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!

 

 

Jammed

Researching about my father’s life for my novel Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, I was shocked to discover he had been committed by his aunt to the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital.

I drove to Vinita, Oklahoma and found the abandoned mental hospital. With no intention to trespass, I parked near the entrance gate to take photos. Within minutes, a man drove up and told me photos were not allowed. I asked why but got no answer. I explained that my dad had been a patient at the mental hospital. The man suggested I go to the Forensic Center, a small concrete block building near by, to ask if they had any information about my father.

At the Forensic Center, I waited, standing in a cold stark entry hall with no chairs. The receptionist called a clerk, who asked why I was there. She seemed somewhat surprised to meet anyone asking for information. I explained I was looking for records about my father who had been a patient of the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital. She wrote down his name, W. Lon Hutchison, when he was at the hospital (1934-1937), and disappeared behind a closed door.

I paced the floor in the grey, cold, empty hall. I was all alone. The receptionist had disappeared. The clerk returned to the lobby telling me she had found something about my father on microfiche. I was very excited and eager to hear whatever she had found. She hesitated and then said the machine had jammed and she couldn’t read the record. She said it might take several days to get the machine fixed. Although frustrated that I had come so close to finding something, there was nothing I could do but thank her and say I would return in a few days.

Now that I was in Vinita, I decided to look around and see if I could find any information related to my father.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Respect for Elders

I found a new title, or it found me during a poetry festival: Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time.  Now back to writing 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.

Begin again… my father was a man with many secrets. The legacy of secrecy and revenge goes back to past generations and forward to current and emerging generations.

Where I live in Canberra Australia, every public event begins with respect for elders, (referring to Indigenous peoples in Australia ). We recognize that we are standing on Ngunnawal land and extend our respect to their elders, past present and emerging . Respect for elders is fundamental to the Aboriginal cultures of Australia, extending back at least 65,000 years.

Growing up, I was not able to respect my elders. How is respect established? What about transparency as is often heralded in the shady, sloppy world of politicians? There was no transparency in our family. Not by parents or children. On all sides, hiding and /or lies. My father was hiding his past. My mother was whingeing about lack of love from her mother and disgust for her stepfather. My father said nothing at all about his birth family, even when his sister moved to Kansas City, Missouri and became friends with my mom.

My father was a self-made businessman, although there is really no such thing as self-made… who can make themselves? Impossible. My father’s religion, Christian Science, was about individual discipline. According to Christian Science, There is no life, truth, nor intelligence in matter. All is infinite mind and its infinite manifestation. As a Christian Scientist, a person lives in their mind and the body will follow.

Through fiction I will build respect for my elders, reconcile my family and develop forgiveness. In this blog I will share my search for reconciliation.

Growing up, did you respect your elders? Was that built in to your culture? Did your parents share family stories with you?