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.
Political candidates often make promises to their constituents in hopes of being elected, but changing the date of Groundhog Day to Valentine’s Day seems a bit of a stretch.
In 1918, Dr. M.W. Romine was elected to the state House of Representatives by the citizens of Le Flore County.
According to a story in the Jan. 20, 1919, edition of The Oklahoman, Romine was going to try to make good on one of his promises.
“In the good old days gone by, Oklahoma legislatures have been called up to wrestle with many weighty problems of statecraft — stategraft, also.
Regulatory measures without number, ranging from suggestions to require women to wear their skirts long enough to drag the ground, on up the line to declaring the piercing of ears to be barbarous and unnecessary voluntary punishment and placing it under ban, have in times received great and serious consideration.
John Barleycorn has lost many a memorable battle within the walls of Oklahoma legislative assemblies.
Only recently both houses decided within the brief space of a few hours that a league of nations … is a good thing for this old world and ought to be established.
But all of these momentous problems, which received the best thought and effort of some of the most distinguished men who have ever signed a legislative payroll in Oklahoma, are soon to be relegated from memory, which is the only place they remain, and a newer, more weighty and far reaching problem — it reaches all the way to Arkansas — is to receive the closest attention of the best legislative talent.
It is the question of establishing once and for all that date which is to be observed as ground hog day in Oklahoma.”
Apparently, before 1919, Arkansas and Mississippi would celebrate Groundhog Day on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.
Oklahoma farmers along the eastern state line would tend to follow their Arkansas neighbors.
“In farming communities ground hog day, the elements permitting, is considered the day upon which potatoes should be planted. At that particular time Old Mother Nature is ready to receive her potato crop.
So when people of east-side Oklahoma plant on February 2 and their crop fails, and their Arkansas neighbors do their planting on February 14, and their crop is a success, bad feeling develops.
‘And now I have decided,’ said Representative Romine of Spiro, Le Flore County, ‘to ask the legislature to settle the argument and fix ground hog day by statute. I have no particular date to suggest. I am willing to leave that matter to the judgment of the legislator, but the question must be settled on the Arkansas line.’
Romine said that when he made his campaign for member of the house he promised to work to this end, ‘and I am going to remain true to my constituency and do the best I can,’ he said.”
It seems the Hon. Mr. Romine intended to keep his promise.
I was unable to verify an official change, but since Groundhog Day is celebrated nationally on Feb. 2, it’s possible his bill never made it out of committee.
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.
One hundred years ago today, Feb. 28 fell on a Tuesday. Reading a newspaper from yesteryear can show what life was like and give a sense of what was important to the pioneer citizen.
A check of The Oklahoman for Wednesday, March 1, 1911, gives indication that Tuesday was a busy news day.
On the front page we find that U.S. Sen. Thomas P. Gore’s accusations that he and others had been offered bribes to influence the vote on the sale of Indian lands were substantiated and that a Senate resolution passed in the state House of Representatives to submit an amendment to change a section of the state Constitution barring railroad building in the state.
Inside the newspaper, then as now, the weather was important to Oklahoma’s residents, and 100 years ago, the state was having its first blizzard of the year with an ice storm in Oklahoma City and 8 to 10 inches of snow in some areas of the state.
Other items of note on the inside pages:
Chicken stealing was made a felony, if the bird was worth more than $5.
An arsonist was burning buildings in Stilwell and Snyder.
A bridegroom dropped his gun and shot himself in the leg on his way home after the wedding.
February was considered a slow month because only 74 marriage licenses had been issued.
The post office was booming, announcing a 32 percent increase in the sales of stamps and stamped envelopes, compared to 1910.
The conduct of the Legislature has not improved much judging by the story appearing on Page 14 in 1911, a part of which follows: “There was a lapse in the dignity of the House of Representatives Tuesday night, and toward adjournment at 11 o’clock the session reminded one slightly more of a farcical burlesque on the stage than the solemn deliberations of the dignified lawmakers of Oklahoma. This was so especially during a heated controversy between Speaker Durant and Representative Ed Clark, right in the midst of a roll call, when Mr. Clark arose and started to make a talk when his name was called. The speaker banged his gavel so viciously that the head flew off, and the two men together indulged in some language not exactly parliamentary.”
The business page told of real estate sales totaling more than $2 million, double that of January. Building permits were down, the complaint being the weather caused construction to cease.
Boxing and baseball dominated the sports page, while the society column announced that with Ash Wednesday and the coming of Lent, there would be less formal entertaining.
These items indicate a busy news day, and The Oklahoman was there to keep residents informed, then as it is now.
Mary Phillips writes “The Archivist,” which appears regularly on Tuesdays in the Oklahoman. If you have any Oklahoma natural wonders that you might like to share, e-mail Phillips at email@example.com.
The Oklahoman has been providing stories following up on Oklahoma’s recent historic election.
As we begin a new chapter in the state’s history, let’s look back 100 years and do a follow-up on the 1910 election.
In 1910, Oklahoma’s state election was held the second week in November, rather than on the first Tuesday as it is now.
On Nov. 9, 1910, The Oklahoman announced the win of Lee Cruce as the state’s second governor over William “Alfalfa Bill” Murray after an acrimonious gubernatorial campaign. The headlines shouted the news of the Democratic landslide that swept the nation.
“With a total of 200 candidates and six state questions to be voted on, so great was the crush at the polls Tuesday morning that not over two-thirds of the city registration could secure ballots. In nearly every precinct, the inspectors provided extra booths, but even this failed to supply the demand and over 2,000 voters, tired of waiting in line, gave up in vain.
“Fully 2,000 people gathered in front of The Daily Oklahoman building to watch the returns Tuesday night. It was a good natured throng, and favorite candidates were cheered heartily whenever the meager returns justified it. The greatest interest was shown in the gubernatorial candidates, the local option and high license bill, and the results of the elections in other states. It was midnight before the crowd dispersed.”
Of the six questions on the ballot, local option, allowing liquor sales, and women’s suffrage, allowing women the right to vote, generated the most interest of the voting public. They both went down in defeat. Women’s suffrage, allowing women the right to vote, would not pass until 1918, and local option (liquor by the drink decided by individual counties) would not pass until 1984.
“Although the vote was light compared to the registration, it was the largest in the history of the county. The large number of questions to be voted upon as well as the great number of candidates on the ballot required not less than five minutes for a voter to properly mark his ballot. This was the minimum, and in cases where voters were unfamiliar with the question and had to read them in the booth, a longer time was necessary.”
There were long waits this past Tuesday thanks to the lengthy ballot. And as the votes were tallied, there were exciting wins and bitter defeats.
An editorial from The Oklahoman on Nov. 9, 1910, summed up the importance of the election and the effects of participation. It bears reading in its entirety, but here is an excerpt from the last paragraph that is as appropriate now as it was then.
“In Oklahoma, the passing of the election is like the lifting of a fog, for local conditions are now such that ordinary activities may be resumed with confidence and politics will be relegated to the rear. …”
Let’s hope that is true as Gov.-elect Mary Fallin begins preparing for her term as the first female governor of Oklahoma.