History records the Chinese using oil from snakes to alleviate joint pain, but with the coming of the patent medicine man, snake oil took on a different connotation: fraud and fakery.
The traveling elixir peddlers sold their medicines with the promise of cures for practically everything that ails you.
Seventy-five years ago on April 3, 1938, The Oklahoman reported the story of rattlesnake hunter Herb Pinack of Medicine Park.
“He seeks out the dens of the rattlesnakes, kills them and collects the fat from the sides of the rattlesnakes. From this fat he renders an oil which has been known for years for its medical qualities.”
“From the time of the medicine shows when the wandering doctors went through the country selling their remedies, snake oil has been known as a healer of rheumatism, toothache, earache and other aches for which penetrating oil will give relief. Rattlesnake oil, according to Pinack, is one of the most penetrating oils that have ever been found and a small amount rubbed into a joint sore with rheumatism or dropped into an ear will give quick relief. He sells the oil for $20 an ounce, but a small amount will last the winter for an average family.”
On a sunny Sunday, reporter Helen Gilbert met Pinack and his wife in the Wichita Mountains to hunt rattlesnakes.
“I saw two people wandering among the rocks on a ledge above me and calling up to them I asked if they were hunting rabbits. They yelled back. “No we are looking for rattlesnake.” I had seen a posted sign on a fence that I had just crossed and when Pinack answered that he was looking for rattlesnake I thought he was trying to scare me.”
“Soon, I came closer to Pinack and his wife and they invited me to join them. Still thinking the snakes were a joke, I trailed along and fell into conversation. Pinack told me how he had killed thousands of rattlesnakes in the 36 years that he had lived in the mountains and how he decided to make a hobby of killing them and collecting their oil.”
Herb Pinack located a den and killed six rattlesnakes.
“With his penknife, Pinack slit their skins, his knife making a slight raking sound as it cut through the scales. With deft fingers he pulled the fat from their sides and dropped it into a fruit jar which he brought along.”
Rattlesnake oil may truly just be snake oil, but as media continues to bring stories of the next great cure, and who knows, but real snake oil might be worth another look from scientists.
If you want to get out there and hunt your own, consider attending the Waurika Rattlesnake Hunt, April 12-14; the Apache Rattlesnake Festival, April 18-21; and the 48th Annual Mangum Rattlesnake Derby, April 26-28.
Here’s a story from The Oklahoman on Nov. 5, 1927, that begins with a life lesson.
“You can never tell what a tremendous bearing a sweet smile and a gentle disposition may have on your entire career.
“Consider for example, the case of Rex, the little brown guinea pig in the city chemist’s office, named after Rex Cleveland, city pure food inspector.
“Several weeks ago when ten little guinea pigs, the world’s most helpless animals, arrived at the chemist’s office Rex immediately showed signs of being friendly. While the other little pigs would scurry away in high terror when anyone approached their box, Rex plainly showed he was not afraid. He would walk boldly up and eat lettuce out of your hand, and he let it be known if you wanted to rub him behind the ears, it was alright with him. In fact he liked it.
“As a result, no diphtheria tests have been made upon Rex. While his little playmates suffer with sore throats and have high fevers, as result of inoculations, Rex just scampers about as happy as he can be, doing nothing all day but stuffing his little stomach with nice fresh lettuce and getting his ears rubbed.
“And that isn’t all. Employees of the chemist’s office have interceded for Rex, and he is soon to be taken to the city zoo where he will have a comfortable home for the rest of his life.
“Now, the moral is, if you’re a guinea pig, be a sweet little guinea pig.”
There was a follow-up on Dec. 17, 1927, reporting the arrival of Rex and two fellow guinea pigs at the zoo, with the note that they would soon be on display in a cage made especially for them.
Guinea pigs normally live four to eight years. There was no further mention of Rex, but we can guess he spent the rest of his life with fresh lettuce and a scratch behind the ears. Not a bad life at all.
In 1942, city roadhouse owner Billy Gragg opened a downtown dance hall at 7 N Broadway and named it the Daisy Mae after the character in the long-running comic strip, “Li’l Abner.”
Bragg said, “Girl attendants will dress as Daisy Mae, while fountain boys will appear as Li’l Abner.”
With World War II ongoing, Gragg decided female patrons must show their ration books to prove they were of legal drinking age.
With the police chief’s blessing, Gragg instituted a rule that men must show their draft cards to show they were 21, but he would serve the military regardless of age. ” … if he is big enough and old enough to carry a gun, he’s big enough and old enough to carry a glass of beer.”
On April 5, 1942, veteran Oklahoman writer Tom Rucker reported the Daisy Mae’s most memorable event.
The battle of Mrs. Mabel Bassett v. the Daisy Mae’s bare tummies closed its second round Tuesday night with no decision and the tummies still bare.
The complaining commissioner of charities and corrections was sidestepped in the first round, when the very male city council pointed out that city ordinances cover such things as bare tummies in a legal sort of way and referred her to the police department.
The second round opened with verbal sparring with L.J. Hilbert, police chief, and with Mrs. Bassett failing to land any telling body blows, but was brought to a sudden halt when Billy Gragg, owner of the honky-tonk, said in effect: “Bare they are, bare they stay.” His actual words were: “If anyone complains that the bare midriffs are vulgar, we’ll cover them up.” When it was pointed out that Mrs. Bassett already had complained, he gave out verbosely, but which boiled down in paraphrase to: “Anyone else.”
Mrs. Bassett claimed that up to six inches of anatomy of the Daisy Mae’s waitresses showed between halter and skirts.
A detailed examination of the midriff of one tall waitress made Tuesday afternoon (purely in the interest of facts, Lou Verna, my dear) revealed:
Two and one-half inches of slightly tanned, smooth skin between the upper and lower garments. If she breathed deeply the bare would have built up to four inches.
If the bare built up to six inches the inspection no longer would have been scientific.
This particular waitress, a charming 18-year-old blond, wore a polka-dot halter with a full back in it. It was tied in front with one of the ends drooping down, thus hiding at least one square inch of skin.
Her jagged skirt, a la Daisy Mae fashion, ended just below her knees, in a much less intriguing manner than the scanties worn in the comic strips by the real Daisy Mae.
Thus the score stood Tuesday night: Two rounds, no decision, eight tummies still bare.
Gragg has had several brushes with officials. An old hand in the entertainment business, he usually adopts a conciliatory attitude. But Tuesday he just wanted to ask more questions of Mrs. Bassett.
What, he asked, is Mrs. Bassett going to do with housewives who wear midriffs downtown this summer? And how about girls at swimming pools and women who wear two-piece evening dresses?”
This wasn’t the end of the story. On May 22, 1944, The Oklahoman reported a Chicago trade magazine, “Institutional,” had picked up the story of the bare midriffs and ran the photo of a Daisy Mae waitress in her “uniform.” The only problem was they identified the waitress as “Mabel Bassett of the Daisy Mae tavern in Oklahoma City fashions the very latest in Dogpatch style.”
Bassett was out of town and apparently chose not to make a public comment when she returned.
“Why the idea,” giggled Elsie D. Hand, assistant commissioner, “of Mabel Bassett going around showing half of her stomach. That’s the funniest thing I ever heard of.”
Mabel Bassett was elected and served as the state commissioner of charities and corrections for 24 years. She oversaw the operations of the state schools for boys and girls, orphanages and the state penitentiary. If a child was orphaned or abandoned, she would often pick up the child herself, or if a prisoner had a complaint, he or she would come to her. She was also recognized early in her career for being the first woman patrolman in the state at Sapulpa. The state correctional facility in McLoud is named for her.
The Daisy Mae lasted until late 1947 when Chuck’s Billiards took over the location and arrests began to rise for illegal gambling and bookies.
A sad, little story appeared in The Oklahoman on Nov. 3, 1912.
Captain W.W. Mayne, a survivor of the Civil War, died April 15, 1912, in Claremore, and a public auction of his possessions was held later that year in November on the streets of Claremore.
The story began: “At a public auction sale on the streets of this city recently one of the most famous violins in America was sold and one of the saddest stories of human life — full of romance and disappointments — was brought to light.”
Mayne, impoverished after searching unsuccessfully nearly 18 years for the wife who had deserted him in 1894 and taken their children, left an estate of only a few trinkets and four violins.
He had arrived in Claremore six years before in poor health resulting from war injuries aggravated by his search.
Claremore’s famous artesian water known as Radium water worked its cure and Mayne regained his health for a time.
Of the four violins, three sold for less than $20 each. But the fourth was a special one and sold for $145.50 to local attorney John T. Ezzard.
After the Civil War, Mayne became “a famous violinist and a noted orchestra leader, standing at the head of his profession in Chicago for a number of years. While there, a friend who had secured one of the Maggini violins was about to lose the instrument by foreclosure of a mortgage when Mayne secured the instrument on the payment of $760, the original mortgage being $1,760. The instrument, owing to the death of the mortgagee, was never redeemed and remained in the possession of Captain Mayne for over thirty years.”
Giovani Paolo Maggini lived in 17th century Italy and crafted violins. While not as well-known as Stradivarius or Guarneri, his violins are still quite respected in violin circles.
Mayne’s Maggini violin resurfaced in The Oklahoman on Jan. 27, 1936, in a story about a man who had spent 20 years trying to prove he had a 300-year-old violin.
According to the story, shortly after buying the violin in the 1912 auction, attorney Ezzard sold it to Carl Nuccols (Nuckolls) also of Claremore.
“‘I could tell the first time I played it. I had something,’ said Nuccols, employed in the aviation trade at 325 Northwest Second Street.”
“‘But I wanted to find the man whose name was inscribed on the bow which came with the violin and see what he knew.’ ”
“Encased with the instrument was a bow bearing this inscription: ‘Presented to Capt. W.W. Mayne by Roy Young, Violin Virtuoso.’ ”
Nuccols would move to Oklahoma City in 1933 in search of a job, and a chance meeting would lead him to Young’s brother, Fred.
After owning the violin for nearly 24 years, Nuccols was able to track down Roy Young, professor of violin, who had formerly taught at the University of Oklahoma.
Young wrote, “Yes, it is a genuine Italian-made violin, made by the son of Paolo Maggini in 1640. The instrument has a value of $3,000 or more. The bow isn’t so valuable.”
“The Maggini instrument’s untold ‘past’ is almost as obscure as it is far-reaching. In 1880, Captain Mayne bought the violin from a man then living in Chicago, now unknown. Beyond that, who can tell but the old violin, itself?”
Carl Nuckolls died in 1968.
The violin’s whereabouts is unknown.
Basketball season will be upon us in a few months.
The Thunder faithful will gather again on Reno Avenue north of the Chesapeake Arena in anticipation of another great game.
But go a few blocks north to where Broadway and Sheridan form a T intersection anchored by the Cox Convention Center, the Sheraton Century Hotel and the Renaissance Hotel, and imagine, if you will, Broadway extending south and each corner populated with its own diverse group of citizens.
This article from The Oklahoman, May 25, 1919, tells the story of Gospel Corner.
” ‘Gospel Corner,’ famous in the history of Oklahoma City until a decade ago, is being rehabilitated, after being partially suppressed by police edict. During its palmy days, ‘Gospel Corner’ vied with Trafalgar Square in London as a place where the freedom of speech regardless of how seditionary or unorthodox, was permitted. During the summer months it was not uncommon for four religious meetings to be in progress simultaneously — one on each corner, and it was because the intersection of Grand Avenue (now Sheridan Avenue) and Broadway was favored during the cool of the evenings as a place for street sermons that the intersection became known as ‘Gospel Corner.’
“Any man or woman who thought he or she had a message to deliver to the world was welcome to mount a soap box and begin expounding after 6 o’clock p.m. The city was filled with transients at that time, and any speaker was sure to have an audience regardless of the subject or length of the address.
“Religious ideas were not the only ones disseminated at ‘Gospel Corner’ during the heyday of its glory. Soap box orators and curbstone statesmen flourished here in those days, and a citizen with a few minutes to spend could learn how to save the country. The information was free.
“Gospel Corner’s downfall really dates from the time that ‘God,’ ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ (a group of nudists or naturists) undertook one day to put their preaching into practice on West Grand avenue. In broad daylight the three, attired even as Adam might have been, emerged from a doorway near Robinson avenue and began a march east on Grand avenue.”
After being covered up by well-meaning citizens, the trio were taken to jail and then banished from the city. The police pronounced an edict prohibiting gatherings on the corners.
The 1919 article ended by saying:
” ‘Gospel Corner’ is being revived but it is now pitched upon a higher plane. On several evenings last week two organizations were holding forth simultaneously at ‘Gospel Corner’ and the gatherings assumed the proportions of the old time crowds.”
The crowds have moved two blocks south now to Reno, and the shouts are for the home team, but if you’re at Broadway and Sheridan on game night, use your imagination and hear the sounds of those long-ago crowds.
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.
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.
Coltrane Road was named for John J. Coltrane, an ’89er born in North Carolina who owned land in the area near NE 36 and the street with his name.
The road begins at NE 23 Street between Bryant and Sooner Road and runs north, skipping a couple of section lines, nearly to Guthrie.
However, the street wasn’t originally named for the Oklahoma pioneer. It was named State Street.
According to an Oct. 5, 1944, story in The Oklahoman, the name change occurred because of a complication.
It seems there were two State streets in Oklahoma City — the northeast location and one in far northwest Oklahoma City, four blocks east of MacArthur Boulevard.
“It’s the folks along the west-side State Street who are raising the fuss. Their visitors go to the wrong street first, then have a long drive going to the right State Street.
“Besides,” says Mike Donnelly, County Commissioner District 2, site of the “west” State Street, “that other State Street never did rightfully exist. Originally it was named ‘Grant.’”
Mrs. Carl W. Skinner, one of several residents along the street and a niece of John Coltrane, said: “I was born about a mile from here and the street never has been called anything else (State Street) since it was opened several years ago.”
John J. Coltrane “originally owned three quarters of a section in that neighborhood. When the state capital was moved here from Guthrie, Coltrane offered land for the site.”
On July 5, 1911, The Oklahoman listed real estate transactions, and J.J. Coltrane transferred land to the State Capitol Building Co. for the sum of $1. In other early advertisements, Coltrane offered cattle for sale, and in the U.S. Census he is listed as a farmer.
The northwest corner of NE 36 and Coltrane was part of the land offered for the Capitol. The southeast corner was once the summer home of Gov. Robert S. Kerr and later the monks of the Holy Protection Orthodox Monastery of Forest Park. It is now privately owned.
R.L. Peebly (Peebly Road), county commissioner for the district, said he would entertain any suggestions for a new name, and Mrs. Skinner said she “would like for the name ‘Coltrane’ to be considered, honoring her uncle.”
While I found no official announcement, apparently there was no objection, and the east State Street became Coltrane Road.