Oklahoma OK

Previous to this trip researching about my father’s life for my novel, Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, I had never spent time in Oklahoma. Whenever I heard the word “Oklahoma”, I thought of the musical.

Oklahoma! is the first musical written by the well-known team of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical is set in Oklahoma Indian Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906. The original Broadway production of Oklahoma! opened on March 31, 1943 and was a box-office smash. (source: Wikipedia).

One summer during my childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, my parents bought season tickets to the Starlight Theatre in Swope Park. Starlight Theatre has an outdoor stage and seating. It has operated continuously since 1951. Having been renovated several times over the decades, Starlight currently has a capacity of about 8,000 people.  I saw Oklahoma!  at the Starlight Theatre.

https://www.kcstarlight.com

I consider myself tone deaf and have a poor memory for music. But somehow, even after many decades, I can still hear the lyrics of Oklahoma! somewhere inside my head.

The lyrics come bouncing back, instantaneously when anyone mentions the word Oklahoma.

Ohhhklahoma,
where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain
And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet

When the wind comes right behind the rain.

But I only remember the opening lines (above) and the ending

You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K.

As a child, I never thought much about Oklahoma as being the birthplace of my father, W. Lon Hutchison, and the home of my grandmother, Letha Yates. She was occasionally mentioned and even visited us once in Kansas City. There was never any mention of any grandfather, aunts or uncles.

For me, Oklahoma was a mythic place, based on the musical, much as Kansas is considered by some to be mythical based on the book, The Wizard of Oz.

Having visited a small corner of northeast Oklahoma looking for information about my father and his family, do I think I “know” Oklahoma? Of course not. The words of the musical are indelibly linked in my mind and have not been erased or subsumed by my visit.

 

 “Little Italy” Krebs, Oklahoma

In Tulsa Oklahoma in the 1925 probate records of my grandfather, E.S. Hutchison (the murdered “Love Pirate”), I discovered that W. Lon Hutchison, my father, the firstborn child, had been disinherited by his father. Many decades later, my father did the same to his firstborn child – me. In this family history, I found a pattern of revenge and rejection that I want to change.

That’s why I went on this journey – to uncover the mysteries of my father’s life as a basis for reconciliation. The journey has an end point: writing a novel, Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, based on events in my father’s life.

Continuing my search for information, I left Tulsa, Oklahoma and drove to Krebs. I could hardly tell where the larger town of McAlester Oklahoma ended and the tiny town of Krebs began, except for a sign, The City of Krebs welcomes you.

My father was born in Krebs in 1907, when Oklahoma was still Indian Territory. Today Krebs is a very small town in what was once coal country.

The population of Krebs is about 2,000. Because of several restaurants and a specialized grocery story, Krebs has chosen the nickname “Little Italy”.

According to Wikipedia, Krebs was founded in the late 1800s. The first post office was established in 1886. The town began as a coal-mining camp, housing European immigrants who came to work in the mines.

Street scene, Krebs, Oklahoma

On January 7, 1892, an explosion in the Osage Coal & Mining Company’s No. 11 mine killed 100 workers and injured another 150.

Here’s a photo of the memorial to that explosion listing all those killed in the coal mine explosion.

I visited the Krebs Heritage Museum, a hodgepodge of stuff from peoples’ attics. I found a record of the birth of the Gilpin girls – my grandma’s maiden name, but nothing more. I bought a tee shirt of the Krebs Heritage Museum and went to look for a cheap motel to spend the night.

 

The next day I left Krebs to drive back to Vinita to find out if the woman at the Forensic Center had found any records relating to my dad… She hadn’t.

Weary of travel and digging for information, feeling somewhat frustrated, I drove back to my friends’ home, outside Lawrence, Kansas.

Talking to the Dead

I had gone to the Tulsa County Court House to try to find out more about my grandfather’s killer. Instead at an annex, I found probate records of my grandfather’s estate. I was surprised by the size of my grandfather’s estate, (over $200,000, a sizable fortune in 1925) and that he had disinherited his first born child, my father.

Disappointed that I hadn’t been able to find out more about my grandfather’s killer, my next stop was nearby – the Roseville Cemetery.

Through online records I found out that my father had been buried at the Roseville Cemetery. I got there while the cemetery was open, but the office was closed. In the very extensive grounds, I could not find my family’s burial plot. There was no guiding information posted. It would have to wait for the next day.

Hutchison plot, Roseville Cemetery, Tulsa, Oklahoma

The next morning, the office was open and I got directions to my family’s burial plot. With some difficulty, I eventually found the Hutchison family plot. The Hutchison plot was  right next to the Purdy family plot, which was the surname of my grandfather’s killer.

I avoid cemeteries and have never attended a funeral, but I stayed awhile, talking out loud with everyone who is buried there, including my dad. There were gravestones for my grandfather, grandmother, great uncle, uncle, aunt and my father.

Gravestone of my grandfather, the murdered “Love Pirate”

I went from grave to grave, greeting each person. I spoke with each of them and shared what I was doing. I told them I was researching my father’s history to understand the man I didn’t know and that I was writing a novel, Tracking the Human, based on events in his life. I explained to them that my project was a work in progress for reconciliation for all of us.

Gravestone of my father

Driving out of the Rosehill Cemetery, I noticed a gun shop and firing range directly across the street.

Gun shop across the street from Roseville Cemetery

My next stop would be Krebs, Oklahoma, a very small town just outside McAlester Oklahoma, where my father was born in 1907. I had no particular leads, but thought I would go and take a look at his birthplace.

Love Pirate plans South Sea Honeymoon

In search of information about my father W. Lon Hutchison and his family, for my novel, Tracking the Human, I went to the archives of the Tulsa Oklahoma Public Library.

Shocking discovery: my grandfather E.S. Hutchison was shot and killed by a jealous husband on 14 January 1925 in front of the Tulsa Oklahoma post office.

The Love Pirate story (my grandfather’s nickname assigned by the newspaper) continues three days later on the front page of the Tulsa Daily World on January 18, 1925.

Headline: South Sea Honeymoon New Life in New Land Denied to Mrs Purdy.   “She and Hutchison had planned to marry in St Louis and sail in a few days for South America to start life anew….A silver honeymoon upon blue southern seas. Eternal romance. In the fragrant balm of the tropics. Forgotten troubles. New friends of a new world. These were lost to Mrs. Helen Paul Purdy Tuesday night. In their stead the whisperings of a thousand gossips and the shouts of a thousand newsboys in a hundred cities came to mock her. ”

In the news story, according to Mrs. Purdy, she and my grandfather were planning to get married in two weeks and then relocate to somewhere in South America.

The events surrounding the shooting of my grandfather E. S. Hutchison in front of the post office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, would be almost unbelievable in a television soap opera.

The next blog will share more about the aftermath of his murder.

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

Searching for an obituary, Tulsa Oklahoma

The shock of finding out that my father W. Lon Hutchison had been committed to the Eastern Oklahoma State Hospital at Vinita by his own aunt in 1934 was somewhat softened with time and travel. I had never been to Oklahoma and was learning to use the GPS on my iPhone for the first time.

I drove to Tulsa from Vinita. I had an appointment with a research librarian made by email. Tulsa is the second largest city in Oklahoma. For most of the 20th century, the city called itself the “Oil Capital of the World”.

Tulsa has an exceedingly complex maze of overlapping freeways. I made a few wrong turns. I was thankful that the GPS on my phone redirected me. I found my way to the annex where the Tulsa Public Library archives were stored.

I had sent emails to the librarian that I was looking for information about my grandfather, E.S. Hutchison. Through cemetery records online, I found out that he had died in Tulsa in 1925. Although I was focusing on my father’s life, I thought that finding information about my grandfather might help me understand what happened to my father and why he never talked about his birth family.

The librarian opened up the microfiche of the Tulsa Daily World  newspaper to the year 1925 to look for my grandfather’s obituary. The librarian advised me to be patient, that it might take some time before I would find anything about him.

I sat down at the microfiche machine, rolling past the first days of the headlines of January 1925. I prepared myself for a long, patient search for information about my grandfather. What I found, within a few minutes, was shocking to me and to the research librarian assisting me.

Read about what I found in my next blog.

Please share any moments of research shock you may have had.

Thanks. See you in my next blog about the Love Pirate.

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.

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.