Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Tag: Fort El Reno

Fort El Reno Ghost Tour in the Oklahoma Cold

el-reno-013The Fort El Reno “Ghost Tour” on November 15th (in El Reno, Oklahoma) went off without a hitch. My hosts, Bob Warren and Jessica Wells, couldn’t have been more helpful or gracious. Bob Warren looks like Richard Farnsworth, the character actor, complete with a Stetson hat, cowboy boots, a craggy visage and star appeal. Jessica, who led the section of the cemetery ghost tour I was on, was very knowledgeable about the many haunted sites and why they may have become  haunted. The fort is big, with over 1,675 acres and we toured (on foot) from 6 p.m. until 11:00 p.m.

Some of the hauntings had to do with the Major (Konat) who shot himself in the green-tiled upstairs bathroom (in the tub, no less) in the 1930s after his wife left him. Some had to do with Indians imprisoned unjustly. Some are still just mysteries. [Perhaps they will appear in additional “Ghostly Tales of Route 66”?]

We drove from Oklahoma City to El Reno and found  the Fort during daylight hours, which is a ways from town. We journeyed into town to have one of their famous onion hamburgers (Johnnie’s or one of 2 others), first. Every year, they build the World’s Largest Hamburger, with the help of the fire department and 3 local restaurants. (They hold the Guinness Book of World Records for this.)

Fort Reno was established to protect the Darlington Agency during the Cheyenne uprising of 1874.  The Indian agent, John D. Miles, assisted Captain Winter in the selection of the site of the military post named in honor of Major General Jesse L. Reno (not to be confused with a different Reno who served with Custer.) It was an Indian Wars Fort but is not an enclosed fort. Seminole and Creek Indians helped to control things between the Southern Cheyenne, the Northern Cheyenne and the Arapahoe, who did not always get along.

Fort El Reno served the country as a remount depot for the military from 1908 through 1947. Those stationed at Fort El Reno, including the so-called Buffalo (black) soldiers, helped escort cattle drives and made sure that money was paid as it should be. Although the first commandant of the fort, an older Quaker gentleman, was very fair, his successor cheated the Indians and caused problems with his corrupt behavior.

During the Land Run of 1889 in Oklahoma, those seeking a claim could stay for free on the fort’s grounds, while they would have had to pay money to stay on tribal lands. Horses were bred and trained there and served the military. The Fort served as a social hub, hosting polo matches, horse races and jumping competitions. Celebrities like Amelia Earhart visited, landing her Autogyrator (a cross between a plane and a helicopter) here. It was, generally speaking, a country club atmosphere.

One of the most interesting uses for the Fort was during WWII, when it housed 1,335 prisoners who were part of Rommel’s forces in North Africa and captured there.  The prisoners were mostly German, Italian (and 2 Russians who served with the Italians). They worked for eighty cents a day on neighboring farmlands and also built  chapel, to thank their captors for their good treatment. Many befriended the locals. One poor fellow (Hans Seifert) who was a POW was to be released in just 6 days when he accidentally set fire to himself while lighting a natural gas stove. He died and is buried in the fort’s cemetery, along with about 35 other POW’s.

Today, the Fort is a grazing lands research laboratory, designing feed for cattle and sheep, with many colleges (OSU, etc.) involved. For example, after the tsunami in Thailand, that country’s officials wanted advice on what plants they could use to help with the contamination after the storm.

The Visitors’ Center, which was built in 1936, was extensively renovated in 2005 (the first building burned).  Most of the buildings on the site of Fort El Reno are reputed to be haunted, and, this night, there were paranormal investigators and fort employees who would lead us on a five-hour trek around the grounds in freezing weather, holding lanterns.

I took a picture at one building that seemed to show something unusual, and had the experience of being tapped on the right shoulder 3 times, with no one acknowledging that they had done the “tapping.” (This was as we were entering to begin the tour.) Now, when people ask me if I’ve ever encountered anything “ghostly” (as they did in St. Louis at the First Annual Route 66 Festival) I will have the story of Fort El Reno’s Ghost Tour to tell and a picture that is puzzling.( It appears to show a woman, clad only in brassiere or bikini (Didn’t know they wore bikinis in the 1800s).

This ghost tour, taking place as it did on November 15th, was the last of this year. They will not resume until March and there is usually a waiting list and 3 to 4 groups of 20 go off at $6 a head, all of which goes to the fort’s upkeep. We flew from Chicago to take part, and I wore my Chicago heavy winter coat, but my husband packed shorts and kept telling me how warm it would be. (He ended up in the car with the motor running during the final cemetery portion of the trek.)

Onward to Amarillo, where we’ll visit the Cadillac Ranch, where vintage Cadillacs with big fins are buried with their tail-fins in the air and visitors are encouraged to spray paint them.

Oklahoma City, El Reno and Points West

el-reno-0061Day Two in Oklahoma City and we take a trip to see the World’s Largest Milk Bottle. This leftover bit of Route 66 memorabilia is located at 2426 N. Classen Blvd and is owned by Iyhuhg, who, I am happy to report, makes the absolute best egg Vietnamese egg rolls ever. It’s really small inside the milk bottle building, which is called Banh Mi Ba Le. Their specialties are Saigon Baquette, Chicken, Roa St. BBQ Pork Subs, luncheon pork subs, grilled pork subs and meat ball subs.

We visited the memorial to the victims of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing, which took place on April 19, 1995, and I also took pictures of a small memorial on the corner directly opposite, which also memorializes the bombing with a picture of a weeping Jesus and the cross from St. Joseph Old Cathedral, which had been installed in the east end of the church in 1909 and survived the blast, while much of the rest of the church, including priceless stained glass windows that had been in the church since  the 1800s were destroyed.

Each victim of the bombing has an individual chair-like monument with his or her name etched on it, and there is a shallow pool, with, at one end, the exact time one minute before the blast (9:01 a.m.) and one minute after (9:03 a.m.) the blast. The blast occurred at 9:02 a.m., 168 people died, and Timothy McVeigh was ultimately executed for the senseless murder of innocent victims. While we were there, I listened to a mother of a girl named Stephanie describe how her daughter was working 2 blocks away in a law office that day and rushed to the indescribably horror of the scene. I remember that my son’s roommate, whose last name was also Wilson, lived in Oklahoma City at the time and conveyed the complete disbelief at the senseless act of domestic terrorism. There are still items left at an impromptu fence-like display to the immediate left of the entrance to the memorial.

After visiting the Memorial (and the milk bottle), we ate in El Reno at Jimmy’s, one of the three burger joints in that former Route 66 town that participates in building the World’s Biggest Hamburger every year. Onions are mashed into the hamburgers. There are 3 such places that assist the Fire Department in building the Guinness Book of World Records-holding bit. I took pictures of the 3 waitresses who didn’t flee when I entered the café. They were Ashlee Brinman (in pink shirt), Ashlee Higgins (aka “Higgie”) in brown and Sheila Cowan in green. Several others (male and female) ran and hid in the kitchen as I took the picture. A very sweet young girl named Samantha Wilkinson sold me a small homemade angel, which I told her would protect us on our trip.

Then, I read the El Reno newspaper, to learn of the sad death of Dewayne Moore, who was killed while delivering pizzas in Oklahoma City (which is about 20 miles away from El Reno). Dewayne’s father is Jeremy Moore, who apparently was valedictorian of his 1998 Calumet High School Class (what that had to do with his son’s senseless shooting, I do not know) and a brother, Josh, who is a civil contractor in Iraq. The story seemed to be more about Jeremy than DeWayne, as Jerome explained how he began to hear “it.” “On the 4th day, ‘it’ was getting louder.  At the funeral home, ‘it’ embraced me. The love of God embraced me.”

The second interesting El Reno story involved a 100-mile race that had 175 participants who ran from 9 a.m. to Canadian County and ran for 29 hours, most of them. The starting line was Route 66 and Main Street in Elk City and the finish line was the Fort Reno Chapel (which I would visit that night).  Bret Sholar, of the Pirana Brothers (?) was one of the organizers, but the winner was Tim Neckar of Houston.

A woman named Sarah Spelt of Pleasant Hill (east of San Francisco) was quoted as saying that this was her “50th birthday present to herself.” She ran for 25 hours straight as a birthday present to herself. Good going, Sarah. On my next multiple of 5 (2 years from now), I plan to walk the 20 yards to my refrigerator to get myself a Diet Dr. Pepper. But you keep right on running those 25 hour races. Apparently, this year, the race attracted participants from Germany, California, Arizona and Colorado, all of whom had the supreme pleasure of running for more than a day without stopping. Good on them, as the British like to say! There were 175 of these loons who ran 100 miles.

Immediately after the tragic story of the (unsolved) murder of DeWayne Moore and the 100 mile race was the story “More About Head Lice” on pp. 10 and 11B.

After dinner, we drove past the old Phillips Motel (a remnant of Route 66) and out to Fort El Reno to join Bob Warren and Jessica Wells and four sets of 20 people who were joining me (us) on a tour of the old El Reno Fort Grounds, including the cemetery. This is an 1874 military camp, which I wrote about in “Ghostly Tales of Route 66.”

More on the tour in my next correspondence from the road.

Huddled Together for Warmth in Oklahoma City

oklahoma_city_ok_entertainmentWell, we’re in Oklahoma City and…so far….so good.

The trip from Midway on Southwest was uneventful, although we were among the last to get on the plane, so we did not get to sit together. I sat next to a very courtly gentleman in a nice suit jacket, with white hair, who let me sit next to the window, while he took the middle (poor him). He was very nice and read his USA Today, while I was reading my Chicago Tribune, although I had planned to sleep.) He had been out east attending a friend’s funeral. Things went well until politics came up as a topic and he turned out to be from Stillwater (returning home) and a big Palin supporter. (Yikes).

We stopped (briefly) in Kansas City. We left after 20 minutes in KC and landed here a little while ago (it is quarter of 6 p.m. CDT). We didn’t have to leave for the airport in Chicago until 12:15, as our flight was at 1:40 p.m.

The rental car is a Cadillac…a red one. Pretty sweet…and pretty expensive. However, gas here is only $1.79 a gallon! If it gets down to $1.51 that will match the nationwide average of what gas cost when Bush took office 8 years ago.

Airline tickets cost us $456 (for both) and flying home (LA) they will be $349. Car rental: $904 (we drive from now on; $196 in taxes, alone!) McDonald’s food at the airport today: $10. Tipping the airport guy(s) $15, total. Snacks at the 7-Eleven (pop, beer, etc.).  $25.  Cab to Midway: $35.

Room here: $65 a night, and we said we’d be here 2 nights. Ghost walking tour (tomorrow night) $6 apiece, or $12.  Dinner tonight: $50.

One memento from Shorty Small’s: a tee-shirt that says, “My BBQ can cure hangovers and baldness, but, if you’ve been hit by the ugly stick, ain’t nothin’ gonna’ help ya.'”($15) (It is necessary for me to add, “Yee haw!”?)  The little girl who showed us to a booth said, “Y’all.” Then, she pointed out the location of the Milk Bottle Building, a small wedge-shaped building on Classen Avenue that has an over-sized replica of a milk bottle on the roof, a remnant of the Mother Road.

So, now you know the cost(s) associated with this trip, so far. ($1,871).

When we returned from dinner, we had a $5 bet regarding whether we would have any heat in our motel room. I said no. Craig said yes. I am $5 richer.

There was still no heat, and, furthermore, there was both a fire truck and an ambulance outside our motel on Meridian Ave. I saw a man in a white bathrobe strolling on the balcony above and asked him if he knew what had happened. He speculated that there had been a fight in the attached bar/lounge. (Wrong, as it turned out.) His friend, strolling with him, suggested that we turn on the overhead heater light in the bathroom and open the door to attempt to warm up the cold room. (We are trying this right now, to no avail.)

As we approached the LaQuinta on Meridian Avenue, there was a fire truck AND an ambulance out front. My husband went to the office to find out what had happened.

The man working on the boiler fell through the roof and broke his ankle. (I should have bet him $10!)

It’s 37 in parts of Oklahoma right now with temperatures about 7 to 10 degrees below normal. Low temperatures tonight will drop into the twenties. Stillwater will be 32 and it will be 33 in Oklahoma City. It was in the 70s yesterday. It is supposed to be even colder tomorrow with a wind chill of 36. Highs in the 50s from now on. Fortunately for me, I wore my heavy winter coat. Craig, as usual, is clad in the lightest of all possible jackets and predicting warm weather, eternal optimist that he is.

Onward to El Reno and the Fort Ghost Tour tomorrow.

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