Oklahoma City boasts a rich heritage of gumption and perseverance, but there are many tales only whispered from shadows. A spectral woman may be seen in the upper window of the Overholser Mansion, looking for her long-lost love. The spirit of one of Oklahoma's feistiest leaders is said to dwell in the Governor's Mansion, where he trips guests on the stairs. Perhaps still thirsty for the drink a fatal gunshot interrupted, the ghost of a cheating mobster rattles the glasses at Gabriella's off Route 66. Jeff Provine and Tanya McCoy uncover the curious and creepy tales of the Sooner State capital.
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About the Author
Jeff Provine is a curriculum developer and lecturer in Norman. He founded the Norman Downtown Ghost Tour and the OU Ghost Tour, a charity walking tour of the spooky stories of the University of Oklahoma campus. His other collections of Oklahoma folklore include Campus Ghosts of Norman, Haunted Norman and Haunted Guthrie, co-written with paranormal investigator Tanya McCoy. Visit his website at www.jeffprovine.com.
Tanya McCoy joined her first paranormal team located in the Oklahoma City area in 2009. In 2011, she formed her own team and in 2012, she joined forces with Investigating Oklahoma's Paranormal (IOKP) founder Dee Park to form Oklahoma Paranormal Association (OPA). OPA teaches new paranormal enthusiasts proper techniques to conduct paranormal investigations. Tanya and her team continue to do private investigations for homeowners and business owners who may be experiencing paranormal activity.
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"I HAVE COME TO OKLAHOMA CITY TO START A GRAVEYARD"
THE FIRST DEATH IN OKLAHOMA CITY
While many like to say that the city was "born grown" with ten thousand people, the suddenness of its birth left it needing many civil services. Until wells could be dug, thirsty citizens had to walk to the North Canadian and draw their water. Getting there was another problem. Even streets had been forgotten about in the initial rush, so a walk through town meant climbing across tightly packed campsites. Eventually, many people had to give up their claims to streets and public alleyways as the Oklahoma Town Company and the Seminoles laid their differing plats for the city. Makeshift courts could be held in tents, but there was no jail.
Citizens of the new town stepped up to help one another, and a group of men began an ongoing brainstorming session to foster business. They discussed grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware and so on until a man sidled up, drunk, with a hand hovering near the revolver in his belt. He explained, "My name is Rip Rowser Bill, and I have come to Oklahoma City to start a graveyard!" The group broke up their discussion and met again later, once again to be interrupted by Rip Rowser Bill, who took a stiff drink and repeated, "I have come to Oklahoma City to start a graveyard."
The disruptions continued as Bill made his rounds through the young city, and finally, people were determined to organize a citizen militia until city government could lead to a formal police department. At eight o'clock on the night of May 1, 1889, men gathered at the corner of Broadway and Grand Streets to found the Knights of the Cottonwood and elect their Exalted Scrutinizer and Secret Scribe. Almost like clockwork, Rip Rowser Bill arrived with his whiskey and revolver. He seemed more serious this time and shot three holes through the roof of the tent for emphasis.
Most of the Knights ducked for cover, and then a few tackled Bill and took his gun. Bill's hands were tied with tent rope and his neck bound in a long leash. Now that they had him, his rousing was ended, but the question of what to do with him remained. Ultimately, they decided to put him on the next train bound for Texas.
As the men headed toward the Santa Fe station, someone stopped them to say that the midnight southbound train was delayed and expected three hours late. The frustrated Knights did not want to spend any more time with Bill than they had to, so they found a cottonwood tree by the river and tied his leash over a branch. They hung the rope without any slack to ensure he wouldn't get away and left to return in three hours.
When the Knights came back, they found Bill hanged by the neck, his boots six inches off the ground.
The Knights sent for a doctor and eventually found a veterinarian, who pronounced Bill dead as a mule who "had cashed in his checks."
Perplexed, the self-appointed constables examined the rope and concluded that it had shrunk due to the nighttime damp. No one questioned the judgement.
Instead, the dead man himself was put on trial. Volunteers, some of whom were Knights, formed a jury, and a lawyer stepped up as judge. They found that Bill's death was an accident "by shrinkage of his necktie" and that he was guilty of carrying concealed weapons, as three knives were found among his effects. Again, no one questioned why a man with three knives on his person standing alone for three hours would have slowly hanged himself. Bill's body was fined $50.00, but the court settled for the $3.30 in his pockets. The rest of his possessions were donated to charity.
To ensure such matters could be handled in the future, an "occupancy tax" of everyone but preachers raised $300 to build a jail. City leaders harvested trees from near the river to erect the "Cottonwood de Bastille," a new jail fittingly put up on the site where the Knights of the Cottonwood was established.
Meanwhile, Bill got his wish of founding a graveyard. He was interred on the banks of the North Canadian near the land set aside for the military during the Run (the area that would later become Bricktown). The little cemetery that he started there grew over the years, but the land became prime real estate. Finally, in 1892, those resting there were moved to Fairlawn Cemetery. There, many notables would come to join him, including Kate Barnard, who founded so many Oklahoma charities to fight disease and poverty that she was pronounced commissioner of Charities and Corrections; Oklahoma's first senator, Thomas "the Blind Cowboy" Gore; Sylvan Goldman, inventor of the shopping cart; and fellow gunman Ed Kelley, the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James.CHAPTER 2
THE LADY OF THE HOUSE
At 405 Northwest Fifteenth Street, a historical mansion stands filled with historical artifacts from the turn of the past century. Henry Overholser, often considered the "father of Oklahoma City," built this unique home for his wife, Anna, in 1903. Queen Anne and Chateauesque architecture styles were not typical for homes in the West, where the style of life was more rustic, but nothing was typical about this house, located "out in the country" in its day. This was the first mansion built in the Oklahoma City area and remains a sight to behold to this day with its hand-painted silk wall coverings and stained-glass windows.
Henry Overholser has been credited with helping to develop Oklahoma City by encouraging trade and helping to build agriculture to bring more farmers into the area. Already an entrepreneur by the time of the Run, he had come to Oklahoma City with vision, energy and money to invest. He began the state fair while Oklahoma was still a territory, leading the chamber of commerce to buy the fairgrounds as actual statehood approached. Overholser served on several commissions and boards and owned numerous businesses in the downtown area, including the Overholser Opera House. He, as well as his second-wife, Anna, who loved the theater, was a firm believer in providing services and entertainment to the public. Their daughter, Henry Ione, was born the year after their mansion on the prairie was completed.
The twenty-room home was opened in a gala in 1904 that brought more than one hundred of Oklahoma City's elite to the elegant affair. Since its opening, the mansion has served as the nexus of Oklahoma City social gatherings, weddings and celebrations of all kinds. Anna Overholser was well known for her formal dinners and was well regarded as the leading lady in town until her death in 1940. Edward, Overholser's son by his first wife, followed his father's civic-minded footsteps and became mayor of Oklahoma City in 1915, the same year Henry Overholser died. He had been suffering ill health since a stroke in 1911.
Today the Overholser mansion is a museum giving a peek into society life around the days of statehood in Oklahoma. Tours are given daily on the hour, and special events are held by the historical society throughout the year. A new addition to the fun is the telling of ghost stories during a night of ghost hunting in the house. Future plans include formal dinner parties in the style that Mrs. Overholser herself held, and some guests hope that the lady of the house will appear.
For years, stories have been told about the old mansion hosting the spirits of its former residents. Until recently, speaking about the hauntings at the mansion was frowned on, but the growing interest in the paranormal has helped to raise funds to restore and maintain the beautiful mansion in its former glory. Historical sites hold memories of years of life-changing events, both good and bad, which is said to increase the chances of a haunting. The paranormal activity is increased as personal items are included, and the Overholser Mansion offers a broad collection, including Mrs. Overholser's personal scrapbook.
I had only heard a few wandering tales about the house being haunted. When my daughter and I arrived at the house, all I could think about was how beautiful it was and how spectacular it must have been in its day. We started taking pictures of the house and carriage house. When I looked up to the third-story turret window, I saw a lovely lady in a long, ruffled, white dress staring toward downtown. She gave the persona of an elegant lady, but there was no expression on her face. All she did was stare into the distance.
After taking the tour, I mentioned the lady in the upper window to museum coordinator Lisa Escalon. Hearing my description, Lisa noted that the woman I saw sounded a lot like Mrs. Overholser herself. It was said that she would often be seen standing in that very window, which is next to the nursery. Lisa and I went upstairs to the window where I had seen the woman standing, and I showed her the direction in which she was staring. It was the exact direction of Henry Overholser's office downtown.
Mrs. Overholser is reported to be seen throughout the mansion. She moves objects around, tidying the house as she sees fit, and turns lights back on after they have been turned off. Several voices whisper through the house despite their bodies long having passed, so Anna Overholser seems hardly alone. The grounds and even the carriage house are rumored to have their own noises, particularly thudding footsteps with no one seen to make them.
Lisa also showed us the children's nursery, where I said I felt another woman who didn't come across as a family member. Rather, she seemed to be a maid or nanny. Lisa shared with me her own personal experience of seeing this lady as well. She stated she got only a quick glance of her one day when she happened to look up the stairs and saw the woman leaning over the banister and peering down at her.
We spoke for a while longer outside the house, where I noticed a basement window. I told Lisa that I felt a man's presence was in the basement, a worker at the house who stayed mainly in the basement. Lisa told me of a time when she had found an old welding torch in the basement. She had liked it so much she took it upstairs into the kitchen to be viewed along with the other museum pieces. Not long after, strange sounds began ringing, and kitchen furniture and fixtures seemed to be moved around when the room was empty. One day someone mentioned the torch, which would have been used to keep the furnaces going in the basement area. Lisa returned the piece to the basement, and the strange occurrences in the kitchen ceased. The man in the basement seemed happy to have his tool returned and continues to do his job well into the afterlife.
The spirits at the Overholser Mansion hardly seem malevolent, and many say that they are, in fact, beneficial. One guest at a wedding held there noted that all of her photographs of the wedding party had a black cloud floating in them. At first, she took it to be an issue with her lens, but the cloud seemed to move, following the groom. Since many other guests were not thrilled with the match, she believed it was Mrs. Overholser giving her own opinion of disapproval.CHAPTER 3
COTTON, CANALS AND CANDY
On April 22, 1889, the members of the Oklahoma Town Company burst off the train in a coordinated run to stake contiguous lots on the east side of the Santa Fe Railroad tracks. It wasn't long before soldiers arrived to warn them that this area, stretching from the tracks to Military Hill along the banks on the North Canadian, had been set aside for the infantry camp. The settlers dashed back southwest to find their own place, and the soldiers went back to keeping the peace.
Because this was federal land, the area that would become Bricktown sat unimproved while the rest of the city began putting up wooden and brick buildings. In 1894, the federal government donated Military Hill to the city, and it later became the site of Irving High School, Oklahoma City's first seat of public education. The rest of the camp soon sold as well, proving immensely valuable for commerce and industry so close to the train depot and the river. It became known as the "Wholesale District."
The first businesses to move in were related to the region's cash crop, cotton. The Cotton Compress opened in 1898, binding upward of one hundred bales an hour; these were then placed onto awaiting railcars. The Southwestern Cotton Oil Company followed. The Cotton Exchange Building became one of the early premier business sites of downtown.
As the years progressed, whole blocks of factories and warehouses grew up. Oklahoma Cityans were producing everything — furniture, window sashes, doors, kegs and tin tools, to name a few. The New State Ice Company created ice blocks in industrial freezers and shipped them around town. Foodstuffs were stored and sold wholesale to grocers and out-of-town buyers who came in at the nearby rail stations. Dealers had their own shops, selling farming implements and just about anything, such as the especially popular McCarthy Wholesale Liquor.
The industrial landscape of the Wholesale District surged further with the discovery of the Oklahoma City Oil Field. Soon the rows of derricks grew up in the southeast horizon beyond the brick warehouses and factories. Even as the Great Depression set in, Oklahoma City remained resolute with business churning despite cotton prices dropping so low that the Cotton Exchange was sold and transformed into office space.
The Depression dragged on, however, and soon, the old businesses began to lose their footing. Newer industrial parks built on the north side of the city heralded the end of interest in the Wholesale District. Plane travel quickly outpaced the railroads, prompting the depots downtown to close. Businesses pushed on as best they could, but soon, more and more sites were abandoned. When I-40 was built to cross the city, the district was cut in half, east to west, just as it had been north–south by the Santa Fe viaduct. The warehouses that stood west of the tracks soon found themselves bulldozed by urban renewal.
Though urban renewal originally seemed to be a threat, it proved to be a blessing to the defunct district. With Oklahoma City getting a shot in the arm from high oil prices in the 1970s, developer Neal Horton acquired the Colcord Hotel and renovated it to its days of glory, uncovering original marble floors hidden under old linoleum and carpets. Horton felt that there was much more glory to be found in old Oklahoma City just across the tracks in the former Wholesale District. He gathered support from attorneys and preservationists Bill Peterson and John Michael Williams, as well as Joe Costello, who suggested the moniker "Bricktown." Before they could seriously begin, the project was hamstrung by the oil crash in the early '80s. The district's rebirth was delayed by almost a decade.
When Horton told newspapers, "There will be a Bricktown project in downtown Oklahoma City," he wasn't making empty promises. Horton's vision of downtown lofts and restaurants would ultimately come true, but the prophecy would not be fulfilled by him, as the Warehouse Development Company folded in 1983. Fortunately, Jim Tolbert and Don Karchmer picked up the fallen flag. Oilman Jim Brewer came on board, suggesting that the spooky old buildings would be perfect for a haunted house.
Picking up a one-dollar lease from the Bank of Oklahoma, they implemented ideas from the "Edge of Hell" in Kansas City to open the Bricktown Haunted Warehouse in 1984. Bricktown was scary enough by daylight, and news rapidly spread about the new venture. By the time Halloween season closed, the business had profited by $86,000. The district was proven to be a moneymaker again.
Spaghetti Warehouse made headlines as it announced its newest location in Bricktown. Founder Robert Hawk had launched the business in an abandoned pillow factory during Dallas's own revitalization, and it seemed a perfect beacon for the renewed district in Oklahoma City. Neal Horton had again served as a prophet since he had invited the restaurant there years before, but the time had not yet been right. Now it heralded Bricktown's rebirth, which surged as more destination eateries and shops opened.
The City of Oklahoma City stepped in to add more flair to the burgeoning district as part of the early Metropolitan Area Projects Plan (MAPS). The Bricktown Ballpark opened in 1998, surrounded by statues of Oklahoman players like Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench, who attended the opening. There also came a canal, built as a tourist draw like that in San Antonio. This was actually Oklahoma City's second attempt at a canal. Within months of the Run, a project began to expand a creek to make barge travel possible, which would bolster industry as well as make a place for aristocrats to play. Money was raised, and a ditch was dug. As soon as the water flowed into the ditch at its opening, however, it drained into the sandy earth. The fanfare died away to embarrassment and a major economic sink.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Haunted Oklahoma City"
Copyright © 2016 Jeff Provine and Tanya McCoy.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword John "Count Gregore" Ferguson 7
1 "I Have Come to Oklahoma City to Start a Graveyard" 27
2 The Lady of the House 30
3 Cotton, Canals and Candy 34
4 The Wandering Nun 42
5 Between Two Frontier Hills 46
6 Elsie 51
7 What Lies Beneath 56
8 Ghost Riders 62
9 Scenes of the Past 67
10 Oklahoma City's Coney Island 74
11 Alfalfa Bill 77
12 Gangsters, Bootleggers and Gambling 83
13 Semper Antieus 87
14 Little Carey 91
15 Guests Who Linger 95
16 "After Dark, It's a Zoo" 98
17 School Spirit 102
18 Where the Spirits Fly High 106
19 Up in the Sky 109
20 Dance with a Ghost 113
21 Urban Legends of Oklahoma City 117
22 Phantom on Tape 127
23 The Tenth Floor 131
About the Authors 143