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.
Today is the day we observe Memorial Day.
In 1868, Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Old Republic, proclaimed Memorial Day as a day to place flowers on the graves of soldiers at Arlington Cemetery.
For years, Memorial Day was celebrated May 30. Then, in 1971, Congress passed the National Holiday Act moving most federal holidays to Mondays to ensure a three-day weekend. Since that time, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday in May.
Originally, the day was to honor soldiers who died fighting the Civil War. However, since World War I, it has been a time to honor all members of the military who have died in war.
This editorial published in The Oklahoman on May 30, 1912, refers to those who died in the Civil War, but the message the anonymous writer expresses of honoring the dead and the hope for peace still rings true.
“Today a mighty nation pauses to put wreaths on the graves of soldiers. It is a day of thoughts that pertain to the bivouac of the dead.
Flags will be displayed at half mast; mourning will be in use; bells will toll.
Over on the hill where marble shafts mark the resting place of those who fell in the conflict where brother was arrayed against brother, flowers will be placed. The living will not forget the dead.
It is a day of sorrow. The older among us can realize the horrors which the day recalls. The younger generation cannot understand.
Today we should be reminded of peace. If the peace movement had been as strong in 1860 as it is today the nation would not have been plunged into civil strife. Memorial Day should impress upon us the horrors of war, it should make that impression so deep that the peace of the world will be assured.”
Since the Civil War, Americans have lost their lives serving in the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, the Iraq War and now the Afghanistan War.
In December of 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the National Moment of Remembrance Act into law designating 3 p.m. local time as the moment for a grateful nation to pause and remember.
This is a part of the statement released at the signing:
“Each Memorial Day, the Nation honors those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. While these heroes should be honored every day for their profound contribution to securing our Nation’s freedom, they and their families should be especially honored on Memorial Day. The observance of a National Moment of Remembrance is a simple and unifying way to commemorate our history and honor the struggle to protect our freedoms.”
Please take at least a minute today and remember the husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters who have given their lives for their country.
Let us never forget.
The Oklahoman has been chronicling the events of Oklahoma history large and small, earthshaking and pedestrian for more than 100 years.
Newspapers do that.
They provide a permanent reminder of what has happened in the past, near and distant.
For some of us, The Oklahoman has printed our birth announcement, perhaps a marriage announcement, obituaries of family and friends, and, in my case, a story about the perfect school attendance (kindergarten through 12th grade, eight years apart) of my sister, Martha (Young) Vickery, and myself.
Sometimes the newspaper might report about someone, and then we wonder later, what next, what happened to them.
In 1941, The Oklahoman told us about Eddie Nakayama, an 18-year-old senior at Central High School who had been selected for the silver Letzeiser medal as an outstanding example of citizenship and achievement.
Through his three years of high school, he had maintained grades of A’s in all classes with the exception of two B’s while daily helping “his father Lloyd, a native of Japan, on the 20-acre truck farm which supports the family.”
“Ed wants to get a job at the University of Oklahoma so he can study engineering and enroll in classes offered by the naval reserve department. Some day he hopes to get an appointment to the United States naval academy,” the story went on to report.
Eddie next appears in the newspaper the day after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, when The Oklahoman interviewed his father, Lloyd Nakayama, who expressed shock over the bombing and his pride “when he announces his children are native-born citizens of the United States.”
The story mentions that Eddie is a freshman ROTC student at the University of Oklahoma.
More stories follow. Eddie pledges Tau Omega fraternity, is initiated and in 1944, he receives his diploma for a mechanical engineering degree.
We catch up with him in September of 1945, home on leave from the Army, after serving six months overseas.
“Of all things to happen to a soldier girded for action. Measles quarantine and lost papers!
It’s enough to embarrass a guy, and that’s exactly what it does for Pvt. Eddie U. Nakayama. But those two minor (?) details kept him from seeing any front-line action until the war was over.”
After the quarantine and finding of those lost papers, he was sent to guard German prisoners. Eddie joined the service in July 1945 after graduating from OU. After his leave, he was expecting to be assigned as an interpreter.
In 1958, The Oklahoman listed Eddie U. Nakayama as one of 50 Oklahomans to be licensed to practice engineering by the state.
“The final entry for Eddie is a death notice in The Oklahoman Jan. 28, 2009, under Bartlesville: “Nakayama, Eddie Utaki, 85, retired mechanical engineer, died Jan. 24.”
While The Oklahoman has no entries Nakayama between 1958 and 2009, we would not be surprised to find that The Bartlesville Examiner might have picked up his story.
Tornado season is upon us, and already we’ve had two bouts with them, resulting in deaths, injuries and destruction.
Weather experts tell us to take cover in our “storm caves” when a dark cloud appears on the horizon.
Storm cave is a term for tornado shelters that has been used every decade from 1901 to 2008 in The Oklahoman.
Not being familiar with storm caves, I have heard the tornado shelter called a cellar, a storm cellar, a storm shelter, a fallout shelter and, of course, my favorite, the “‘fraidy hole.”
Storm caves were most often mentioned in The Oklahoman’s classifieds as a selling point for houses and land, but this editorial published June 3, 1947, gives some history.
“Some years ago when the pioneers were moving out into the prairie country in quest of permanent homes many of them (a great many of them) were careful to dig storm caves even before they began to build their houses.
“One reason was there was abundant space for cave digging and the only cost entailed was the labor of the digger, while the material required for house building was back on the nearest railway, some times several days’ journey away. Many of the pioneers lived in their primitive dugouts for several years.
“But there was another reason for that pioneer day digging-in operation. The first settlers were well aware of the possibility of an unexpected visit from a spiraling storm cloud.
“So they prepared what the cowboys in their vernacular called their ‘fraid holes,’ both as a place of temporary residence and as a safe harbor if a tornado should appear on the scene. And unquestionably many a pioneer survived to a ripe old age who might have been blown into the next county if it had not been for some convenient hole in the ground.
“Civilization conquered the prairie country some years ago. Handsome homes have taken the place of the old sod house and storm cave.
“Cities and towns now mark the plains country with their elevators and churches and schools and business blocks.
“Long familiarity with the possibility of the tornado’s visit has rendered a lot of people indifferent to the danger.
“But in spite of progress and in spite of change of outlook a good, safe storm cave is not even yet a useless possession. It is a means of safety to many times 10,000 people.
“Considering the reasonableness of their cost and their priceless value in the day of crisis it is almost strange that every home on the plains and every school house is not equipped with a good storm cave.
” It may be needed no more than once in a lifetime, but when it is needed, it is needed terribly.”
So, when the Oklahoma winds blow strong and the warnings become incessant, listen to the experts and go to your safe place, be it a tornado shelter or storm cave or, in my case, the bathtub or an interior hallway, away from all windows.
News from the Titanic disaster dominated newspaper pages 100 years ago.
State headlines told of ships returning with bodies from the Titanic, U.S. hearings on the accident and news stories of the deadly tornadoes that struck five western counties, leaving 15 dead and at least 39 injured.
The following article from The Oklahoman of April 29, 1912, introduces Mrs. Fannie Dubois and gives her story of how the sinking of the ocean liner, Titanic affected her life.
“LOCAL LADY WINS IN WIRELESS BUY
“When Marconi Stock Soars She Sells Hers at Fancy Margin of Profit”
“As the result of the Titanic disaster and the decision of the English courts in favor of the Marconi patent for wireless, Mrs. Fannie Dubois, 1305 North Shartel Boulevard, has sold twenty-four shares of Marconi stock, which cost her $100 per share eight years ago, for $220 per share making her a snug little profit of more than one hundred percent.
“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good and the late horrible Titanic disaster was no exception to the rule. That accident which cast a gloom over the whole civilized world, also caused attention to be called to the workings of the wireless telegrapher, for had it not been for the distress call sent out by the Titanic’s hero of the wireless, many more would have found their graves in icebound waters with the magnificent ocean giant that is now only a sad memory.
“Just about that time the courts of England sustained the Marconi patents for wireless and it is expected that the United State courts will follow their example. As Marconi was the first with his invention, every other wireless company is infringing, to some extent or other, on his patent and the United Wireless even now is attempting to gain control of the Marconi company.”
Fannie Dubois was born in Belgium, immigrated to the United States at age 19 and moved to Oklahoma in 1909. The 1912 city directory lists her as proprietor of the Marquette Hotel.
In 1904, Mrs. Dubois bought 24 shares in the Marconi company. She held onto her shares even after the value dipped to about $28 a share and no dividends had been paid.
Little did she know that a Marconi wireless was installed on the Titanic and was responsible for sending the messages requesting help as the ship sank.
With the sinking of the Titanic and rumors that all ships would be required to install several wireless operators, Marconi stock suddenly became valuable.
Almost immediately, brokers began sending Mrs. Dubois telegrams with offers for her stock. She held out until the price reached $220 a share, and she sold for a total of $5,280. In today’s currency, the value of her shares would be about $13,200.
Not a bad return at all.
The countdown has started. Next year will be one of anticipation for the First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City, 1300 N Robinson.
A century chest was buried in the church basement on April 22, 1913. The Oklahoma City mayor, governor and other dignitaries were in attendance when the time capsule was sealed.
The church now has devoted a Web page to the century chest at firstlutheranokc.org/site/ks/editorial.asp?page=2 and it includes a countdown clock.
Next year, on April 22, church members and other dignitaries will gather to open the century chest, which is not an ordinary time capsule. It contains a treasure trove of items that will fill a future column on their own.
Today, I want to introduce the young woman who was credited with “perfecting the plans for the chest” — Mrs. George G. Sohlberg, president of the church’s Ladies’ Aid Society.
Virginia Bland Tucker was born and raised in Missouri. After frequently visiting local relatives, she and her mother settled in Oklahoma City in 1890, two years after the Land Run.
She taught school until 1898, when she met and married George G. Sohlberg, founder and president of the Acme Milling Co. and civic leader.
In 1966, Joan Gilmore, Women’s Editor of The Oklahoman wrote of Mrs. Sohlberg in conjunction with an Oklahoma Art Center Gala:
“At the time of her death in 1913, Mrs. Sohlberg was headlined in The Daily Oklahoman as ‘Active in Society’ and was esteemed ‘One Of City’s Most Queenly Women.’ ” The article about her describes her as “one of the best and most beautiful women … one of the gentlest, the most cultivated members of society; her influence has been widely felt.”
Another article said, ” … Never has she failed; as mother, wife, daughter and friend, she has always lived up to the noblest ideals of life. …
“She was brilliant and talented. … was a leader, not only in social circles where her hospitable home was the center of pleasure and enjoyment, but equally as much so in church, literary and charitable circles.”
Mrs. Sohlberg was almost single-handedly responsible for preparing the century chest, which was buried under the First Lutheran Church, commemorating the 24th anniversary of the opening of Oklahoma City. She gathered relics of value and simple annals from hundreds of people and scores of organizations in Oklahoma City and the state, which were buried in the chest.
Virginia Sohlberg died Aug. 10, 1913, of heart failure at 40 years old, less than four months after the chest was buried.
When the chest is opened on April 22, 2013, in celebration of the 124th anniversary of the Oklahoma Land Run, Virginia Sohlberg should be remembered and her work preserved so future generations can reflect on it.
It wasn’t that long ago that alpacas were an endangered species, at least in the United States.
In 1964, there were only 9 alpacas in the United States, and the Lincoln Park Zoo, now the Oklahoma City Zoo, was able to acquire one of those on permanent loan.
His name was Manco, and, according to a story in The Oklahoman announcing his arrival, the zoo’s director, Warren Thomas, hoped to selectively breed the alpaca with its larger cousin, the llama. His intent was to cross breed until the offspring were mostly alpaca and protect the animal from extinction in the United States.
No information exists on how successful Thomas was, but his preservation plan was no longer needed because in 1984, a 1940′s importation ban to protect against hoof and mouth disease was lifted.
Between 1984 and 1996, importations of alpacas were allowed from South America, until the Alpaca Registry closed the registration books to only American bred animals.
Margie Ray of Ray Farms, considered the founder of alpaca breeding in Oklahoma, acquired 3 imported alpacas in 1986.
There are now more than 170,000 alpacas in the United States, and, in 2009, there were more than 80 farms in Oklahoma.
Alpacas are raised for their hair or fiber. They come in 22 colors and two types: suri, which has long silky hair, and huacaya, which has soft fluffy hair.
Once a year, usually in spring after the show season, the animals are sheared to make them more comfortable during the summer heat and the fiber is processed for various uses, such as roving for spinners, thread for weavers, and yarn for those who knit and crochet, rugs, jewelry and more.
The Alpacas of Oklahoma, A-OK, are having their annual show Easter weekend, April 7 and 8, at Shawnee’s Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center, 30 miles east of Oklahoma City and easily accessible from Interstate 40.
The alpacas are shown at halter, obstacle, public relation, junior exhibitor and showmanship. Costume classes also are presented.
The show is free to the public and offers an opportunity to meet alpacas and their owners and to buy alpaca fiber, yarn, jewelry and other alpaca related items. You might even buy an alpaca or two.
Here’s a story that The Oklahoman published Christmas Day 1921 that illustrates the change of thought in home economic education and baby care. In this case, a baby boy who had had a tough start in life was given the chance of a happy future.
“David, the orphan baby who was ‘adopted’ by Oklahoma A. and M. College in order to complete the ‘equipment’ of the school of home economics homemakers’ cottage, will spend his first Christmas in a home of his own.
When students left Friday, for the Christmas holidays, David was among those on out-going trains; he was to be formally adopted Saturday, into the home of a wealthy Oklahoma oil man. A younger baby will take his place in the home-makers’ cottage.”
David was 11 weeks old when he arrived at school, the orphan child of an abandoned mother who died ten 10 days after his birth. He first went into the care of the Oklahoma Children’s Home society until the college, the predecessor of Oklahoma State University, came up with the idea of borrowing a real baby for “the practice house, in order that girl students might gain practical knowledge in the feeding and care of babies.”
The idea worked in David’s favor.
“The publicity that David got at the time brought scores of letters from interested persons; the scientific care assured for the child made him attractive to babyless homes; more than a dozen definite offers were made for his adoption.
“Four groups of girls, eighteen in all, have lived in the homemakers’ cottage during the school year thus far, helping in the care of David. As a Christmas gift, when he left, they gave him a silver loving cup on whose side was inscribed, “David, Oklahoma A.& M.”
Oklahoma A&M continued the program the next school year with David II.
No other information was found about David I or David II with the exception that David II was being groomed for the 1922 State Fair baby contest. In the 1920s, the baby contest was more of how the baby was growing and meeting standards and less of a beauty contest. David II did not win.
An Internet search found that college use of “practice babies” was not unusual. In fact, Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., had a practice baby program from 1919-1969. The school stopped the program after concerns about what was best for the babies and changes that made the homemaking cottage outdated.