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.
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.
Imagine an event that would bring out nearly half the population of Oklahoma City.
Eighty one years ago, Oklahoma City enjoyed a Christmas parade that was attended by between 65,000 and 100,000 people.
The 1930 federal U.S. Census estimated the city’s population at 185,389.
This description, from the Oklahoma City Times, Dec. 5, 1930, sets the scene:
“Santa Claus was in town, and so was everybody else Friday afternoon to watch the gorgeous spectacle move south on Broadway. Cheers and shouts went up from the throngs on the sidewalks, and many a tiny child in the custody of his mother, waved a happy ‘Hello Santa’ as the parade passed.”
And from The Oklahoman, Dec. 6, 1930, it was reported: “Lindbergh day, Al Smith day, (Gov.) Walton inaugural day, all were eclipsed by the throng, which gathered to attest that Old Santa is Oklahoma City’s greatest hero.”
“What he had to offer in the way of a spectacle was by no mean’s disappointing.”
School was let out so the children could attend, and work came to nearly a standstill as state employees came from the Capitol, office workers watched from windows and even the federal court recessed so the jury could watch.
At a mile and a half long and starting at 10th and Broadway and winding through the downtown shopping district, the parade took more than an hour to pass.
WKY Radio was stationed atop The Oklahoman building at Fourth and Broadway describing the passing displays.
The parade numbered nearly 60 units, including floats, seven bands, three calliopes, city officials and, of course, Santa Claus.
Santa had come to town and brought with him his sleigh and 10 live reindeer.
As we all know, Santa usually travels with eight tiny reindeer, except when Rudolph joins the team.
In 1930, it was still nine years away before he would need Rudolph and his shiny nose, so Santa must have brought the two extra reindeer to help pull the sleigh along the streets.
Times have changed, but Oklahoma Citians now flock to the Holiday River Parade and enjoy the events of Downtown in December.
The Christmas lights are on at Automobile Alley, a part of Broadway that hosted the parade in 1930.
While downtown is nearly impassable with all the street closings because of reconstruction and repair, the Bricktown area offers the city Christmas tree, lights along the canal and snow tubing at the RedHawks Field at Bricktown. And, the newly renovated Myriad Gardens is decked out in style with lots of lights, ice skating and Santa, too.
So, visit downtown if you can. If not, close your eyes and picture the sight of Santa and his reindeer making their way downtown with excited children and delighted adults crowded along the streets.
Hadden Hall recently underwent renovation to become downtown apartments, but the 100-year-old structure started life as an apartment hotel.
The three-story brick building at 215 NW 10 provided apartments for city visitors who wanted something homier than a hotel.
A new sign on the building recognizes Hadden Hall’s inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places and notes it is a circa 1910 building.
The circa 1910 was used probably because the applicants had no better luck than I did finding an exact date for when construction got started on the building.
The earliest listing I found was in The Oklahoman’s classified advertisements on Dec. 6, 1911:
“FOR RENT — Nicely furnished rooms with private bath, at Hadden Hall.”
Further research found notices from newlyweds in the newspaper’s society columns that they would be “at home” at Hadden Hall.
The research also introduced me to a remarkable woman who may have been the building’s longest resident, Miss Helen Ferris of Apartment 106.
Ferris, an English teacher from Illinois, joined the faculty of Central High School when it opened in 1910 and probably moved into Hadden Hall in 1912. The city directory for 1911-12 lists Ferris at 215 W 10th.
She was the first woman to be named vice principal of the high school in 1918, but continued to teach a fine literature class.
Ferris was respected and loved by the thousands of students she taught — her former students nominated her for Oklahoma City’s Most Useful Citizen of 1936, and she was selected for the honor.
In 1937, Edith Johnson, columnist for The Oklahoman, wrote of her: “Miss Ferris is not only one of the greatest women of Oklahoma City but one of the greatest women of this state. Nor does her greatness as a woman, as a teacher, as a friend and as a counselor depend upon either an era or an event. At any time or in any circumstance the contribution of Miss Ferris has made to the people of this city and state would be a priceless gift to humanity. Inspired teaching is the need of every generation, and inspired guidance likewise.
“She will live in the lives of her pupils who are what they are in no small measure because of what Miss Ferris taught them, because of the influence she had on their minds and their hearts, the direction she gave to their ambitions, the principles which they have followed in all accomplishment.
“Although Miss Ferris, together with so many women of her profession, has no children of her own body and blood, she is a mother to unnumbered sons and daughters.”
Ferris retired as vice principal in 1940, and in 1941 retired as an English teacher.
From 1941 until her death in 1951, she rarely left her apartment because of a medical condition, but with nearly 3,000 former students a year visiting her, and with her books, needlework, telephone and letters, she was never lonely.
She had another first — her funeral was the first one held in Central’s auditorium.
If you should pass Central High School or Hadden Hall, remember Helen Ferris and the teachers who have meant much to you.
Dinosaurs living at Sheridan and Robinson! That’s what a story said in The Oklahoman on Sept. 23, 1917.
“Hundreds of thousands of years ago Oklahoma had a semitropical climate. Back in those gladsome old days there were no men nor women; the inhabitants of what is now one of the greatest states in the union belonged to the reptilian family. Probably where the Colcord building now stands was the abiding place of Mr. and Mrs. Dinosaur and their interesting brood.
“Interest in the state’s earliest residents was aroused the other day when the leg bone of a prehistoric animal was dug up at the new waterworks site.”
The bone was found “imbedded in solid rock 25 feet under the river bed.”
L. Howell Lewis, a local scientist, upon examining the bone, determined it was 17 inches long, and the vertebra where it was attached was 4 inches wide. His conclusion: “These fossils once belonged to the bony structure of a great carnivorous dinosaur known as the allisoraus.”
He also concluded that this particular “allisoraus,” which is now spelled allosaurus, weighed about 20,000 pounds and was 30 feet long.
While searching for more evidence of dinosaurs in the city, an earlier item from The Oklahoman on March 7, 1917, reported these finds:
“While the contributions to science brought to light in the work at the new waterworks project have so far not startled the world, the foundation for a small museum has been laid.
“In a test hole 19 feet deep in the sand, workmen last week unearthed the sacrum bone of a buffalo. Trees which were uprooted above the spot were estimated to be over 100 years old, so the bone must have been buried under the sand layers for several centuries.
“The skull of a man was found at another spot buried several feet deep in red shale. The type was that of a primitive species. At another place a knife three feet long of crude workmanship was dug up. All the finds are being kept by John R. Boardman.”
What happened to the bones and knife, I do not know, but the waterworks plant, now known as Lake Overholser Dam, is nearing its century mark and is still a part of Oklahoma City’s water supply.
“Nesting in the miniature valley that extends from Twentieth and Twenty-second streets, and along the line of North Broadway, a pretty little plat of ground that has come into the ownership of Oklahoma City …”
“It was on this ground that the ‘eighty-niners’ had their first picnic. In its rough state, with the streets yet projected, the grove (of oak trees) that is about to be transformed into a city park was the scene of an old fashioned picnic. A well of pure water was an attraction that would be even more appreciated in these days, if it had not dried up. That well was dug by the early boomers.”
This description was in The Oklahoman Feb. 19, 1911.
Today that “pretty little plat of ground” is an island of grass, a few trees and a fire station.
Capt. John F. Winans homesteaded, farmed, developed and donated the land for the park that carries his name.
From his obituary published in The Oklahoman Jan. 31, 1935, we get a colorful picture of Winans, who was 93 at the time of his death.
“Death ended a career which, in Oklahoma, began with Winans plowing and harvesting crops from a frontier farm located in what is now an exclusive residential district — Winans addition. The addition extends from Northwest Sixteenth to Twenty-Third street and from Santa Fe to Walker Avenue.
“The neighbors of Capt. John F. Winans, 115 Northwest Seventeenth Street, never got used to seeing the 93-year-old man run around the block every morning. He attributed his long life … to regular exercise. That and two vegetarian meals a day and abstinence from coffee, tea, milk, liquor and tobacco.”
“The lawn he mowed was once part of his farm — a frontier farm that he tilled at the same time George H. Harn was plowing an adjoining one in what is now the Harn tract, on the other side of the Santa Fe tracks.”
Winans’ plan was to plant a fruit farm on his property, but Oklahoma City was growing northward fast, and houses were taking the place of farmland.
He donated the park land in 1911 and was said to enjoy watching the children at play.
Since the 1920s and ’30s, there had been lighted tennis courts, a playground with swings and a wading pool with bathhouse.
There is a sign that proclaims the land as Winans Park to the river of traffic on Broadway flowing mindlessly around it.
The wading pool and the tennis courts have all disappeared and the city rounded the corners, taking some of the land, to make the street a little less treacherous for speeding automobiles.
The first fire station was built in the park in 1951, and in 1993, it was demolished and a new station was built on the same site.
There is nothing in the way of recreation, but if you venture across busy Broadway or speed around it, the little park still remains, a silent tribute to a generous Oklahoma pioneer and the rich history of Oklahoma City.
Pick up a newspaper, check online or listen to the television, and it seems all you hear is about the heat and whether or not Oklahoma City will break the 1936 high temperature record of 113.1 degrees.
This observation appeared 75 years ago Sunday, Aug. 16, 1936, on Page 1 of The Oklahoman. It recaps the week of heat that included the record-setting 113.1 degree high temperature.
Fear is the papa and mama of invention. We have been very scared the last two weeks because the human body is 90 percent water and we have been evaporating at a rapid rate.
Harry Wahlgren, with the two hottest weeks on record, until a few days ago had us believing he was drying us like peaches on a smoke house roof. He had us wondering how long it would be until we dried up completely and blew into Arkansas, just so many irritants to hay fever victims.
It’s got to be admitted that Harry’s first few blows brought out our creative impulses. The humblest became scientific. We reasoned that if we were drying up at twice our weight a day we would have to drink three times our weight in water to hold our own.
That was elemental, but as soon as we were waterlogged it became clear that other modern means would have to adopted to cut down the evaporation. We quit all work to apply ourselves to this problem.
Primitive souls hauled in tubs of ice and sat opposite electric fans. Stone age men hung wet towels in the windows. Reactionaries tried gin highballs. The best minds among us evaporated a lot of rigging up air coolers. They sought boxes of wet excelsior, ran water through them and fanned the air on their heaving bosoms.
Some made gadgets out of fishing reels, bicycle pumps, flannel underwear and electric fans. Some lay under water sprinklers. Others floundered in tepid swimming pools.
It looked like it would all be in vain. We were losing ground. Wahlgren was pouring it on.
The worse day was the day we broke the record. Panting from inventing we learned that on August 10 we had been hotter than ever an Oklahoma Cityan had been before. That made us kinda proud. It set us out as hardy people.
Sleeping through that night under the cool off a mere 81 degrees that was long in coming we found we could take it for certain.
The next day we weren’t even impressed when Harry raised the ante to 113 degrees. Then when the temperature began to fall a two and three degrees at a clip we gave Wahlgren the horse laugh. We drove out Classen in the heat of the day to mock him.
We even went back to work. We forgot about our gadgets to keep cool. We forgot even to remember we were hot. We have proved that hearty Oklahomans can sweat and live. Not only sweat and live, but sweat and get the job done, sweat and even have fun. We have proved we’re tougher even than rag weeds.
Hang in there! In 1936 the rains and cooler temperatures finally came in September.
Note: Harry Walgren was the head of the U.S. Weather Bureau branch on Classen Boulevard in what are now law offices
Summer can’t be over!
It’s still too hot and August has just begun.
When I was growing up, back to school always meant summer was over and cooler temperatures were soon to come.
School didn’t start until after Labor Day (and Oklahoma City is starting Monday).
I don’t remember it ever being too hot to learn or play at recess and I know we didn’t have air conditioning at my school, Traub Elementary School in Midwest City.
Now most mornings, I pass Emerson School on the corner of NW 7th and Walker.
I love to see the old school. It looks just like what a school should look like.
One built to last the ages, while educating students and preparing them for the world.
I love the stone lion holding a tablet on the roof. It looks like he’s watching over his students while keeping an eye on Oklahoma City.
There has been an Emerson School on this corner since 1895. The building has changed.
The first one burned and in 1907 brick building was built. It has been extensively remodeled over the years and little, if any remains of the original buildings.
The students have changed too, from elementary to high school students, but the location and mission to teach has remained the same.
In 1905, Emerson was one of the highest points in Oklahoma City (it sits on a hill and is three stories high). An unknown photographer turned his camera southeast towards downtown and took a picture of history.
It shows mostly houses, a downtown business district of buildings that look to be no higher than five or six stories, churches and industrial buildings with smoke stacks sharing their dark smoke.
In 1997, one hundred and one years later, Oklahoman photographer Jim Argo, took a photo from the roof of Emerson looking south towards downtown.
Side by side they show the progress of Oklahoma City over the years and now with the ongoing construction of the Devon Tower, downtown’s skyline is changing once again.
Emerson, named for poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, has been there all these years sitting on its hill, preparing students to go out into the world and we hope it will continue for another hundred years.
Imagine what the skyline might look like then!
According to “Bunky,” there were only 23 streets in Oklahoma City on April 23, 1889. “Bunky” was the pen name of journalist Irving Geffs, who wrote this fact in his book, “The First Eight Months of Oklahoma City,” which was published in 1890.
The named streets running north and south were Santa Fe, Broadway, Robinson, Harvey, Hudson and Division, and those running east and west, north of Reno, were Main, Grand and California. South of Reno, the streets were Washington, Noble, Chickasaw, Pottawatomie, Frisco and Choctaw. These would become S 2 through S 7, respectively. North 1 through N 7 made up the rest.
Of these, Grand, now named Sheridan, was first named Clarke after Sidney Clarke, pioneer and civic leader; Washington for President George Washington; Noble for John W. Noble, who was secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior when Oklahoma Territory was opened for settlement; and Frisco for the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad. Indian tribes made up the others.
Many of the later streets named during the early days in Oklahoma City got their names from pioneers associated with the land run, original landowners and developers of housing additions.
On Nov. 21, 1915, The Oklahoman interviewed the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, Elmer E. Brown, on his recollections about the names of city streets.
Here are a few names I was able to verify:
Durland Avenue — “In honor of Otto Clay ‘O.C.’ Durland, who in a contest, won a quarter section of land in what is now the Oak Park addition.” When Brown says contest, what he meant was Durland’s land claim was disputed all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Laird Avenue — “For S.E. Laird, prominent early day settler.” He was a landowner, and Laird Avenue is the entry to the Oklahoma History Center.
Everest Avenue — “For J.H. Everest, a lawyer.” A pioneer Oklahoma City attorney, at his death, he had been the last surviving charter member of the First Christian Church.
McKinley Avenue — Named not for the president but for “Miss Margaret McKinley, prominent woman real estate speculator in early days.”
Douglas Avenue — “For McGregor Douglas, prominent businessman, now dead.” At the time of his death in 1908, he was secretary of the Central Title and Investment Co. and the Oklahoma Loan and Building Co. and a member of the Real Estate Exchange.
Brauer Avenue — “For George Brauer, half-brother of Douglas.” This one is wrong. George Brauer is listed as the stepbrother of Anton Classen in Classen’s obituary, and in Brauer’s obituary several surviving Classens were listed as brothers. He was one of the founders and secretary-treasurer of the Oklahoma Railway Co., the trolley car business.
Dewey Avenue — Named “in honor of Admiral George Dewey.” Hero of the Battle of Manila in the Spanish-American War in 1898, Dewey was named an admiral in 1903.
I was not able to verify this, but Brown said California Avenue got its name from the number of Californians who settled there after the land run.
I hope this sheds some light on where the names came from for those streets we drive on every day.
Read “The Archivist” online at blog.newsok.com/archivist.