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 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.

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?

 

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.