POSTED ON OCTOBER 26, 2011:
A dash of truth and a dose of imagination conjure a new set of urban legends
If you want Poe or Rice, go to Baltimore or New Orleans, but if you want Tulsa scares, we're stirring the cauldron.
Every culture has its ghost stories; every town has its hauntings.
Tall tales tell the story of Tulsa's mystic identity through cultural memories, through ghosts -- real or imagined.
Imagination is everything. William Faulkner once said, "The past is never dead. It is not even past."
Near Halloween, the layer that separates the living from the dead is said to become thin as a whisper.
Urban Tulsa Weekly crept into long-forgotten crypts, dusted cobwebs from dusty attic boxes and painstakingly disinterred two entirely new tales of the mysterious and macabre: two re-imagined ghost stories from the city's cellars, some urban legends, inspired fiction and a dash of All Hallows' Eve fun.
Our first tale is a classic ghost story interpreted with a Tulsa-inspired and fabricated twist, while the second yarn is an epic Lovecraftian tale offering an entirely new interpretation connecting the very real -- and very bizarre -- Tulsa Hex House incidents and a long vacant funeral home resting quietly in Midtown.
Tulsa's haunted past howls with the longing of old specters seeking repose. Won't you sit down and join us as we conjure and channel the spirit world...?
The Vanishing Boy of Route 66
Through the years, cruisers on the Mother Road have stopped off at a Route 66 Roadhouse -- its roof bowed like an old mattress -- to stomp the dust from their city shoes and lean on a crooked bar stool.
They ask the bartender for a stiff drink and occasionally, about a disappearing boy.
Travelers on Route 66 tell about their strange encounters with a spritely young boy -- around 11 or 12 -- with a summer tan and ears too big for his head.
The boy is dressed like a rakish cowboy -- a tan leather vest thrown over a loose, white button-down tucked into dirty jeans, a cowboy hat perched over his casual flop of black hair.
They tell the bartender the boy appeared in their headlights just after twilight, singing to himself and practicing rope tricks along a lonesome stretch of Route 66 somewhere between Catoosa and Claremore.
When these weary travelers pull over to a stop on the side of the road, they shout above the din of the engine, "Need a ride?"
His face lights up in a toothy, lopsided grin, and the boy accepts a hitch. "Why, strangers are just friends I haven't met yet," he laughs.
After he sits politely in the backseat, the boy coils his rope into saggy loops and folds it in his lap.
When they ask why he's out past sundown by himself, he says he's searching for his horse.
The kid never says much, and instead watches the darkened landscape of Route 66 whip past, his nose against the window glass.
Sometimes, he talks about the horse he's looking for, the horses his friends have and the horses he likes, which is to say, all of them.
"Whoever said a horse was dumb was dumb," the boy says.
One cold night, an old couple from Joplin, Mo., picked up the kid just outside of Claremore. The evening was frosty and so windy the woman had to pull the kid into the car and out of the weather.
She noticed his fingers were bone-cold, so she lent him her woolen sweater, a bit shaggy and gray with big black buttons.
They rode in silence for a long stretch, and the boy pressed his nose to the glass to watch for his horse.
When the old woman turned to offer him chocolate, she noticed the little boy had no reflection in the car window. She turned back slowly in her seat.
Suddenly, the kid asked her husband to stop the car. He said he thought he saw his horse, just beyond a gnarled tree.
As soon as the old man stopped the car, the boy leapt out of the backseat and onto the Mother Road.
"You're quick on your feet, fella," the old man said. The boy smirked and tapped his fingers against the rim of his cowboy hat.
And then he disappeared.
Every tale about the vanishing boy of Route 66 ends the same: the boy smirks, taps his fingers against the rim of his cowboy hat and mysteriously disappears.
Except that night.
The old woman had forgotten to ask the boy for her sweater before he vanished into the gloom. She wouldn't have normally bothered, but she liked its big buttons and, well, money was tight and a new wool sweater, even a shaggy one, didn't come cheap.
The next morning, they inquired in the nearest town to see if anyone knew where the little boy lived.
Like the other spooked travelers, the old couple stopped into the smoky roadhouse and asked its ancient bartender about the disappearing boy they met along Route 66.
By now, the bartender has heard this tale described many times, in many ways. He figured out the boy's trick long ago.
When the old man finished his tale, the bartender set a hazy shot glass on the bar, filled it with well whisky and said simply, "You got taken for a ride by the ghost a' Will Rogers."
They didn't believe him -- they'd seen this boy with their own eyes, and he seemed very real.
In morning light, they drove back down Route 66 to find the gnarled tree where the little boy disappeared the night before. Soon, they came upon the tree and slowed to a stop.
When she got out of the car, the old woman caught sight of her shaggy wool sweater, laid carefully over what looked like a granite rock.
As the pair drew closer, their eyes widened when they discovered the sweater was partially covering a heavy, granite monument.
Nothing could prepare them for the smiling picture of a very grown-up version of the little boy they met the night before.
The old couple read the chiseled stone and found they had picked up the little hitchhiker on the anniversary of Will Rogers' death: Aug. 15, 1935.
The Haunted Funeral Chapel
Notes about this story: This work is inspired by the overwrought, flowery ghost stories of legendary American writer, H.P. Lovecraft. This supernatural tale reflects true Tulsa places -- the Tulsa Club, Central Library, the infamous 21st St. "Hex House -- and a bit of history embroidered for Halloween fun. The character Greta Ferrars is a loose interpretation of the real Carolann Smith, who owned a large red-brick home that has since been dubbed the Tulsa "Hex House." In the 1940s, Smith served a short jail sentence after two women were discovered living in filth in her basement. Years ago, the house was demolished and its basement filled with concrete. People continue to report odd occurrences at the spot, now a parking lot.
"Mystery attracts mystery." --H.P. Lovecraft
In Tulsa, between the two main arteries of I-244 -- fondly known as the Crosstown Expressway -- and State 51, U.S. 64 (the Broken Arrow Expressway), which coincidentally intersect with hauntingly historic Route 66 at downtown, rest some half-dozen former and current funeral homes -- residence of the departed, for a brief time until their interment.
At one, its prideful architecture has been nearly overtaken by emerald ivy, still a fetching sight. On a recent evening near sundown, I took my daily constitutional -- a walk of reflection and fresh air -- as I do each evening to watch the stars appear like lamplights in the sky, one by one.
On this chilly, lavender eve, however, I was startled by a curious sight. From the darkened windows of the former mortuary, long abandoned from its former use, a pair of shimmering blue eyes followed my every step.
My stride faltered and I stood with my mouth agape, my heart bumping painfully in my chest. I turned to see if another soul had witnessed the cold eyes that had burned into my very soul, but the encroaching night was suddenly even quieter than before.
I could hear only a gentle whisper of wind that blew chilly autumn air around my tumescent ears. As I turned to witness the unearthly eyes again, a gust kicked up a rush of leaves around me.
I pulled my trench coat tight against the torrent encircling me, but when I turned to look across the street toward the parlor, I noticed all the trees were still as headstones. And the glowing eyes...were gone.
You may not believe an old codger like myself, Virgil Hutchins, an aged wildcatter in a swanky suit. I spent my virile years puncturing Oklahoma soil in search of oil-black fountains, and occasionally, I found one.
I have long since retired my money-making adventures in red clay, and have enjoyed many years exploiting the fertile grounds of what once was Indian Country in and around Tulsa.
Many a year free of anxiety, I have enjoyed my evening walks and my weekly luncheons at the old Tulsa Club. These days I just wonder about the future and wander through my past.
After my terrifying walk, I paced the living room of my family home, unable to take my mind off those eyes.
To pass a sleepless night, I nestled down into my wingback chair and turned to the weekly news.
Flipping through its pages, my spine tingled as my eyes fell upon a fortunate headline, "City to clean up abandoned properties."
I scanned the article for mention of the vacant funeral parlor and its blue-eyed inmate, and found a miraculous scrap of history:
"City officials said they would like to see the Kendall-Whittier funeral parlor rehabilitated.
"Many years before the art deco funeral home was abandoned, two eccentric brothers, Howard and Phillip Fondskill, performed the exacting work of morgue and memorials at this Midtown site.
"Family members of the Fondskills said Howard and Phillip began acting strangely after preparing and burying the body of a friendless young lady.
"The body of the woman, Cecelia White, a perfume counter girl, aged 25, was found curled in the basement of an empty mansion along 21st St., a policeman's report said. Her throat had been cut, and a bouquet of white roses was found at the scene.
"Though the undertakers refused to comment on why they hurriedly abandoned their funeral parlor six months later, many have speculated that the girl's mysterious death -- maybe even her restless spirit -- was the cause."
I closed the newspaper just as a burst of autumnal wind shuddered down the chimney, calling up a cloud of black ash. I reached inside the chimney to find the wayward flue but instead, my hand gripped thin, ice-cold fingers.
I tried to tear my hand free of the deathly grasp, but instead, long fingernails tore into my palm. Choked by flying ash, I could scarcely comprehend a high-pitched voice as it echoed, "Just one more... Just one more..."
I felt my heart would explode with terror, but soon, the wind died down and my hand was released from the ghostly grasp. A violent crack of lightning illuminated the night sky outside my window. I saw against my billowing curtains the outline of a young woman.
When morning arrived, I was as determined as ever to uncover the source of these disturbances and to return to my happy retirement.
I dressed quickly and vaulted out the door on my ethereal errand to Central Library's vast archives.
After hours of fruitless research, I spied a yellowed bulletin about two peculiar deaths and two mysterious kidnappings that had occurred in the vicinity of a great manor on 21st St. near downtown.
The city daily relayed the sordid tale of a greedy shrew, Greta Ferrars, who wielded strange witch-like, hypnotic powers.
Mysterious circumstances followed Greta wherever she went. Her husband committed suicide, his body contorted and wide-eyed after he stabbed himself to death -- in the back.
One afternoon, it is rumored, Greta's maid was overheard as she joked and laughed with the cook about the old woman's cosmetics.
Soon after, the maid wandered out the heavy front door, her eyes fixed and unblinking, into broad daylight and was crushed in the deadly traffic on 21st St.
Again, it was ruled a mystifying suicide.
Years later, neighborhood children noticed some strange noises and happenings at Greta's red-brick manor. Upon investigation, police discovered two women, both department store workers around age 30, near death in the manor basement.
For seven years, Millie and Jane were under Greta's "hypnotic" control.
The ladies told police they were brainwashed into giving all their money to the old woman.
Each night Greta came into the basement, a white rose in her hand, her mouth lined in bright-pink lipstick, and begged unseen gods to renew her youth in return for their lives.
After Greta's death, the house was condemned -- a relic of dubious deaths, mind control and black magic. Her body was cared for by none other than the two kindly sibling undertakers of the now defunct funeral home.
After my day of eerie research, I walked under a dreary Tulsa skyline toward the haunted parlor once more. Though I was fearful of those glowing cobalt eyes, I was also drawn to them.
Each gust of wind sent dead, fallen leaves along my path and seemed to echo with the high-pitched refrain, "One more."
I searched for the source of these whispers, but the avenue was lonely, deserted.
A heavy rain began to fall, and in my frustration I jogged across the thoroughfare toward the parlor and a wide overhang that would protect my riotous mind from icy drizzle.
I stood under the overhang and shook water from my coat. My heartbeat and footsteps boomed loudly in my ears as I stepped toward the impassive oak doors. All was dark within and all was quiet about.
I pressed my face to the window, and saw pale wooden pews crouched in neat rows leading up to a small, carpeted dais. Strange patterns of orange lamplight fell along the dust-covered floor.
Two shoeprints were pressed into the gray dust, pointed toward the doors, pointed right at me.
Lightning struck and thunder vibrated the ground. In the window, only inches from my nose, Cecelia's young face materialized out of the darkness, her blue eyes blazing like cold fire, her mouth screaming.
But I could hear no scream, only a hoarse, high-pitched whisper as I stumbled backward into the drizzling rain, "Just one more!"
Cecelia's ghost quieted, her blue eyes grew larger, she smiled. A vacant smile slid upon my face, and my mind swirled with hypnotic thoughts.
I did not even blink when she beckoned me to follow her into the dark chapel. I gripped the brass doorknobs, and with a rusty click, the oaken doors gave way.
Thunder banged against the roof and a gust of wind blew the doors backward on their hinges just as Cecelia disappeared into a white mist upon the platform.
In the mist lay two white roses. One was long-dead, its petals falling from a crystal vase, and the other was freshly cut, tied with white yarn and lying on the floor.
Tucked into each flower was a curled note. In the scratchy handwriting of Howard Fondskill, it read, "My darling Greta, I think of nothing but your beautiful blue eyes, day and night. My brother Phillip said we must close our parlor so you may rest in peace. I fell in love with your beautiful face, gorgeous even in death, and we shall be together again, also in death. Love always, Howard."
Near the pristine white rose, a letter also laid, this one written by Howard's brother, Phillip. The undertakers who had taken Cecelia's lifeless body from the Hex House had known much more than they let on.
Phillip's letter read, "Dearest Cecelia, I had hoped you would understand. I have loved Greta such a long time, and she kept asking for one more death. I could never please her, and she said just one more, a girl like you, beautiful and smelling like flowers, would keep her young for eternity. I beg your forgiveness. I fell in love with Greta's spritely blue eyes, so life-like even in death, her sweet voice so alive even from beyond the grave..."
The rest of the letter was torn away.
They had both fallen in love with Greta Ferrars and her terrible beauty. I longed to finish the letter, and began to feel along the edge of the dark dais for the rest of the note.
Instead, my hand fell upon a slick, leather shoe tip.
I looked up and met the vacant eyes of an elderly Phillip Fondskill, who stood carelessly tapping at the tip of a gleaming blade. He smiled down upon me, his uncomprehending grin smeared with pink lipstick.
In a high-pitched, hysterical whisper, Phillip said, "Just one more and I'll be lovely again. Just one more..."
I closed my eyes and smiled into the void.
But don't worry, it's only a Halloween story.
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