

reece.ristau@owh.com, 402-444-1127, @reecereports

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