My calendar lists three dates of interest in June: Flag Day, the summer solstice and, on Wednesday, June 27, Helen Keller’s birthday.
It will be the 132nd anniversary of the birth of a most remarkable woman, and Nov. 17 will mark the 68th anniversary of her visit to Oklahoma.
Many people know the story of her early life from the television drama, play and movie “The Miracle Worker,” which portrays the momentous event when Keller was able, with the help of teacher Anne Sullivan, to associate the word “water” with the liquid that was flowing over her hand.
Keller was born with normal hearing and sight, but lost both at the age of 19 months due to a mysterious fever.
As she grew older, she became uncontrollable as her frustrations from trying to communicate increased.
At the age of 7, Keller was brought to Massachusetts’ Perkins School for the Blind, and there, she met Sullivan, an association that would last 49 years.
From the moment Sullivan communicated the concept of water to Keller, she began to learn. She would attend and graduate from Radcliffe College.
Keller became an author, speaker, humanitarian and an inspiration to the world.
In November of 1944, with World War II still being waged, she came to Chickasha to visit battle-deafened soldiers at Borden General Hospital. She was on a coast-to-coast tour of Army hospitals.
The Oklahoman on Nov. 14, 1944, announced her visit: “Miss Keller will discuss the rehabilitation problems of the veterans, giving special attention to those who were blinded and those suffering from deafness.”
When Keller died June 1, 1968, The Oklahoman interviewed John A. Morris, who in 1944 was the director of the speech and hearing center at the Chickasha hospital. “The warmth and love that humanity has must be like the calm, beautiful peaceful sunset of Oklahoma.”
Keller, then 63, visited at the hospital for three days, Morris said.
“Her purpose was to inspire the soldiers. She had a forceful, vivacious personality … most agreeable,” he said.
It was during one of her speeches in the auditorium that she spoke of the Oklahoma sunset, Morris remembered. “It is paraphrased, but from my memory, that’s almost exactly what she said. I’ve quoted it many times.”
Morris said a “companion” repeated everything Keller said to the soldiers. “Her voice quality was not the best.”
“But I understood her quite well in conversation. It was amazing how she got everything I said from just a finger on the throat and a finger on the lips and the rest of her hand pressed lightly on my face.”
Keller spoke abstractly, and her vocabulary would rival any platform speaker, Morris said.
“I was amazed that she could get such a vocabulary (being blind and deaf from an early age) and put it in such beautiful phrases.”
Her vocabulary was above average, he said.
“She was very alive, very interesting … enthusiastic.
“One who met her, I don’t think would ever forget her,” he said.
Often in these pages, a reader-submitted story will appear about a beloved cat or dog.
This story by Leon Hatfield, veteran reporter and rewrite man, appeared on Page One of The Oklahoman on Dec. 16, 1937.
I hope it gives a chuckle to those who have been owned by cats and to those familiar with their ways:
Ding Dong Bell
Pussy’s in the well.
Who got her in?
Little Johnny Green.
Who took her out?
Little Johnnie Stout.
— Nursery Rhyme
A bob-tailed black cat Wednesday rewrote the old nursery rhyme. The cat didn’t have much time to polish up the rewrite but it went about like this:
Ding Dong Fire Bell
Where’s the cat that’s raising hell?
Way down in the dark old well.
Who fetched her up so she could chew us?
Nobody we swear, but Arkansas Lewis.
Black cats are bad luck. They are bad luck even to black cats. Bill Blagg, deputy sheriff, has always known black cats are bad luck, but he thought when he found a bob-tailed black cat it would trim the danger some.
He took the cat to George Angerman, superintendent of the courthouse. He told Angerman it was a nice cat, a good mouser and true lover of home and fireside. Angerman gave the cat some milk and turned his head. When he looked again the milk and cat were gone.
Two days lapsed, during which persons passing down the alley north of the courthouse would stop and listen to the melody of a distant cat which they took to be singing the “Love Song” from that widely known production, “The Alley Fence.”
It wasn’t until Wednesday that someone decided the cat was singing what it took to be a swan song. Investigation revealed the cat had tumbled or had been pushed into an abandoned well beneath a loading dock across the alley north of the courthouse.
The fire department was called. A big hook and ladder truck responded and the firemen got down on their tummies under the dock and called “Kitty, kitty,” as the fire manual says they should do under such circumstances.
The cat only wailed louder. The firemen made torches of newspaper and held them down in the well the better to see. The cat began demanding apologies from the Japanese emperor.
Finally that husky H.M. “Arkansas” Lewis tossed off his hat and let himself down the old well shaft. The cat climbed him and he climbed after the cat while a gathering crowd cheered.
The cat showed no appreciation. It glared maliciously at one and all and sneered:
“What’s been keeping you guys? Pst. Pst.”
Angerman took the beast into his arms and with it yowling and clawing headed toward milk.
For 114 years, Oklahoma’s state flower was the mistletoe.
But it was always a controversial choice.
In February 1893, while the 2nd Territorial Legislature met in Guthrie, Rep. John A. Wimberly introduced the bill to designate mistletoe as the official floral emblem.
The Women’s Congress of the Columbian World Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 had proposed that the states should consider selecting floral emblems to represent their state at the exposition.
While Oklahoma was not a state, the Oklahoma Pavilion at the exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, promoted the territory to exposition visitors.
Wimberly was the youngest member of the House of Representatives and it was he who, according to The Oklahoman on April 19, 1925, suggested “one of the most interesting traditions.”
“One day the question of the state flower was brought up. Everything from daisies to American Beauty roses was suggested.
A representative from the southern part of the Territory wanted forget-me-nots. “That’s a good name for a state flower, and it’s a pretty flower too,” he said.
“Mr. Wimberly remembered how hard the previous winter had been and that when settlers had died and there were no flowers to put on the graves: “the only thing in the whole country with a bit of color was mistletoe.”
So it was adopted as the new territory’s floral emblem.
“Years later when Oklahoma became a state, members of the constitutional convention carried the old territorial flower over into statehood, thus confirming what has since become one of Oklahoma’s oldest traditions.”
Every few years after it seemed someone would propose a change, it would be discussed and mistletoe would remain.
The sweet pea, yucca and the cowboy rose (not a rose but a part of the mallow family), were among those proposed, but probably the most unusual was the alfalfa blossom.
Before we were even a state, in 1906, William H. Murray stated his preference for alfalfa in a letter to the editor of The Oklahoman:
“Who, indeed, would desire to adopt for a state flower, a parasite?
Let greater Oklahoma be known as the “Alfalfa State.”
In an editorial in The Oklahoman for June 17, 1912, the newspaper came out in support of alfalfa as the state flower:
“Now that Oklahoma has become known as the marvelous alfalfa state, why not use the alfalfa blossom as the state flower?”
“The alfalfa blossoms are pretty; they enrich the scenery, added to the artistic part, alfalfa, is the mortgage lifter of Oklahoma. It is the crop which brings riches to the state; it is a crop which means more to the future than any other crop.”
“Alfalfa blossom — the state flower. It should be adopted”
The hardy little mistletoe stood firm from 1890 until 2004 when Gov. Brad Henry signed a bill into law making the Oklahoma Rose our official state flower. The mistletoe remains the state floral emblem.