Christmas really is for children.
Christmas always makes me nostalgic and brings back special childhood memories.
One of my favorite Christmas memories is of my parents taking me and my sister downtown to see the Christmas lights and decorations.
Lights on the buildings, swags of decorations strung up across the streets.
Sometimes some of the stores would have mechanical displays and you could stand and watch for free! I know that most of the time I had my mouth open in awe. It was a magical time for a little girl.
This brings me to Christmas present. Having gone downtown to visit a friend recuperating in the hospital, I got turned around.
I had seen the lights hanging from the old Anthony’s building at NW 6 and Broadway, now a bank and office building, and thought they were pretty. Little did I know that when I turned around at Broadway and NW 10 and drove south on Broadway what a wonderful sight it was.
Buildings on both sides of Broadway were covered in lights.
Looking down Broadway brought back those old memories of childhood awe. The lights were magical.
Photographs don’t really do justice to the efforts of the Automobile Alley residents.
If you get a chance this year, drive south on Broadway and enjoy the lights.
If you want more, you can turn east at Reno (you can’t turn west because of construction) and enjoy the Christmas trees and lights of Bricktown. If you’re really brave or adventuresome, drive into downtown. Some streets are closed or rerouted, but many of the buildings and offices have decorated for the holidays, and the trees are wrapped with Christmas lights.
Another grand old downtown building is on the market.
On the northeast corner of NW 10 and Robinson, the First Christian Church building sits as it has since 1911.
A solid building, the cornerstone was laid Sunday, May 28, 1911. The building was “to be built of gray pressed brick and white stone on reinforced concrete and steel frame” according to The Sunday Oklahoman of the day.
On Aug. 7, 1921, 10 years after the construction of the building, The Oklahoman published a story about the church.
“Twenty-one years of persistent work on the part of the members of the First Christian Church are represented in the $350,000 building they now own at Tenth Street and Robinson Avenue.
“Organization dates back to April 23, 1889, and the names of Otto C. Durlan, George Newery, R.W. Wells and C.H. Kellar stand out prominently in the history.
“Their efforts made possible the organization of the members in a new city, where countless obstacles presented themselves. On a vacant lot near Broadway on Main Street, the first service was held. There was no building, no minister. The Holy Communion could not be observed because of a lack of the emblems.
“But every Sunday since that time, without one break in the long chain of years, this church has held its services.”
The church building has had its share of hard times. When First Christian moved to its new location on NW 36 and its futuristic-style “Church of Tomorrow,” the old building went vacant.
Plans were announced in 1982 to convert the building into offices. Nothing happened.
Then a Dec. 6, 1992, article from The Oklahoman shared information from Richard Hogue, pastor of Citychurch, who discussed his church’s purchase of the First Christian Church building at 1104 N Robinson.
“The restoration message pastor Richard Hogue has preached since he returned to Oklahoma City two years ago takes on added meaning today as his congregation begins meeting downtown in an 82-year-old church building that was vacant almost 30 years.
“The congregation is in the process of remodeling the lower 10,000 square feet of the 58,000-square-foot building.
“Hogue said the congregation’s goal is to restore the entire church building over a five-year period.”
The April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building damaged many buildings downtown, and the First Christian Church building sustained about $700,000 of damage. The insurance money and a low-interest loan helped Citychurch restore the building.
In 2006, Hogue bought a defunct golf club with the intention of remodeling it into MetroChurch, his former church. He told a reporter at the time that he would conduct morning services north and evening services at Citychurch.
Now, Citychurch has listed for sale its downtown building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
An Internet search shows the asking price for the building is $1,850,345.
The Oklahoman has been providing stories following up on Oklahoma’s recent historic election.
As we begin a new chapter in the state’s history, let’s look back 100 years and do a follow-up on the 1910 election.
In 1910, Oklahoma’s state election was held the second week in November, rather than on the first Tuesday as it is now.
On Nov. 9, 1910, The Oklahoman announced the win of Lee Cruce as the state’s second governor over William “Alfalfa Bill” Murray after an acrimonious gubernatorial campaign. The headlines shouted the news of the Democratic landslide that swept the nation.
“With a total of 200 candidates and six state questions to be voted on, so great was the crush at the polls Tuesday morning that not over two-thirds of the city registration could secure ballots. In nearly every precinct, the inspectors provided extra booths, but even this failed to supply the demand and over 2,000 voters, tired of waiting in line, gave up in vain.
“Fully 2,000 people gathered in front of The Daily Oklahoman building to watch the returns Tuesday night. It was a good natured throng, and favorite candidates were cheered heartily whenever the meager returns justified it. The greatest interest was shown in the gubernatorial candidates, the local option and high license bill, and the results of the elections in other states. It was midnight before the crowd dispersed.”
Of the six questions on the ballot, local option, allowing liquor sales, and women’s suffrage, allowing women the right to vote, generated the most interest of the voting public. They both went down in defeat. Women’s suffrage, allowing women the right to vote, would not pass until 1918, and local option (liquor by the drink decided by individual counties) would not pass until 1984.
“Although the vote was light compared to the registration, it was the largest in the history of the county. The large number of questions to be voted upon as well as the great number of candidates on the ballot required not less than five minutes for a voter to properly mark his ballot. This was the minimum, and in cases where voters were unfamiliar with the question and had to read them in the booth, a longer time was necessary.”
There were long waits this past Tuesday thanks to the lengthy ballot. And as the votes were tallied, there were exciting wins and bitter defeats.
An editorial from The Oklahoman on Nov. 9, 1910, summed up the importance of the election and the effects of participation. It bears reading in its entirety, but here is an excerpt from the last paragraph that is as appropriate now as it was then.
“In Oklahoma, the passing of the election is like the lifting of a fog, for local conditions are now such that ordinary activities may be resumed with confidence and politics will be relegated to the rear. …”
Let’s hope that is true as Gov.-elect Mary Fallin begins preparing for her term as the first female governor of Oklahoma.
Here’s a story from The Oklahoman, published Nov. 1, 1936, that makes a great tale:
“Probably the only train robbery in which the entire loot consisted of three gallons of whisky was recorded for posterity Saturday by the Works Progress Administration writers’ project.
“And if you wonder just where such a thing occurred, you might have known it would be in Oklahoma, back in the early days when anything could happen and usually did.
“The story was told to a project writer by Lon Stansberry, pioneer Tulsa citizen, who swears by all that was holy in whooping early day Oklahoma, that it’s the truth, yes-sirree. The tale probably will be included in the American Guide book as one of the tidbits of pioneer life.
“The exact date is not listed, but along about that time a certain outlaw gang headed by one Bill Cook, notorious for his law flaunting, was roaming the hills and dales of eastern Oklahoma. In the gang was Jim Cook, Henry Nunsing, Curtis Davis, Lon Gordon and Everett Baldwin, all pretty bad in their own right, and fit to strike terror in the hearts of any bank clerk.
“They got a tip that a Frisco train was coming into Red Fork, southwest of Tulsa, with pay for a cattle shipment from the Spike S ranch south of the town.
“An hour before the train time they galloped into town and took possession of the depot. One of the more inquisitive outlaws discovered a gallon of whisky there and commandeered it. Each member had a sip or so.
“When the train puffed in, two men took control of the engine and the remainder guarded the express car. Shaking like an autumn leaf, the express messenger dropped his receipt book and thrust his hands into the air. He denied the money was on the train.
“The robbers then decided to look around and found two more gallons of whisky. That hit them as right fine and they proceeded to get friendly. They marched up and down the cars, forcing passengers to take a few drinks. In great spirits they celebrated and the victims joined right in, surprised at the queer Oklahoma outlaws’ hospitality.
“Finally the whisky ran low, and the outlaw band decided to leave. The express messenger retrieved the receipt book, and away with the wind went the badmen.
“With a sly grin, the express messenger looked inside the receipt book, and right there was the cattle payment, all in crisp currency ready to be paid. Some people claimed the whisky deadened the outlaws’ sense of perception, while others claimed they just didn’t give a hang for the money, what with three jugs of spirits.
“Any way the story is being prepared for Oklahoma’s section of the guide book. And posterity can believe it or not.”
The Writer’s Project index at the Oklahoma History Center includes an interview with Lon Stansberry, and a search of the Internet indicates that the gang robbed a Frisco train July 18, 1894, but due to the quick-thinking express messenger, left empty-handed.
Jake leg is a rarely used term, and memories of the jake-leg epidemic have almost disappeared.
A little-known epidemic, first detected in Oklahoma, it spawned slang words, songs and a dance, all of which have been nearly lost to the passage of time.
Oklahoma City has the dubious honor of being the first place the mysterious condition appeared, and from here it was to reach national epidemic status before the cause was determined. It began with Dr. Walter H. Miles, a city physician, and Dr. E. Goldfain, a neurology specialist, noticing that men suffering from the same symptoms were presenting themselves at hospitals in the city.
A front-page article published March 7, 1930, in The Oklahoman described the symptoms and the probable cause: “Spinal afflictions, believed the result of poison whiskey, which has afflicted 60 men in Oklahoma City in the last ten days, and possibly caused one death, Thursday night brought an order from city officials for an investigation seeking the source of the poison liquor supply.
“The strange malady affects the spine, causing a partial paralysis, especially of the feet, resulting in inability to walk normally.”
It became known as the jake-leg, jake foot, jake walk, jake wobblies and jakeitis.
On March 9, the newspaper reported 400 cases of men afflicted. Investigators determined their theory of poisonous liquor was correct: “The poisoning is the result of some denaturant used by wholesale drug houses in mixing Jamaica ginger.”
In 1930, Oklahoma and the nation were still in the throes of prohibition, and many drinkers got their “liquor” from patent medicines or extracts that were mostly alcohol. A favorite was Jamaican ginger extract, familiarly known as “jake,” which was 70 to 80 percent alcohol.
The government told the makers that they had to make it less palatable. Some got creative, adding ingredients such as castor oil and increasing the ginger in an effort to make it more like medicine and less like a beverage. One company experimented, adding — after being assured by the supplier that it was not dangerous — a chemical called ortho-tri-cresyl phosphate.
In an article Aug. 28, 1930, The Oklahoman reported that a “tasteless, odorless compound, generally used in the lacquer and leather industries, is responsible, in the opinion of government chemists, for the thousands of cases of paralysis that followed the drinking of ginger concoctions.”
The epidemic, first reported in March 1930, pretty much had run its course by October.
On March 12, 1931, The Oklahoman reported the recognition of research done by doctors from University Hospital (now OU Medical Center) by the American Medical Association on the treatment of Jamaica ginger paralysis. Their determination was that ortho-tri-cresyl phosphate was the cause and that there was no cure.
The story ends with this summary of events: “Simultaneous with the Oklahoma City epidemic, similar ones occurred in Tennessee, Kentucky and Kansas, especially in Wichita. A wave recently was reported in Los Angeles and on the West Coast. Several owners of drug firms have since been indicted and convicted for sale of Jamaica ginger.”
Street names intrigue me.
Fretz Avenue is a street in Edmond. It runs just south of 15th and just north of Danforth through Edmond. It is west of the railroad tracks.
Aaron Fretz was born in 1840 in Pennsylvania and survived the Civil War fighting as a Union soldier. In 1889, he made the run on a special Santa Fe train and staked his claim to 160 acres in Edmond.
From archives of The Oklahoman, I learned that Aaron Fretz may have filed the first taxpayer’s lawsuit in the state of Oklahoma, when he brought suit in 1914 against the city of Edmond and its officials after they passed a resolution in 1913 giving Central State Normal School (now University of Central Oklahoma), 2.4 million gallons of free water a year, while charging taxpayers for their water use. He felt that was illegal and took it all the way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled against him.
On Nov. 11, 1917, a story in The Oklahoman told of Fretz taking a 10-month-long trip, with a 24-year-old horse as his only companion, and a wagon outfitted for camping, to visit the battlefields of the Civil War where he had fought. He visited 10 states on his journey. He was 77 years old. It also told of his providing sewing machines — he had a sewing machine repair shop on Broadway — to the local Red Cross chapter to help in the World War I effort.
The Oklahoman, on April 21, 1918, reported that Aaron Fretz still possessed the claim stake flag he used at the run of 1889 to stake his claim. It was yellowed and with the hand inked letters faded “Taken — Center of 160 acres — A. Fretz.” The story said he used a weed as pen and later added the legal description of his land. It was located west of Fretz Avenue and the railroad tracks and east of Kelley Avenue and between Edmond Road and 15th.
In 1919, when Fretz was 80, the newspaper announced a patent for “an automatic shifting device for speed change gearing has recently been granted to Aaron Fretz which promises to revolutionize present methods of speed change, especially in use on the automobile.” The story said that its initial use would be for hoisting machines.
The final story about Aaron Fretz from The Oklahoman was published Jan. 12, 1931, and announced his wedding:
“Aaron Fretz, 91 years old, and Bertha Eckert, 19 years old, were married Sunday noon by Paul Powers, peace justice, in the Powers home, 1508 N Blackwelder Ave.”
“The couple left immediately after the ceremony to visit friends west of Oklahoma City, where Fretz said he would ‘seek the blessings of the old folks.’ ”
“Fretz operates a sewing machine repair shop in Edmond. Mrs. Fretz was his housekeeper several months prior to their marriage. She became the stepmother of three children, all more than 50 years old.”
I was unable to find an obituary for Aaron Fretz in The Oklahoman archives and was curious as to whether the marriage lasted and how long Aaron Fretz lived, so I went to the Internet. The University of Central Oklahoma’s Max Chambers Library Special Collections Obituary Index listed Aaron Fretz and the date his obituary appeared in the Edmond newspaper.
His obituary from the Edmond Booster dated January 31, 1935, stated: “His career here during the early days was one of civic work, and among the accomplishments to his credit are: Bringing the first minister to Edmond, helping to build the first church here; helping to establish the first free public school in this community; helping to organize the first business men’s organization; among the organizers of the local G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) post.”
Aaron Fretz died in the Union Soldiers Home of Dayton, Ohio, on Jan. 29, 1935. He is buried in the Union Soldiers cemetery there.
Alas, the marriage does not appear to have lasted as in the list of survivors, his young bride is not listed, only two daughters and a son.
An active, creative and civic-minded individual. What better person to name a street after!
Did you know an Oklahoman was chosen by a French artist to personify the “ideal American soldier” in World War I for the people of France?
Here’s his story.
Otis W. Leader was born in Calvin in 1882 and raised in Lehigh. He was of Choctaw, Chickasaw, Scotch and Irish descent. The Oklahoman from Aug. 9, 1936, tells the story leading to Leader’s enlistment: “… On April 5, 1917, Fort Worth, Texas, papers carried a story about suspected spies being trailed through the stockyards by secret service men. One of them was Leader. His companions were Arnold Arn and Karl Marty, naturalized natives of Switzerland from Chicago and owners of a Pittsburg County ranch on which Leader was employed at the time. They had accompanied a shipment of cattle from the ranch to the Fort Worth market and their brogue had excited the hysterical suspicion of the day.
“The following day, the United States declared war on the central powers. On April 12, Leader, then 34 years old, enlisted in the regular army at McAlester. By June, he was in France.
Leader and his unit, the First Division, were the first American combat troops. They were available for a July Fourth parade in Paris. It was at that parade that a French artist, Raymond DeWarreux, with a commission from the French government to paint the ideal U.S. soldier, saw Leader, and decided the American Indian would be his subject.
The artist produced a paper granting permission that was signed by Gen. John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force.
The artist described Leader: “a half-blood Choctaw Indian from Oklahoma, straight as an arrow and standing over six feet tall; keen, alert, yet with calmness that betokens strength and his naturally bronzed face reflecting the spirit that they took across with them, the spirit that eventually turned the tide.”
And so Leader had his picture painted and, according to the 1936 story in The Oklahoman, his painting hangs in a French military museum.
A 1968 article from The Oklahoman says another painting of Leader was painted by the Rev. Gregory Gerrer in 1922. Sources at the Oklahoma History Center said the painting was transferred to the Mabee-Gerrer Museum in Shawnee.
From a 1958 Oklahoma City Times story is this description: “The Doughboy proved his bravery and won a hero’s status in the fighting that followed. His machine gun company took some of the very first German fire to hit American soldiers, and three of his closest buddies were the first Americans to die in the war.”
In heavy fighting at Chateau-Thierry, when three of the four men in his machine gun crew were killed, Leader took up a rifle, went through the lines and captured 18 Germans.
Leader, who rose to the rank of sergeant, was wounded twice and gassed three times. He was in a French hospital recovering from shrapnel wounds he suffered in the Argonne at the war’s end.
For his valor, Leader received a Purple Heart, two Silver Stars, the Distinguished Service Cross, nine battle stars and two individual awards of the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest military honor.
Leader also was one of the 18 Choctaw code talkers who prevented Germans from deciphering messages.
After several stays in a veterans hospital, suffering complications from his military service, Leader died in 1961 at age 79.