History records the Chinese using oil from snakes to alleviate joint pain, but with the coming of the patent medicine man, snake oil took on a different connotation: fraud and fakery.
The traveling elixir peddlers sold their medicines with the promise of cures for practically everything that ails you.
Seventy-five years ago on April 3, 1938, The Oklahoman reported the story of rattlesnake hunter Herb Pinack of Medicine Park.
“He seeks out the dens of the rattlesnakes, kills them and collects the fat from the sides of the rattlesnakes. From this fat he renders an oil which has been known for years for its medical qualities.”
“From the time of the medicine shows when the wandering doctors went through the country selling their remedies, snake oil has been known as a healer of rheumatism, toothache, earache and other aches for which penetrating oil will give relief. Rattlesnake oil, according to Pinack, is one of the most penetrating oils that have ever been found and a small amount rubbed into a joint sore with rheumatism or dropped into an ear will give quick relief. He sells the oil for $20 an ounce, but a small amount will last the winter for an average family.”
On a sunny Sunday, reporter Helen Gilbert met Pinack and his wife in the Wichita Mountains to hunt rattlesnakes.
“I saw two people wandering among the rocks on a ledge above me and calling up to them I asked if they were hunting rabbits. They yelled back. “No we are looking for rattlesnake.” I had seen a posted sign on a fence that I had just crossed and when Pinack answered that he was looking for rattlesnake I thought he was trying to scare me.”
“Soon, I came closer to Pinack and his wife and they invited me to join them. Still thinking the snakes were a joke, I trailed along and fell into conversation. Pinack told me how he had killed thousands of rattlesnakes in the 36 years that he had lived in the mountains and how he decided to make a hobby of killing them and collecting their oil.”
Herb Pinack located a den and killed six rattlesnakes.
“With his penknife, Pinack slit their skins, his knife making a slight raking sound as it cut through the scales. With deft fingers he pulled the fat from their sides and dropped it into a fruit jar which he brought along.”
Rattlesnake oil may truly just be snake oil, but as media continues to bring stories of the next great cure, and who knows, but real snake oil might be worth another look from scientists.
If you want to get out there and hunt your own, consider attending the Waurika Rattlesnake Hunt, April 12-14; the Apache Rattlesnake Festival, April 18-21; and the 48th Annual Mangum Rattlesnake Derby, April 26-28.
Here’s a story from The Oklahoman on Nov. 5, 1927, that begins with a life lesson.
“You can never tell what a tremendous bearing a sweet smile and a gentle disposition may have on your entire career.
“Consider for example, the case of Rex, the little brown guinea pig in the city chemist’s office, named after Rex Cleveland, city pure food inspector.
“Several weeks ago when ten little guinea pigs, the world’s most helpless animals, arrived at the chemist’s office Rex immediately showed signs of being friendly. While the other little pigs would scurry away in high terror when anyone approached their box, Rex plainly showed he was not afraid. He would walk boldly up and eat lettuce out of your hand, and he let it be known if you wanted to rub him behind the ears, it was alright with him. In fact he liked it.
“As a result, no diphtheria tests have been made upon Rex. While his little playmates suffer with sore throats and have high fevers, as result of inoculations, Rex just scampers about as happy as he can be, doing nothing all day but stuffing his little stomach with nice fresh lettuce and getting his ears rubbed.
“And that isn’t all. Employees of the chemist’s office have interceded for Rex, and he is soon to be taken to the city zoo where he will have a comfortable home for the rest of his life.
“Now, the moral is, if you’re a guinea pig, be a sweet little guinea pig.”
There was a follow-up on Dec. 17, 1927, reporting the arrival of Rex and two fellow guinea pigs at the zoo, with the note that they would soon be on display in a cage made especially for them.
Guinea pigs normally live four to eight years. There was no further mention of Rex, but we can guess he spent the rest of his life with fresh lettuce and a scratch behind the ears. Not a bad life at all.
In 1942, city roadhouse owner Billy Gragg opened a downtown dance hall at 7 N Broadway and named it the Daisy Mae after the character in the long-running comic strip, “Li’l Abner.”
Bragg said, “Girl attendants will dress as Daisy Mae, while fountain boys will appear as Li’l Abner.”
With World War II ongoing, Gragg decided female patrons must show their ration books to prove they were of legal drinking age.
With the police chief’s blessing, Gragg instituted a rule that men must show their draft cards to show they were 21, but he would serve the military regardless of age. ” … if he is big enough and old enough to carry a gun, he’s big enough and old enough to carry a glass of beer.”
On April 5, 1942, veteran Oklahoman writer Tom Rucker reported the Daisy Mae’s most memorable event.
The battle of Mrs. Mabel Bassett v. the Daisy Mae’s bare tummies closed its second round Tuesday night with no decision and the tummies still bare.
The complaining commissioner of charities and corrections was sidestepped in the first round, when the very male city council pointed out that city ordinances cover such things as bare tummies in a legal sort of way and referred her to the police department.
The second round opened with verbal sparring with L.J. Hilbert, police chief, and with Mrs. Bassett failing to land any telling body blows, but was brought to a sudden halt when Billy Gragg, owner of the honky-tonk, said in effect: “Bare they are, bare they stay.” His actual words were: “If anyone complains that the bare midriffs are vulgar, we’ll cover them up.” When it was pointed out that Mrs. Bassett already had complained, he gave out verbosely, but which boiled down in paraphrase to: “Anyone else.”
Mrs. Bassett claimed that up to six inches of anatomy of the Daisy Mae’s waitresses showed between halter and skirts.
A detailed examination of the midriff of one tall waitress made Tuesday afternoon (purely in the interest of facts, Lou Verna, my dear) revealed:
Two and one-half inches of slightly tanned, smooth skin between the upper and lower garments. If she breathed deeply the bare would have built up to four inches.
If the bare built up to six inches the inspection no longer would have been scientific.
This particular waitress, a charming 18-year-old blond, wore a polka-dot halter with a full back in it. It was tied in front with one of the ends drooping down, thus hiding at least one square inch of skin.
Her jagged skirt, a la Daisy Mae fashion, ended just below her knees, in a much less intriguing manner than the scanties worn in the comic strips by the real Daisy Mae.
Thus the score stood Tuesday night: Two rounds, no decision, eight tummies still bare.
Gragg has had several brushes with officials. An old hand in the entertainment business, he usually adopts a conciliatory attitude. But Tuesday he just wanted to ask more questions of Mrs. Bassett.
What, he asked, is Mrs. Bassett going to do with housewives who wear midriffs downtown this summer? And how about girls at swimming pools and women who wear two-piece evening dresses?”
This wasn’t the end of the story. On May 22, 1944, The Oklahoman reported a Chicago trade magazine, “Institutional,” had picked up the story of the bare midriffs and ran the photo of a Daisy Mae waitress in her “uniform.” The only problem was they identified the waitress as “Mabel Bassett of the Daisy Mae tavern in Oklahoma City fashions the very latest in Dogpatch style.”
Bassett was out of town and apparently chose not to make a public comment when she returned.
“Why the idea,” giggled Elsie D. Hand, assistant commissioner, “of Mabel Bassett going around showing half of her stomach. That’s the funniest thing I ever heard of.”
Mabel Bassett was elected and served as the state commissioner of charities and corrections for 24 years. She oversaw the operations of the state schools for boys and girls, orphanages and the state penitentiary. If a child was orphaned or abandoned, she would often pick up the child herself, or if a prisoner had a complaint, he or she would come to her. She was also recognized early in her career for being the first woman patrolman in the state at Sapulpa. The state correctional facility in McLoud is named for her.
The Daisy Mae lasted until late 1947 when Chuck’s Billiards took over the location and arrests began to rise for illegal gambling and bookies.
A sad, little story appeared in The Oklahoman on Nov. 3, 1912.
Captain W.W. Mayne, a survivor of the Civil War, died April 15, 1912, in Claremore, and a public auction of his possessions was held later that year in November on the streets of Claremore.
The story began: “At a public auction sale on the streets of this city recently one of the most famous violins in America was sold and one of the saddest stories of human life — full of romance and disappointments — was brought to light.”
Mayne, impoverished after searching unsuccessfully nearly 18 years for the wife who had deserted him in 1894 and taken their children, left an estate of only a few trinkets and four violins.
He had arrived in Claremore six years before in poor health resulting from war injuries aggravated by his search.
Claremore’s famous artesian water known as Radium water worked its cure and Mayne regained his health for a time.
Of the four violins, three sold for less than $20 each. But the fourth was a special one and sold for $145.50 to local attorney John T. Ezzard.
After the Civil War, Mayne became “a famous violinist and a noted orchestra leader, standing at the head of his profession in Chicago for a number of years. While there, a friend who had secured one of the Maggini violins was about to lose the instrument by foreclosure of a mortgage when Mayne secured the instrument on the payment of $760, the original mortgage being $1,760. The instrument, owing to the death of the mortgagee, was never redeemed and remained in the possession of Captain Mayne for over thirty years.”
Giovani Paolo Maggini lived in 17th century Italy and crafted violins. While not as well-known as Stradivarius or Guarneri, his violins are still quite respected in violin circles.
Mayne’s Maggini violin resurfaced in The Oklahoman on Jan. 27, 1936, in a story about a man who had spent 20 years trying to prove he had a 300-year-old violin.
According to the story, shortly after buying the violin in the 1912 auction, attorney Ezzard sold it to Carl Nuccols (Nuckolls) also of Claremore.
“‘I could tell the first time I played it. I had something,’ said Nuccols, employed in the aviation trade at 325 Northwest Second Street.”
“‘But I wanted to find the man whose name was inscribed on the bow which came with the violin and see what he knew.’ ”
“Encased with the instrument was a bow bearing this inscription: ‘Presented to Capt. W.W. Mayne by Roy Young, Violin Virtuoso.’ ”
Nuccols would move to Oklahoma City in 1933 in search of a job, and a chance meeting would lead him to Young’s brother, Fred.
After owning the violin for nearly 24 years, Nuccols was able to track down Roy Young, professor of violin, who had formerly taught at the University of Oklahoma.
Young wrote, “Yes, it is a genuine Italian-made violin, made by the son of Paolo Maggini in 1640. The instrument has a value of $3,000 or more. The bow isn’t so valuable.”
“The Maggini instrument’s untold ‘past’ is almost as obscure as it is far-reaching. In 1880, Captain Mayne bought the violin from a man then living in Chicago, now unknown. Beyond that, who can tell but the old violin, itself?”
Carl Nuckolls died in 1968.
The violin’s whereabouts is unknown.
If motorists whizzing along NW 39 Street look on the south side of the 2600 block, they will see the YWCA Gaylord Service Complex.
But imagine traveling in a time machine back to 1924. That same stretch of highway would be only a two-lane road, and where the YWCA sits now, there might have been only a grand opening sign with a family park for a backdrop.
The formal opening of Log Cabin Park was announced in an advertisement in The Oklahoman on April 19, 1924, touting the park as “a paradise for tourists.”
Another ad encouraged readers to come out to “this close-in Tourist Park” and listed the availability of gasoline, oil and tires from the station and touted the “Log Cabin Inn — We’re going to make it worth your while.”
An image that accompanied the ad shows a two-story log building with an awning that extends over gas pumps.
The park featured a free baseball game on Sunday, political speaking Tuesday evening by Democratic candidates and offered free ice cold lemonade all day every Sunday.
By September, the ads were featuring a cafe and a promotion that read, “You can eat our wholesome meals or cook yourself. The kids can romp and play and yell their heads off.”
For more than a decade, Log Cabin Park was a destination for Sunday drives and a popular spot for company picnics. In the 1930s, boxers trained in the Log Cabin ring. If you didn’t have a car, the street cars would take you there.
Times changed, and the Log Cabin Inn gave way to the Log Cabin Theater in 1941. It was Oklahoma City’s movie theater of choice for artsy movies, although it showed regular fare, too.
In April 1950, the theater name was changed to the Frontier, and it continued showing movies until it burned in 1954.
The land changed hands, and the Rio Motel was built on the site in 1957.
In 1988, the YWCA bought the old motel and remodeled it for their battered women’s shelter.
The site at 2640 NW 39 has had many names: Log Cabin Tire Co., Log Cabin Inn, Log Cabin Park, Log Cabin Club, Log Cabin Theater, Frontier Theater, Rio Hotel and now the YWCA Gaylord Service Complex.
The next time you pass this location, imagine a slower, simpler time with citizens enjoying an outing at the park or young people seeing a movie.
From the unpaved streets of the Land Run to the Interstate highways of today, city drivers are not surprised by the potholes, cracks and rough surfaces they encounter.
A story from The Oklahoman on Nov. 27, 1925, addressed that issue but also gave the history of several street names.
Here are some excerpts from the article:
“Pavements rutted by heavy truck traffic, inclement weather are not endeared to the hearts of Oklahoma Cityans in their infancy of heavy taxes nor when a puncture is picked up. They are the roundelay of abuse from city hall to the city limits — and yet have a heart — they have a heart.
“Take Bath avenue, back of that name is a personality — not a Saturday night ablution. The street was named for V.L. Bath, realty man.”
Bath was one of Oklahoma City’s earliest settlers.
“Dewey avenue has two fathers and is proud of both. One is Admiral Dewey, Spanish-American war hero and the other, Dr. Fred S. Dewey, pioneer physician of the capital city and formerly an army contract surgeon during the 90s. It is the only street in the city that old-timers attribute to different men.”
Dr. Frederick Stanley Dewey was Oklahoma City’s first coroner. His father was Adm. George Dewey’s cousin.
“Peter Billen who platted the Aurora addition was a prominent farmer here, breathed life into the painted curb signs, Billen avenue.”
Billen was born in Prussia in 1845 and grew up in Aurora, Ill. He moved to Oklahoma City in the 1890s and bought a farm on NW 16th.
The addition he platted was named for his boyhood home.
“Ellison avenue looks to Luke Ellison, prominent Mason in Oklahoma City in the early days as a godfather.”
Ellison bought the farm that was to become the Miller Boulevard neighborhood for $200.
“Reno is for Major Reno, an early-day army officer.”
Maj. Gen. Jesse L. Reno was killed while commanding his troops at the Battle of South Mountain during the Civil War.
He lent his name to towns in Nevada and Pennsylvania, a county in Kansas, as well as our own El Reno and Fort Reno.
“The forests live with Ash avenue, Elm street, Cypress and Walnut and the Indian tribes with Pottawatomie, Choctaw or the state’s with Pennsylvania and California while Kate avenue they’ll tell you at the city hall received it’s baptism at the hands of a congenial Irish woman, called Kate, who served home-made doughnuts and coffee to a crew that surveyed the street.”
Political candidates often make promises to their constituents in hopes of being elected, but changing the date of Groundhog Day to Valentine’s Day seems a bit of a stretch.
In 1918, Dr. M.W. Romine was elected to the state House of Representatives by the citizens of Le Flore County.
According to a story in the Jan. 20, 1919, edition of The Oklahoman, Romine was going to try to make good on one of his promises.
“In the good old days gone by, Oklahoma legislatures have been called up to wrestle with many weighty problems of statecraft — stategraft, also.
Regulatory measures without number, ranging from suggestions to require women to wear their skirts long enough to drag the ground, on up the line to declaring the piercing of ears to be barbarous and unnecessary voluntary punishment and placing it under ban, have in times received great and serious consideration.
John Barleycorn has lost many a memorable battle within the walls of Oklahoma legislative assemblies.
Only recently both houses decided within the brief space of a few hours that a league of nations … is a good thing for this old world and ought to be established.
But all of these momentous problems, which received the best thought and effort of some of the most distinguished men who have ever signed a legislative payroll in Oklahoma, are soon to be relegated from memory, which is the only place they remain, and a newer, more weighty and far reaching problem — it reaches all the way to Arkansas — is to receive the closest attention of the best legislative talent.
It is the question of establishing once and for all that date which is to be observed as ground hog day in Oklahoma.”
Apparently, before 1919, Arkansas and Mississippi would celebrate Groundhog Day on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.
Oklahoma farmers along the eastern state line would tend to follow their Arkansas neighbors.
“In farming communities ground hog day, the elements permitting, is considered the day upon which potatoes should be planted. At that particular time Old Mother Nature is ready to receive her potato crop.
So when people of east-side Oklahoma plant on February 2 and their crop fails, and their Arkansas neighbors do their planting on February 14, and their crop is a success, bad feeling develops.
‘And now I have decided,’ said Representative Romine of Spiro, Le Flore County, ‘to ask the legislature to settle the argument and fix ground hog day by statute. I have no particular date to suggest. I am willing to leave that matter to the judgment of the legislator, but the question must be settled on the Arkansas line.’
Romine said that when he made his campaign for member of the house he promised to work to this end, ‘and I am going to remain true to my constituency and do the best I can,’ he said.”
It seems the Hon. Mr. Romine intended to keep his promise.
I was unable to verify an official change, but since Groundhog Day is celebrated nationally on Feb. 2, it’s possible his bill never made it out of committee.
When Dr. H.H. (Harry Howard) Cloudman arrived in Oklahoma City in 1908, he was already a celebrated athlete and medical doctor. And his work in physical education still affects our state today.
Late last year, Cloudman was posthumously inducted into the Bowdoin College Athletic Hall of Honor in Brunswick, Maine.
He represented the class of 1901 and was recognized as an international track star.
In 1939, he was named one of the Maine college’s “greatest athletes of all time.”
The Bowdoin College Athletic Department Web page states: “In the Maine State Meet in 1899 he set a new record of 9.8 seconds in the 100-yard dash, tying the world record. The time was since matched by Howard Mostrum ’27 and Gordon Milliken ’53, but it has never been bettered. It is the longest-standing athletic record at Bowdoin, and it will not be surpassed, since track and field events transitioned to the metric system in the 1970s.”
In 1909, Cloudman was hired by the Oklahoma City Schools as physical director.
His obituary published in The Oklahoman on Dec. 6, 1950, gave the attributes of the man:
“Known by many generations of city school children, Dr. Cloudman inaugurated physical education in city schools and was the first school doctor.
“He was an athlete, a soldier and a pioneer in the field of preventive medicine here.”
“He was elected physical director of schools and high school coach here. He was the first secretary of the Oklahoma State Highschool Athletic Association (now called the Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic Association or OSSAA) and first city Boy Scout commissioner.”
“In 1911, he began physical examinations in all schools. He arranged clinics for children who could not afford medical care and he set up a system of consultation with parents.”
“The physician was with the 45th division for 18½ years, and was a lieutenant colonel when he left the division in 1941 after a year’s active service as a sanitary engineer. This was one of three military leaves he took from the school during his period of service.”
He retired in 1946 after 36 years of service to the Oklahoma City Schools.
Cloudman and his wife returned to Maine where he died in 1950.
So if “dressing out” for gym was not your favorite activity in school, you now know who to thank.
Jan. 1, 1913, was a time of celebration for Oklahoma City.
The new year had arrived with hope of great things, but Oklahoma City was also looking back at the successes of 1912 and hoping that new and more businesses were on the horizon.
Much new business had come to the city in 1912 along with much construction.
A building that met the dawning of 1913 was also here for the Opening Night celebration of 2013.
A story from The Oklahoman for Oct. 13, 1912, stated that: “The first two weeks’ operation of the new $250,000 Oklahoma City plant of the Iten Biscuit company finds orders piling up so fast that the packing force is hardly able to keep up with them, notwithstanding the daily additions to the force that are being made.”
“…In this 150×140-foot (building), carrying, in its five stories and basement 126,000 square feet of storage capacity, everything entering into the production and distribution of crackers and cakes is manufactured.”
“Even the packing boxes are made at the plant. There is a loading dock of six doors, all under cover and lighted with electricity. The furnaces are on the top floor and the processes are all downward, the very laws of gravitation being utilized to effect speed and economy in the producing and distributing agencies.”
One concept that was unusual for 1912, but was incorporated into the building, was that each floor had its own breakroom and bathrooms.
It’s hard to imagine that being considered “cutting edge,” but those of us who work in multi-storied buildings are grateful the idea caught on.
The biscuit company served Oklahoma City well for nearly 30 years.
Then it was acquired by Nabisco, next the Folding Carrier Company and, finally, its current owner, U-Haul Storage.
The 6,000 windows have been covered, but the building still stands and remains a solid part of downtown Oklahoma City
Today we recognize it best by the U-Haul truck that sits on the roof, and while the Crosstown Bridge no longer passes next to the building, it is still visible to citizens and visitors.
May the Devon Energy building and other buildings built in 2012, and the businesses they generate, endure as well as the Iten/U-Haul building.
Thesaurus.com defines generosity as “the spirit of giving.”
It seems that Oklahomans have always been generous.
We rise to the occasion when a need is presented to us.
Whether it is providing care and support for the rescue teams that helped after the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing, or helping tornado victims clean up after storms or bringing a can of food for the Oklahoma City Food Bank, or donating their time and efforts, Oklahomans reach out and help.
The Oklahoman’s Dec. 17, 1911, society column began with this item. It illustrates that spirit of generosity that I think Oklahomans still share today.
“Never in the history of the city has there been such a manifestation of the true spirit of Christmas tide as this season, when the world of society, the world of the prosperous and fortunate is turning its attention, not so much toward the giving of gifts to equally fortunate, but to the giving of happiness and good cheer to those less well provided with the goods of this world.
“Baskets of provisions, bundles of toys for children and clothing for old and young are being collected by some of the busiest women in society.
“Others are lending their carriages and automobiles to collect these things and to distribute them among the homes for which they are intended.
“Many a child with its feet on the cold ground will receive a substantial pair of shoes. Many a shivering form will be protected with warm clothing as the result of the efforts of the kindly women who are preparing to bless with comforts the desolate homes of this city.
“One wealthy mother was heard to say the other day, ‘I am not teaching my little girl to think of what she wants for herself but of what she wants to give to make others happy.’
“Another who has no children, but who has the mother spirit toward all, especially toward those of the poor, is spending almost the entire contents of her Christmas purse for the poor, reserving only a small sum for Christmas cards and trifling remembrances which she will send to her many friends already blessed with abundance.
“There is not a club in the city that is not making its Christmas plans to gladden some humble hearth. If there are any selfish idle rich in Oklahoma, one does not hear of them, so obscure do they become in contrast to the kindly generous persons whose spirit of love is finding its way into many a home that would remain dark over the merry season of Yuletide without its gentle manifestations.
“The touch of our lives with others — brings wealth to all of us, rich or poor. And the more Christmases we can share in, however, slight they may be, the more will we find the day glowing with reminisces that we may cherish through a life time.”
Let us take this lovely sentiment and continue the spirit of giving.
May you all have a very Merry Christmas.