“MOURN THE LOSS OF GYPSY QUEEN NOMAD, HEAD OF BAND HERE, IS BURIED IN FAIRLAWN CEMETERY.”
It was just a small item on Page 5 of The Oklahoman, on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 1908, with a headline almost as big as the story.
Ellen Young, 69, was camping in Colcord Park near the river with her “band of nomadic Egyptians” when she died in a tent Friday, Jan. 31, 1908. Her funeral services were conducted the following Monday by the Rev. T.H. Harper of Pilgrim Congregational Church, and she was buried at Fairlawn. Fifty grief-stricken Gypsies attended her service.
The Oklahoman’s story read: “Mrs. Young had spent all her life travelling in covered wagons through Europe and America, telling fortunes, creating rugs, painting pictures, doing what she could to secure a living from a nomadic wandering life. Unlike her countrymen, she became a Christian, and she is of the strain of family which includes the renowned Congregational preacher, “Gypsy,” Smith, one of the greatest preachers of England.”
Can you imagine how cold it was living in a tent in January in Oklahoma?
From my research, I learned Gypsies more likely came from India, than Egypt, and many more of them were, and are, of the Christian faith than most people think.
Also, Rodney “Gypsy” Smith, born in 1860 in England and raised in a gypsy wagon, never attended school and was converted at the age of 16. He started preaching at 17, and during his evangelistic career that ended in 1947 with his death, he was as widely traveled and admired as Billy Graham is today.
Colcord Park, later renamed Delmar Gardens, was owned by Charles Colcord and consisted of 160 acres near Reno Avenue and Western close to the North Canadian River. Baseball was played in that area until the flood of 1923.
A trip to Fairlawn Cemetery and a check of the records located Young’s resting place, 103 years after her death.
The original entry in the cemetery ledger read Mrs. Emma Young (gypsy) camped near the ballpark, died Jan. 31 and was buried Feb. 3, 1908. The ledger also disclosed the location of her burial place in the cemetery and the funeral home handling the arrangements. Her first name was different, but the rest of the facts fit the newspaper’s story.
Turns out, her final resting place is just a few steps north of the cemetery office.
The last curious fact about Ellen/Emma is that her grave stone bears the wrong year for her death.
born October 31, 1839
died January 31, 1907
So, after 69 years of wandering, a gypsy queen has spent over a century resting in peace in Fairlawn Cemetery.
It’s not often a house sends an invitation to come and celebrate a milestone in its life, but The Archivist received one recently.
The house, residing at 415 NW 21, recently celebrated its 90th birthday, and owner and loving caretaker Linda Adams threw a birthday party. And as a special gift, she burned the mortgage.
The house, built in 1921, not surprisingly, comes with a bit of history.
Built by famed early day builder Dr. G.A. Nichols, who helped develop Heritage Hills, Nichols Hills and Nicoma Park, the house was a gift to his daughter on the event of her marriage. The deed read, “For the sum of one dollar and love and affection… ,” and with that, Nichols presented the house to Keene C. and Mary Elizabeth (Nichols) Burwell.
As most houses do, it has changed hands several times in its 90 years.
The longest owner was J. Henry Johnson, an early day insurance agent and rose grower.
Many prize-winning roses came from the gardens of the home, so much so for many years the Rose Society presented the “J. Henry Johnson perpetual award.”
In June 1943, 150 members of the Rose Society were expected to visit the Johnson rose gardens, according to a story in The Oklahoman Archives.
Unfortunately the rose gardens have not survived, but a lovely and inviting backyard have taken their place.
The house was also visited by thousands of people in 1994 as one of the stops on the annual Heritage Hills House Tour.
The mortgage burning is a major event to celebrate in the house’s history and especially for the owner.
A search of The Oklahoman Archives and the Internet for “mortgage burning celebrations” did not find many events. Most of the stories were for churches and organizations celebrating freedom from debt.
It has never been easy for most homeowners to reach payoff and become debt-free and is even harder now days.
Several of the home’s neighbors can claim 90 years, too, as Nichols was building houses on NW 21 and NW 22. So, should you happen to be in the neighborhood, give a tip of your hat to the birthday house and wish it well as it marches on debt-free to its centennial and beyond.
Gators in the river! The Oklahoma River!
It’s been almost 34 years since the last reported sighting of an alligator in the North Canadian River.
In October 1977, The Oklahoman reported Jim Ellis was fishing the North Canadian River on a Saturday near the E Reno Avenue bridge, when he saw what he thought was a snake. He grabbed it and it turned out to be a 29-inch alligator. He turned it in to the Del City Police Department where it spent some time confined to a wash basin until it was sent to the zoo.
It was thought to have been a pet released into the wild.
This was not the first time alligators were found in the river. The Oklahoman Archives record several instances of alligators being seen.
In 1918, the city was building a new sewer near S Walker and the Canadian River, and J.W. Linch, a watchman for the Boardman Co., noticed activity in the water and along the banks.
Seeing alligators, he shot at one, and the July 11, 1918, newspaper article said, “He managed to get it to shore after a fight and then finished its career.
“There are five or six living in the river. The one killed measured two feet from nose to tail and was of the gulf variety. Others in the river are larger, Mr. Linch says.”
It was believed these alligators were the descendants of an alligator that escaped Wheeler Park Zoo when it flooded in 1916.
In May 1947, a man was fishing near Western and SW Choctaw (now SW 7) when he saw a 6-foot alligator. Capt. Clifford Holloway of the Oklahoma City Fire Department was dispatched to the scene, but he was unable to catch the alligator. It was believed that the alligator had washed downstream during high water.
According to the state Wildlife Department website, alligators generally are found in southeastern Oklahoma and are thought to be unable to survive the colder temperatures in central and northern Oklahoma.
It seems alligators have been sighted every 30 years or so in the part of the North Canadian River now known as the Oklahoma River.
Perhaps the rowers and boaters who use the Oklahoma River should keep a weather eye out — that floating debris might just be full of teeth.