On the Road to Madness

 Until that moment in the public library in Lawrence Kansas when a record came up online that my great aunt Jessie Hutchison had my father W. Lon Hutchison committed to the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital, I had no idea that he had suffered from mental illness. I had only heard vague mention from my mother of narcotics in my father’s past.

I was shaking, when the records came up on my laptop of my father being committed by his aunt to the state mental hospital. I had never heard of the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital nor the town of Vinita, where it is located.  The records were a blast from a past and from a place that were unknown to me. How could I have ever known or even heard about the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital in Vinita?

I don’t think even my mother knew about my father being committed to the state mental hospital by his own family. She once told me that he was bitter about his family but she thought it was because he had been disinherited by his siblings.

My friends in Lawrence, Kansas, where I was staying, had a road atlas. I looked up Vinita. There it was. Almost due south from Lawrence. I rented a car and left for Oklahoma the next day. It was a straight shot down a narrow two-lane road through the Kansas plains to Vinita, Oklahoma. A pleasant drive with very little traffic.

I easily found the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital just outside the town of Vinita. I drove around on the road bordering the brick buildings. The state mental hospital has an extensive, imposing campus, with no trespassing signs and a tall fence to keep people out. It had been shut down several years before.

Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital                       Vinita, Oklahoma

How was I going to find out anything about my father’s time here? Would I find any clues about how he got out? Being committed to a state mental institution is often a life sentence, without parole.

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Your comments are always most welcome. 

Have you had any family members committed to a state mental hospital? 

Note:  I have another blog dedicated to my mother at https://www.bettehutchisonsilver.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

Abandoned, Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital

I’d come to the MidWest, USA to research events in my father’s life for the novel I was writing, Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time. I found very disturbing information while searching online at the public library in Lawrence Kansas. 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.

The documents Aunt Jessie submitted to have him committed included a letter from the warden at the Federal Medical Center for Defective Delinquents in Springfield, Missouri. After being transferred from the Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, my father had served the remainder of his prison sentence for narcotics at the Medical Center in Springfield.

Court document Tulsa Oklahoma certifying W. Lon Hutchison as insane

The letter from the warden was as follows: “Lon is suffering from hallucinations, believes he’s been to heaven and back and is ordained to save mankind. It is necessary to feed him with a tube because he thinks all food is unclean and from the devil, except for milk. It will be necessary for him to go to a mental hospital for further treatment until he can be placed on his own. “

I had heard stories from my mother of my father being in prison for narcotics. That didn’t upset me. When I read the warden’s letter about my father’s delusions and the fact that his own aunt had him committed to the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital, I broke down completely.

I was struck down by the terrible pain of being rejected by his family and sent to the mental hospital -a place to dump the indigent, the poor, the aged, the neglected, the unwanted. Most people would never get out. I sat in a comfortable chair in the Lawrence Kansas Public Library and cried. I was shaking all over. No one in the library paid any attention.

The visit to the public library in Lawrence, Kansas was the lowest point in my search for information about my father. How could he have survived? How did he manage to get out of the mental hospital? How much did he have to keep hidden in later life from everyone, including his wife, my mother?

Postcard of Eastern Oklahoma State Mental     Hospital, Vinita, Oklahoma

I left the library and walked up and down in the park, trying to pull myself together to drive back to my friends’ house. I wasn’t sure I could remember the way down the country roads, which had no names or signs. I made it back but until the next day, I couldn’t tell my friends what I had found.

On the road: Back in the USA

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.

A Really Big Fish

What made me return to writing Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, a novel about my father? I suspended the search for information about my father almost as soon as I started in 2011 after my mother’s death in Kansas City, Missouri.  I did send out freedom of Information requests, some emails and phone calls. When nothing came up, I gave up. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to find out more.

In 2014, I left Nairobi, Kenya where I had been living off and on since 1998. My partner and I moved back to Canberra, Australia, where he had grown up. I took some writing courses and workshops at the University of Canberra. I published a book of poems and sketches, Silence Spoken (available on www.lulu.com). I was not yet committed to researching and writing about my father’s life. Continue reading “A Really Big Fish”

Self-made Man

How can someone reconcile with their father decades after his death? The book I’m working on Tracking the Human: nobody is a long time is fiction based on events in the life of my father W. Lon Hutchison. The only clues I have about his life are documented intersections with the United States legal system. I have followed these clues to come closer to someone I never knew, although I lived with him for 18 years.

When my father died in 1971 in Kansas City, I learned about his death six months later.

I was camping on a beach in Northern California when a friend came running down the hill to our tent. We just received a message from your mother. Your father has died.

My father was an impossible being, a man without a past, without a family, who sprang full grown into Christian Science as a successful businessman. That’s how he presented himself to the world.

He was formidable, tough and unforgiving. No one crossed him. If they did, he never ever forgave them. I felt suffocated by Christian Science, the religion of my father and his constant push to make money.

Unless I accepted his worldview, I was out. So at age twenty, I was cast out of the family by my father.

Why fiction? Because a different truth lies in stories where point of view is acknowledged – where readers can draw their own conclusions and think about what happened or might have happened.

Do you think fiction can reveal truths?

Do you think fiction can reveal more than non-fiction?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It began with a death

Welcome to family and fiction, my blog about the novel I’m writing about my father’s life, Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time.

It began with a death. My mother. Death opens up old stories and new possibilities as well as family dissension and conflict. My mother died 1 March 2011, peacefully in her bed, on her sleeping porch, in her house in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

I was with her. She opened her eyes, looked at me. I smiled and said I love you Mom, and she was gone.

Notice the beaded bracelet she’s wearing that spells out KENYA.

After my mother’s death in Kansas City in 2011, I poked around in her attic to see what I could find. Her attic was a secret place, where people didn’t go – too hot in summer, too cold in winter, no insulation. The attic was only accessible through a pull-down ladder in the upstairs hall of her house.

Rummaging around in the attic, I found documents buried beneath keepsakes in a cedar chest. The documents I found started an off and on research project to learn more about my father’s life.

I had heard fleeting words from my mother that my father had been in prison for narcotics.

I went to the National Archives in Kansas City to see what I could find. At first nothing. BUT a document I found in my mother’s attic had listed aliases my father had used. Stephen Spence, an archivist tried to help me trace down my father through the aliases.

My father had been imprisoned at the Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth Kansas, but there were no further records relating to his incarceration. Fort Leavenworth was divided into a military fort and a federal prison… establishing an annex which had to be used when there were thousands being picked up by the “war on drugs” in the 1930’s. Spence suggested he could have been in the Federal Penitentiary Annex and gave me contacts for further information.

I tried emails, letters, and phone calls to get more information about my father’s incarceration in the Federal Penitentiary, but it led nowhere. I returned to Nairobi, Kenya (where I was living at the time), and put aside looking for information about my father. The life I was living in Nairobi was more compelling. Let sleeping dogs lie, I thought to myself.

I did start a blog in memory of my mother, BetteHutchisonSilver@ wordpress.com

Nothing more happened for a few years. I just couldn’t face it. I had other priorities at the time. Something made me change my mind. Find out in the next post.

Thanks for reading my blog.  Your comments are always welcome!

Reconciliation with a dead man

Welcome to my blog about the process of writing Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, the book I’m working on.

Before I started this process, I assumed that I could live a self-contained life, within the family I had developed. I thought that I did not, could not, relate to my birth family. I was a “self made” person, who had escaped the limitations of middle class life in the suburban Mid West, USA.

The research and writing process has changed me. Reconciliation is possible and even necessary with my birth family, even after death. The focus of the book is my father. My goal is reconciliation with a dead man, my father, W. Lon Hutchison, who died in 1971.

In this blog I will share paths I follow to change the future of my family by plunging into the past. The journey is painful and challenging.

I hope the blog and the book will inspire people to work for reconciliation in their families. Reconciliation is still possible after death. Dive into it. Don’t be afraid of what you might find out about your family. Acceptance and forgiveness is always possible.

I invite you to share stories about writing and working for family reconciliation or books that have inspired you to work for reconciliation.

Thanks for coming along.

Your comments are always welcome!