Eastern Trails Museum

I had found my way to Vinita, Oklahoma, to search for  more information about my father W. Lon Hutchison who had been committed in 1934 to the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital by his aunt. In search of family reconciliation, long after his death, I am writing a novel Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, about events in my father’s life.

I had gone to the public library in Vinita to find out more information and searched through a file of clippings about the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital.

Next to the library was the Eastern Trails Museum. The Museum is made up of memorabilia, organized into sections, including kitchen, general store, post office, media, Civil War, ranching, Native Americans.

I have no idea why a museum in Oklahoma would be called “Eastern Trails”. Perhaps because it is located in Eastern Oklahoma?

Samples of exhibits at the Eastern Trails Museum:

Cowboy and ranching gear, including collection  of barbed wire

 

 

 

Exhibit of Native American crafts

 

 

 

 

There was no display of the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital, although it had been the largest employer in the county from the opening in 1913 until its closure in the late 1990’s. Perhaps not surprising. What community would want to publicize a state mental hospital?  Volunteers who run the Eastern Trails Museum said that they would like to help but could come up with nothing but a sketch of the buildings at the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital.

Drawing of the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital complex

The people in Vinita were friendly, but it was mostly a cold trail. Onward.

Next stop? Tulsa Oklahoma, the second largest city in Oklahoma. I had contacted the Tulsa Public Library by email to ask for help from the research librarians.

Get your kicks on Route 66

I had driven from Lawrence, Kansas, straight south to the town of Vinita, Oklahoma.

Vinita was the home of the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital, where in 1934, my great aunt Jessie Hutchison had her nephew, my father W. Lon Hutchison, committed. I had only discovered this disturbing fact a few days before, while searching online at the Lawrence, Kansas public library. I drove from Lawrence to Vinita to find out more.

On its website, Vinita, Oklahoma describes itself:

With a population of nearly 5,700 friendly and 2 awfully ornery residents, Vinita is a wonderful city that is deeply dedicated to merging a very proud pioneer and Native American heritage with modern conveniences and amenities. . . it is nestled in northeast Oklahoma between Joplin, Missouri and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Main Street, Vinita, Oklahoma

Vinita is proud of being on Route 66 known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, established in 1926, which was one of the original highways within the USA highway system. Children, growing up in the Mid West in the 1950’s like me, all had heard the song Get Your Kicks on Route 66.

I went to the local public library. The librarian gave me a file of newspaper clippings about the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital. Here’s the first paragraph from the Vinita Daily Chieftain January 29, 1913 about the opening of the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital in 1913.

Newspaper clipping from the Vinita Daily Chieftain, January 29, 1913

“Three hundred persons, bereft of their mind, arrived in this city yesterday afternoon from Norman (Oklahoma) to become inmates and patients in the state’s new home and hospital for such unfortunates. An effort was made to bring them to their new home quietly… but the news of the arrival spread rapidly and the special train was barely away from the station before the ever morbidly curious crowds were on their way at break neck paces, afoot, in buggies, automobiles and horseback to the spur east of town where they were unloaded.”

Have you ever traveled on Route 66?

Have you been to Vinita, Oklahoma?

Were any of your relatives ever in the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital?

Your comments are most welcome.  Thank you!

 

 

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.

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!

Lost without a title

Trying to write a novel without a title overwhelmed me. I was in the process of writing and preparing to publish a novel based on events in the life of my father, W. Lon Hutchison, from his birth in 1907 in Indian Territory, soon to become the state of Oklahoma, to his death in 1971 in Kansas City, Missouri, when the title of my book  Life Expectancy abandoned me.

What had I done so far?

And writing is  always far… in time, in work, in travel, in research… very far.

I researched on location and in libraries in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, the National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri, Oakland, and San Francisco, California.

I wrote and rewrote chapter by chapter with feedback from a monthly writers’ group. I researched small independent publishers of fiction in the USA who accept queries. I was ready to start my blog and send the queries.

When I lost the title Life Expectancy (because it had already been used by best-selling author Dean Koontz), I came to a full stop.

Stuck.

I had to change the title and lost confidence in the book project. The project no longer a part of me and what I was doing. The book felt removed, intellectualized. The writing not good enough for me to continue so better to drop it. The blogs I had drafted were in disarray and out of sequence. My life and thoughts moved on but I had not brought the book and the blogs along with me.

Stuck.

Has this happened to you?

How did you get unstuck?

How will I find a title and the energy to restart this book project?

Did you have difficulty with a title?

How important is a title to a book project?

Your comments are most welcome.