Standing at the entrance to Fairlawn Cemetery at 2700 N Shartel, it is difficult to imagine a cornfield where marble and granite stones now stand.
A story from The Oklahoman dated Sept. 25, 1921, describes the cornfield “filled with scrawny and withered stalks usually bending toward the north, for the wind blew continuously from the south.”
Fairlawn Cemetery Association bought that cornfield in 1892 and began the cemetery that is still there today.
The weather had been hot and dry, and, for a while, the cornstalks served as guides to the cemetery and temporary grave markers.
By 1924, Fairlawn Cemetery was well-established, and the trustees of the Fairlawn Cemetery Association were ready to improve the premises by building a mausoleum to provide aboveground resting places.
The mausoleum was finished in 1925, and the citizens of Oklahoma City were invited to Sunday open houses in October.
It is a concrete building covered inside and out with fine marble and bronze, and it has kept the promises made in newspaper advertisements of being a safe and sanitary resting place for loved ones for more than 80 years.
Simplicity is the design: Two wings are on either side of a small chapel area with aisles dividing the wall crypts, and, near the entrance, are a few special “family rooms,” some with bronze doors or gates and often personally decorated with stained-glass windows and pedestals for flowers or memorabilia.
The lower level is almost a mirror image of the main floor with “special rooms,” crypts, a chapel area and a caretaker’s room.
The chapel on the main level has a beautiful stained-glass window of an angel. The trustees spared no expense and bought an art glass window from the Tiffany Studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany for $5,000 in 1925.
The angel, which is titled “The Spirit Shall Return Unto God Who Gave It,” appears to be hovering midair among the clouds gazing upward.
She made her debut in October 1925, and, while she still shines brightly, our angel has kept a very low profile.
She bears the signature of Louis Comfort Tiffany and is constructed in the Tiffany style.
Louis Comfort Tiffany was famous for stained-glass windows that featured his handmade glass called drapery glass and brilliant colors of glass created in his glass furnaces.
Looking almost like actual cloth, drapery glass adds a three-dimensional quality to the angel’s gown.
He also liked to layer glass, which allowed more interest to the picture than just flat glass.
When you look at our angel, she is surrounded by the moon and stars, but it’s as if they are floating behind her, peeking through the clouds.
For almost 87 years, she has graced our city and brightened the solemn resting place of many of Oklahoma City’s pioneers.
In 1904, following a mine explosion in Pennsylvania that killed 181 men, including two rescuers, Pittsburgh steel magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, created the Carnegie Hero Fund commission to recognize “acts of civilian heroism.”
According to the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission’s Website, 96 Oklahomans have received the Carnegie Medal of Honor as of December 2011.
Tom Ball was not the first person from Oklahoma to receive the Carnegie Medal of Honor, but he distinguished himself by giving the ultimate sacrifice.
The page one story from the Dec. 20, 1921 edition of The Oklahoman describes the accident:
“Tom Ball, 45 years old, unmarried, in whose heart the love for little children is stronger than his own desire for life, with left foot severed and hip mangled, is twisting in agony on a bed at a Wichita hospital facing death. The child whom he saved, all unknowing of the sacrifices made that it might live, prattled out of the scene and is unknown. Ball, whose 90-year-old father lives at Harper, Kan., was talking with his father a few minutes before the accident occurred. A flaxen-haired tot playing by the railway gleefully ran upon the track. The freight train started to back up. Ball leaped between the rails, tossed the child gently to safety, but failed to rescue himself. The caboose of his own train ran over him before the engineer halted the train. Ball lost one foot, his hips were crushed and he was injured internally. Physicians say that he probably will not live. A special train was run by the Orient road to Wichita in an effort to save Ball’s life.”
The accident happened in Harper, Kan., but Ball had lived in Fairview for 14 years and was known in every town on his run between Fairview and Harper, Kan.
The superintendent of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad began a movement, supported by the towns along Tom Ball’s route, to secure a Carnegie medal for his act of heroism and on April 30, 1922, The Oklahoman announced Ball’s selection for the honor.
“Thus reads the prosaic record of one of the most heroic deeds in the history of the railway service, for Tom Ball, whose home was at Fairview, gave up his life to save the life of a little child. The little boy was Carl E. Yoder, 5 years old. He was unhurt, but Ball was caught by the wheels of the car and fatally injured. He died a few hours later at Wichita, Kan., where he was rushed on a special train. The medal awarded by the Carnegie Hero Fund commission has been sent to his aged parents, Mr. and Mrs. M.C. Ball at Harper.”
An online search of federal census records and the Social Security Death Index, finds that Carl E. Yoder lived another 80 years after that fateful day.