This is a reprint of an article by Edith C. Johnson, an editorial writer for The Oklahoman, that was first published 95 years ago on Easter Sunday, April 4, 1915:
“Today is Easter — the most significant and appealing festival in the calendar of the year — with the single exception of Christmas.
Easter is our most perfect symbol of hope renewed and our promise of life eternal. Rightly interpreted, it becomes the sign-manual of creative energy bursting the bonds of a thousand limitations. It is the token of new courage with which to face life’s struggle–strong in the belief of an ultimate supremacy. To contemplate the eternal verities for which it stands is to widen our horizon and broaden our purposes and hopes.
Science teaches us that one spring is like another–but science is forgotten in the message of inspiration the recurring springtime brings to a world that is weary with toil and endless disappointments, that is wasting its blood in futile warfare, that is struggling with iron oppressions and that is crushed to earth under the heel of selfishness and cold indifference.
Easter beckons on the human race. Symbolizing the renewal of man’s shining ideals, it revives human faith after the winter of our discontent, and spurs us on to the accomplishment of unbelievable tasks, through a courage that finds its source in the life-giving stream of our spiritual nature.
There is a sublime general in Easter, celebrated by the return of spring with its melting snows and streams, its budding leaves, and its bursting blossoms that once more turn their petals to the sun. Man may fall, but nature always stands proudly erect– for the seed drops to earth, only to blossom forth in greater glory. Man may transgress or evade the law. Inviolable nature keeps it. Man may sullenly turn away from light and truth. All nature turns her face towards the sun.
Thus do we read in the buds and blossoms and leaves of grass the victories of life. The beauties of nature heal and restore us. The incommunicable trees, flowers, the earth and the waters, all growing things and the heavens, bid us live with them and enter into the fullness of life. They proclaim that love shall overcome hate; that justice shall rise above injustice; that right will triumph over might and that dominion and power shall ultimately belong to the righteous and pure in heart.–E.C.J.”
May you find beauty in the Oklahoma spring landscape on this early Easter morning.
I came across a story that referred to Benoni Harrington as the “father of Capitol Hill.” I was curious because I had never heard of him. So I began looking for any information I could find, and I was able to learn about another of Oklahoma City’s colorful pioneers.
Benoni (Ben) R. Harrington arrived in Oklahoma City on April 22, 1889, by train. He was, however, not new to Oklahoma Territory.
Relocating in Wichita, Kan., from California, he would take the train several times a month to the “wild country.” He was a correspondent for the Wichita Beacon and would write about the Unassigned Lands. An interview with Ben Harrington from The Oklahoman, Feb 6, 1949, stated, “Harrington’s stories did a lot toward starting the Sooner movement. People who read them, came on the Santa Fe to look and some tried to stay.”
When Hamlin Sawyer, a Kansas editor, wanted to start a newspaper in the Oklahoma Territory, Sawyer asked Harrington what he should name the newspaper, and Harrington told him to name it the Oklahoma City Times. The Times was first printed in Kansas and sent down by train.
Quoting from “The First Eight Months in Oklahoma City” by Bunky (Irving Geffs) serialized in the Oklahoma City Times in 1933: “The initial number of the Oklahoma City Times was published to the world Dec. 29, 1888 by Hamlin Whitmore Sawyer, the present editor and publisher. Mr. B. R. Harrington, who was perfectly familiar with this country, was the local editor. The mechanical work on the first issue was executed at Wichita, Kan. but the copy was furnished by Mr. Harrington from this place. Type and material was at once furnished to Mr. Harrington at this place and the Oklahoma City Times as a weekly paper appeared regularly and was circulated to the world through the postoffice at this city. The novelty of a newspaper in the Oklahoma Territory, from the city that bears its name, was a drawing card and everybody wanted to see the new paper. Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Wichita and many metropolitan papers quoted the Oklahoma City Times. The result was a marvelous increase in circulation. In 30 days from the first issue the circulation was extended to every state and territory in the union besides quite a list in Canada and Great Britain. It afforded the publisher a handsome income until Feb. 10, 1889, when Lieutenant Malcomb, commanding a company of U.S. troops raided this section of Oklahoma and put the Times to flight.”
Eventually, the newspaper was purchased by The Oklahoma Publishing Company and was Oklahoma City’s afternoon paper until ceasing publication in 1983.
Because of Ben Harrington’s input in the naming of the newspaper, he was credited with the naming of Oklahoma City. Two stories I found in The Oklahoman and his obituary published April 30, 1959, confirm this.
In 1900, Harrington bought 160 acres south of the North Canadian River, and in 1901 he platted the first addition that was named Capitol Hill.
During his 1949 interview, Harrington said, “Near as I can remember, I answered right off Capitol Hill. They said no, call it Harrington addition. But I said call it Capitol Hill and put it on the map.”
The newspaper article reported: “His idea was to locate the capitol there. There was no state then and Guthrie was the territorial capital.”
In 1904, Capitol Hill was incorporated as a town, and in 1910, it was annexed by Oklahoma City with a population of 2,500. In 1949, it was estimated the population of Capitol Hill was 85,000.
Ben Harrington had a mercantile and contracting business in Oklahoma City on a lot he paid $100 for at 225 w California, but he also dabbled in land developing, natural gas drilling and he was one of the businessmen who encouraged the packing plants to locate in Oklahoma City.
Before his death on April 29, 1959, at 96 years old, Ben Harrington had lived long enough to see Capitol Hill grow from “the one store on the river and open country it was when Harrington planned it,” according to the 1949 story. In 1959 Capitol Hill had ”a semi-weekly newspaper, a daytime radio station, 75 churches, 18 schools, seven parks and business and industry of untold financial value. A major part of Oklahoma City industry is located in the Capitol Hill district.
“The district’s real growth dates from the discovery of oil, the final realization of Harrington’s dream on Dec. 4, 1928.”
The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil and Foster petroleum companies’ well came gushing in 6 and 1/2 miles south of the city and was the discovery well for the Oklahoma City field. On Wednesday, Dec 5, 1928, the citizens of Capitol Hill held a celebration including fireworks and a street dance for the oil discovery.
During the 1949 interview, Harrington said, “Instead of capping it and keeping it quiet, they did like I asked and let her gush.”
The article continued: He figures the gusher attracted attention and started a black gold rush which boomed Capitol Hill and Oklahoma City out of slow growing pains.
Spring will arrive March 20, if you can believe the weatherman. Spring flowers have begun to appear in gardens across the city.
This item appeared in The Oklahoman April 30, 1915:
“WARNING TO FLOWER THIEVES”
“Vandals cut 104 tulips from the flower garden of Mrs. James Geary Wednesday night. Other vandals ruined flowers at the home of Frank Harrah on West Thirteenth street. Other losses are reported on East Fifth street.The civic beauty committee of the Women of “89 has offered a reward of $10 (almost $215 in today’s currency) for the arrest and conviction of flower thieves. This committee has asked the aid of the city authorities in stopping the mutilation of flower gardens and has been promised the services of watchmen.
A number of owners of flowerbeds have loaded their shotguns and propose to protect their property in this severe manner.
The civic beauty committee asks all citizens to make close inquiry of all persons offering to sell flowers, believing that if purchasers will refuse to buy flowers indiscriminately that the practice of stealing flowers will be broken up.”
In the May 7, 1915 newspaper, this followup ran:
“OFFICIALS AFTER FLOWER VANDALS”
“City officials announced Thursday that a vigorous campaign will be waged to arrest flower thieves. Many complaints have been received that marauders were invading parks and lawns and pulling up the flowers. Mayor Overholser has instructed the police department to keep a close lookout for this class of offenders. They wil be severely punished if caught, he says.
Dr. J.G. Street, commissioner of public property is considering offering a reward for the arrest of flower thieves. He will consult the city counselor Friday on the matter and if such a move is within the law it will be offered by this department.”
Further searching did not disclose any arrests, but as flowers continue to bloom across the metro, this should serve as a reminder to leave the flowers for the next person to enjoy.
While news reports abound with the proposal of a Bricktown Grand Prix auto race, the idea of racing high speed automobiles on Oklahoma City streets is not a new one.
“When the whir and whizz of automobiles, running in international races on the asphalt road known as the Grand boulevard of Oklahoma City, disturb the stillness of 1911 then the park board may rest–and not ’til then.
In their (the park board members) dream, or rather plan–for it is mapped out now, and grading is underway–they have conceived of a road 200 feet wide, interlaid with trees and flowers, an endless path of unobstructed ease for those who would drive and drive and drive.”
The Oklahoman Dec 12, 1909, story further described their dream:
“On this primrose path there will be none of the grade crossings, nor the halting unpleasantness of hucksters, pedestrians, sand piles and street cars that befuddle and make stuffy the streets of cities. Overhead and underneath, the vehicles which pass the course of the boulevard will go over viaducts and through tunnels.
On the auto-course road rules alone governing directions will restrict. Not only will there be no limit to speed but driving to the best power of the machine will be encouraged.”
As history and current experience shows, Grand Boulevard never quite reached the high expectations of those early leaders.
When Oklahoma City finally staged the Southwest Sweepstakes Race in April 29, 1915, the racers, including the famed Barney Oldfield, did not race on Grand Boulevard. The racetrack, 2.404 miles long, was laid out on Linwood Boulevard. The winner of the 200-mile race was “Wild Bob” Burman, and there were only two slight accidents. Burman received $2,500.
When Grand Prix racing comes to Bricktown, the prize money will be greater, but the excitement for the crowds will be much the same.
It was a plaintive plea in The Oklahoman on Sept. 2, 1908, that caught my eye:
“Prohibition has not stopped drunkenness up to this date and if we must have drunkenness, let’s try to confine it to the men and let the fishes at least die sober.”
Whit M. Grant, Oklahoma City’s first mayor under the commission form of government, was complaining about illegal, confiscated beer being dumped in the streets and allowed to flow down the sewers and into the river.
“Intoxicated inhabitants of the North Canadian kept citizens of Spencer busy, following the Moss beer spilling according to Mr. Grant, who returned from there yesterday. Rendered helpless by the brew in the river, hundreds of fish were taken without difficulty. One catfish captured weighed 90 pounds, according to Mr. Grant, who says:
“About the middle of last week another prohibition slump was made into the sewers from the Moss brewery; and following it up , on Friday, from about 10 o’clock in the morning until about 2 in the afternoon the river, for at least three miles this side of Spencer and on below as far as heard from, was full of drunken fish, they may have appeared in other places—I have not heard. They would swim around, some on their sides and some with their backs partly out of the water, butting against logs and other obstructions in the river and into the banks, some helpless and heedless of the approach of human beings, while others probably not quite so drunk made some effort to get out of the way when approached. Their behavior was infact not much different from a bunch of drunken men.”
“The people in and about Spencer took advantage of the situation and captured great numbers of fish and after keeping them in fresh water for a time revived them and they got as active as they ever had been, and were eaten. They had no bad flavor or unusual taste–in fact they were good to eat, at all events many ate them and no bad effects have been reported.”
However, the article goes on to report that many fish were found dead along the river and it was attributed to the beer in the water. Mr. Grant went on to say:
“I am positive that there is over a ton of dead fish in the river between this city and Spencer. Such destruction of food fishes is an outrage on the people entitled to them and a disgrace to the parties responsible for it.”
He expressed hope that such a thing would not happen again.
I did not find any more mention of “spilling” beer in Oklahoma City, but in 1909 I came across an article where the confiscated liquor was being sold to Kansas, so the city found a way to profit from the beer.
The headline in The Oklahoman for Sept. 20, 1959, read: “Notorious Bank Bandit Dies,” and the story led with: “A 58-year-old man, virtually forgotten by society for 23 years died Saturday in the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kan. His death brought back the notoriety he had outlived.”
Frank Delmar, a convicted murderer and possible associate of Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, earned the dubious honor of being the first man arrested by the FBI for bank robbery. If he and his fellow bank robbers had robbed the People’s National Bank of Kingfisher 23 days earlier, it would have still been a crime prosecuted under state law, but President Franklin Roosevelt had signed a bill into law making the robbery of a national bank, a federal offense.
Delmar and seven others had escaped the prison at Lansing, Kan., on Jan. 19, 1934. On May 31, Frank Delmar and three other escapees robbed the People’s National Bank of Kingfisher of $3,000. The bank robbers took four bank employees hostage but released them unharmed.
On Aug. 12, 1934, Frank Delmar was arrested near Claremore by two federal agents. He was tried for his crimes and could have received the death penalty because of the kidnapping of the bank employees, but he received a sentence of 99 years in the federal prison at Leavenworth.
He remained in prison for 23 years until his death Sept. 19, 1959.
The newspaper article, which served as his obituary, said: “He entered the federal prison immediately, and virtually dropped from the eyes of society.” For the 23 years he was in prison, Delmar “never wrote a letter, never received one, and never had a visitor. He had no known relatives.”
The article ended with the statement: “And Saturday, his death closed the book. It marked the severing of another link with the wild days of gangsterism for the entire midwest.”
The little poem, above, by R. Alex Wells was published in The Oklahoman, Jan. 30, 1910, 100 years ago yesterday.
Curious about the inspiration for the poem, I searched the archives of The Oklahoman.
I found a report on Jan. 1, 1910, that Professor Percival Lowell, of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ, had stated in an address given in Boston that a previous mapping of the canals on Mars had counted 177 canals, but that number had increased to nearly 600 canals by his count. According to him, this was a result of construction by Martian inhabitants.
An internet search identified Professor Percival Lowell as a respected astronomer who developed the theory of life on Mars.
On The Oklahoman’s editorial page for Jan. 10, 1910, this item appeared:
“Squire Brown says: P’r'haps those marks on Mars are merely reflections of Oklahoma City’s “suburbs.”
The newspaper reported on Jan. 31, that: R. Alex Well’s poetry or ditty in Sunday’s Oklahoman was favorably commented on by his many friends. Mr. Wells writes poetry only as a sideline, as the traveling gentry say. He is a partner of Watton & Wells, photographers. Mr. Well’s poem appeared under the caption , “Hello Mars.”
I can imagine that both Professor Lowell and Alex Wells would be surprised by the recent photographs sent from Mars by the Mars Exploration Rover Mission.
There is a short street east of I-235 named Geary Avenue. It’s longer on the south side of the river.
I figured the street was named for the town of Geary in Blaine County. I was wrong.
With a little research in The Oklahoman’s archives, I learned about one of Oklahoma City’s forgotten pioneers.
James Geary was born in 1844 in Missouri. At age 15, after the death of his parents, he left home to become a frontiersman. He helped survey the area where Denver, Colo., now stands and rode with wagon trains on their way to New Mexico and beyond.
During the Civil War, he was an Army scout in the company of William “Wild Bill” Hickock, Amos Chapman, Ben Clark and Col. William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. After the war, he built houses under government contract in Oklahoma before moving to Kansas and settling down as a rancher and merchant.
On April 22, 1889, James Geary came to Oklahoma City and on May 3, 1889, he opened the Citizens’ Bank at the corner of Main and Broadway. He sold the bank in 1893 to Capt. Daniel Stiles, another pioneer with a street named for him. He joined Stiles, and the two became real estate developers.
They developed the Maywood Addition, Oklahoma City’s first “Nichols Hills,” which included the area around Geary Avenue. It was the fashionable part of town where the wealthy lived.
Geary served on the Board of Trade , the predecessor to the Chamber of Commerce, which was formed on May 25, 1889. He later was elected and served as an alderman (city councilman) and, at the time of his death, was still involved in real estate.
James Geary died on Oct. 21, 1904. In The Oklahoman for Oct. 25, an article said his funeral was attended by “the largest throng of people ever assembled in this city to pay a parting tribute to a deceased citizen.”
After a procession consisting of “a platoon of twelve members of the police force. A band followed, and the remainder of the line of march was composed of the city fire department, the city officials, forty members of the Knights Templar, members of the A. F. & A. M., and hundreds of citizens,” Geary was eulogized in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church by the Hon. Sidney Clarke.
In his address, Clarke said about his friend: “He lived an active and honorable life in this world and with malice toward none and charity for all, he met the envitable with that sincerity and composure which characterized all his intercourse with his fellow men.”
James Geary is buried in Fairlawn Cemetery.
When I saw this headline in The Oklahoman for July 6, 1926, “Hello Girls In Course of One Day’s Work Say About Everything Except Hello,” I had to stop and read the story. I’ll admit it wasn’t what I was expecting.
The story was about the telephone operators of the Bell Telephone company switchboards. It begins:
“Hello girls” never say “Hello.”
Have you ever heard your telephone operator say “Hello?”
No, and neither has anyone else. But people have referred to all girls at the telephone switchboards for a number of years as “Hello girls.”
“Hello” is not in the vocabulary of the Bell Telephone operators. Their lines are many but stereotyped ones. Their lines go to hundreds of thousands of persons who always answer calls with “Hello.” But that “kind of line” is not ever used by the operators themselves.
Then what is the “line” of the young woman who is the medium between you and the person with whom you desire to talk?
“Number please” is the first letter in the operator’s book of A B C’s. That is the only permissible phrase for her to answer your signal with when your receiver is off the hook, indicating that you want her services.” (Remember this was the era of party lines and the switchboard operator actually connected you with your party.)
The article goes on to give the rest of the “letters” in the operator’s book continuing with “What number please,” “They do not answer,” and “That line is out of order.”
The article concludes with, “These four stock phrases are supposed to care for all business that a telephone operator has with person she serves. So they plainly are not “Hello” girls.
There are 348 telephone girls in Oklahoma City. In one year’s time in Oklahoma City there are 87,800,000 calls placed by telephone operators who never use the word “hello.” (Boy, has that changed.)
Further research in The Oklahoman’s archive found the first reference for “Hello Girls” in a 1902 headline announcing the setting of telephone poles to Bridgeport leading to the start of telephone service. The last mention where the phrase was used as a current term for telephone operators was in the 1950′s.
Now, of course, we have directory assistance operators, and, somehow, I can’t imagine them being called “Hello Girls.”
The new Devon tower will soon be rising over the city skyline, and as the workers excavate for the caissons that will support the building, at least they won’t have to worry about quicksand.
In 1909, a new building was to begin construction on the northwest corner of Robinson and Grand. First, the six houses that had been on that corner since 1889 had to be demolished. Then a quicksand test had to be done.
A small item in the Sept. 30, 1909, Oklahoman reported that the test was considered a success when larger posts than necessary sank only 3/4 of an inch after 5 days.
The demolition and the the quicksand test were done in preparation for the construction of the Colcord building, still standing to the east of where the Devon tower will soon rise. This year, the Colcord building will be 100 years old and was built by Oklahoma City pioneer capitalist, Col. C. F. Colcord, as an office building. It now performs stellar service as a boutique hotel.
The only other construction problem I came across in The Oklahoman was in November 1909 when the south wall of the old post office building across the alley from the excavation site, and not to be confused with the old post office building at 201-215 Dean A. McGee, began sinking and led to the immediate evacuation of the tenants and the attempt to shore up the building.
On Sept. 3, 1909, U.S. Vice President James Schoolcraft Sherman visited Oklahoma City, and on his itinerary was a visit to the rooftop garden of the 14-story Colcord building to view the city and its surrounding area. In November, the elevator operators claimed to be taking more visitors to the roof to view the city than actual work-related visitors.
Dec. 1, 1910, the Colcord held its “housewarming reception” and more than 10,000 people attended, a record at the time.
May the longevity of the Colcord building set an example for the the future as Devon Energy builds its new home.