Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Visiting the Forgotten (Ghost Towns of Oklahoma)

From my TravelOKCity column, 2011


Forsaken and forgotten but still standing tall.

Every little boy has that intrepid adventurer in him. I am all for cultivating that sense of adventure and imagination in every young mind. The problem is that little boy still resides in my husband’s head. Sometimes he still fancies himself an Oklahombre robbing the Santa Fe train for some silver.

If you stand perfectly still, you will hear ghosts lamenting their past.

So one day, we went searching for ghost towns, so he can live his illusions of being an Oklahoma Long Rider, using TravelOKCity as an excuse. “It’ll be a good story,” he said with a straight face. We headed towards the east from Stillwater, expecting to find forgotten towns inhabited by shadows of former glories. Instead, we found proof of life, albeit slowed down like the old lady manning the little service station at Blackburn in Pawnee County.

Waiting for a vacancy at the very posh Ingalls hotel.
The Waltons was playing on a small television by the door when we walked in. The owner greeted us cordially and asked where we’re from. We’re from the city, we said. My husband stammered a bit when he revealed that we were looking for historic places of interest, groping for a better term than “ghost town”. “Ghost town, you say” she offered kindly with humor evident in her tone. It was as if she knew that she was living in a place that had somehow lost its place in the map. She took out a book and offered it to us. It was a book on ghost towns of Oklahoma, featuring her town. 

sweet little church
We needed to see the United Methodist Church, she said. It was built in the early 1900s. And without looking, as if she had done this numerous times, she offered us a key so we could take a look inside. We took it with reverence as if we were handed the key to the city.  The quaint house of worship had beautiful stained glass windows that were crafted by her daughter. The register of attendance plaque said that last Sunday’s attendance was 15. 

The baby in the manger sheds some light.
Walking back, we came upon a brick building with a weathered sign that said “Oasis”. It had yellowed palm tree cutouts against peeling wall boards. It was far from what we imagined as a refreshing retreat but we figured it used to be the town’s popular watering hole. The rest of the town center was lined with buildings with pretty much the same condition. They however stood impressive, perhaps owing it to the sturdy brick that still stubbornly held their frames as shadows of their former splendid state, when Blackburn was once a bustling whiskey town in Oklahoma Territory. Incorporated in 1909, it once boasted two banks, a public school, and three churches. 

  
glimpses of the forgotten
Today, the little lady selling candy bars and soda remains as one of the 15 who keep the church and maybe even the whole community busy.

On our way out, we saw a makeshift sign that said:
Things to do today:
1.    Get organized.
2.    Talk to spouse.
3.    Get re-organized.
4.    Talk to spouse.
5.    Abandon entire idea.
6.    Talk to self.

We wouldn’t be surprised if she made the sign herself.


signs of the living
There were no signs of outlaws, so we moved on to Ingalls where the famous Battle of Ingalls once happened. Here, gunshots were exchanged between the U.S. Marshals and the Doolin Dalton Gang, the Oklahombres notorious for bank and train robberies.  During the shootout, three deputies and two townspeople were killed while the Wild Bunch escaped. 

I am so pleased with how my Pentax poin-and-shoot performed during this trip.
Today, not even echoes of the guns could be heard. The dust and the smoke have long settled on the few remaining buildings, dilapidated and withering: the R.M. Salon, the Wilson general merchandise store, and the Ingalls Hotel. Vacancies? Yes, a look inside showed nothing but vacancies.

This image called out to me, begging me to tell its story.
A red chair behind the hotel sat empty, facing a swing long abandoned, pushed slowly back and forth by the breeze.  We continued, passing condemned bridges along the way, allowing us to quietly enjoy the river and the colors of the changing season. 

Traversing abandoned bridges.
At Skedee, another town in Pawnee County, we found the Bond of Friendship, memorializing the truce between European conquerors and the Native Americans. The monument towered over a crumbling food market, an abandoned auto garage, and a service station that sold gas for 49.9 cents a gallon. We only wished we could fill up there, instead we pressed on along highway 16 to our final stop - Shamrock, six miles south of Drumright.

A steam engine, my shadow, and my trusty point-and-shoot.

The once booming oil town of 1,000 denizens is slowly fading into a community of about 100 remaining residents. Not a majority of them are Irish or even of the Emerald Isle decent but the spirit of the “Saints and Scholars” comes to life through Ireland Street every St. Patrick’s Day, passing along the Shamrock Museum, a sad little institution that displayed baubles coated with dust and disregard. Most of the buildings were in the same state. A little red tractor parked by a school in decay and nothing much else.  Before we pulled out, a man in a truck drove up to us, asking if we were visiting. He gave us a pocket history about the town and invited us to his home where we could see pictures of Shamrock when it was once alive. We didn’t need to, we thought. 

Stories stay alive in these dead towns.
We only had to look at his friendly face to know that Shamrock is still the home of the living.

8 comments:

  1. NICE! YOU TOOK THESE PICS WITH JUST YOUR POINT-AND-SHOOT?

    ReplyDelete
  2. hi candy i want to know exactly why this town was abandoned almost completely

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Resty! Thanks for dropping by. Some of these towns were rich in oil but soon as the supply ran out, people moved on.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Moose! thanks! I used my point and shoot for the longest time before I got a DSLR. The point and shoot served me well! It still does a great job :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. i soooo love lykes:) these photos!
    Galeng the colors, contrast and texture.
    Hope to be with you in one of your road trips :) :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. wheeeheee thanks Tani! point and shoot lang yan :))) coming from you, idol photographer, that's a huuuuuge compliment!!! come visit. i'll be in manila this march. kitakits?????

    ReplyDelete
  7. doesnt matter what camera you used -
    walang lang yan, lang yan - langya lang hkhk
    basta the results are great.
    as for your march visit -sureee kitakits.
    just text me.
    if you have the time,
    maybe we can do a one day PhotoWalk :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. photowalk!!! wheee am so excited!!! sending you PM with my new number

    ReplyDelete