In 2016, inspired by the ending of the film Big Fish to tell my father’s story so he could be immortal, I decided to research the life of my father, W. Lon Hutchison. I started writing a novel Tracking the Human; nobody’s a long time, based on events in his life. To carry out the research, I had to return to the Mid West USA, from Canberra, Australia, where I was living.
With my mother’s death in 2011 our family “home base” in Kansas City had been sold and reimagined by the new owners, going from being bright pumpkin orange trimmed in turquoise to being repainted all white with a picket fence.
Without my mom’s house, whose screened-in front porch had been a meeting place for the neighborhood, I had to find somewhere to stay. I wanted to be with people I knew and felt comfortable with. I was fearful that this would be a challenging project, quite different from past research that I had done for university assignments and educational programs. I anticipated needing emotional backup.
My friends, Linda and David, who live outside Lawrence, Kansas, home of the University of Kansas, welcomed me.
As it was a weekend and the National Archives in Kansas City were not yet open, I went to the public library in Lawrence, pleased that I found my way to the library on the back country road that didn’t show on maps.
Lawrence Kansas has a beautiful public library. I went upstairs, sat down in a comfortable chair in a quiet glassed-in corner, overlooking a park, and started searching for documents using the free wifi.
I can’t remember what search engine or terms I used, but what came up was so shocking that I could barely read it through my tears.
In 1934, my great aunt Jessie Hutchison went to court in Tulsa, Oklahoma to have my father, W. Lon Hutchison committed to the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital in Vinita. Once committed, many people never left. The state mental hospitals were where the unwanted people were dumped.