Muskogee History and Genealogy
Shopping in 1929
Do you remember the prices of some everyday items when you were young? History books tell us the Great Depression started with the crash of the stock market on October 29, 1929. The Depression had a profound impact on the lives of many of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents that lived in Muskogee that year. The prices mentioned in this article all appeared in advertisements in the Muskogee Daily Phoenix in October, 1929. Some of the brand names popular then are still sold today.
The attached picture was taken on May 30, 2007, at 419-21 West Broadway. It shows the site where the Sears Roebuck and Company store stood in 1929. At that time, Sears was selling single barrel shotguns for $6.79. Look closely, the store name is still faintly visible under the windows.
In 1929, a Muskogee business man named Connie Ogden owned a store located close to the railroad tracks at 409 North C Street. The price of three bars of Ivory soap was 22 cents. Ogden also sold meats, vegetables and bakery goods. "Dressed" chicken fryers sold for 29 cents a pound. "Dressed" means they were plucked, cleaned and ready to cook.
The same issue of the Phoenix contained ads for clothing. A popular item was the union suit; a special kind of underwear that joined the tops and bottoms to make one piece. At Futterman's Department Store, located at Okmulgee and Second Streets, union suits for men, women and children were for sale. Many people wore union suits to take the chill off in their poorly insulated homes. Sheep-lined coats sold for $5.95. Men's overalls went for 97 cents.
The usual products were offered in Muskogee drug stores. Squibb and Company sold cod liver oil by the jar for eighty-eight cents. Gillette razor blades were 28 cents a package. Kleenex tissues were a quarter a box. Steinberg's Drug Store offered to develop your Kodak film for free. The "free" part was the negatives; prints of the negatives sold for four cents each.
Drug stores were beginning to sell electrical products as well. Steinberg's had an electric corn popper for $1.49. As more homes became wired for electricity, families were looking for labor saving devices. Gaddis Drug Store was selling electric curlers for 79 cents. (Note the difference in spelling from the Gaddy's Drug Store located at 12th and West Broadway.) Gaddis' phone number, shown in the ads, consisted of only two digits: "76." Seven digit numbers were introduced much later in Muskogee, when many more people had phone service in their homes and businesses.
Here are some of the prices of everyday products in 1929:
10 lbs. sugar 59 cents
1 lb. butter 43 cents
1 lb. coffee 39 cents
6 lbs Crisco $1.19
1 ea. head of lettuce 7 ½ cents
1 qt. peanut butter 43 cents
4 ea. 5 cent rolls of toilet paper 17 cents
3 cans tomato soup 25 cents
1 can tuna 19 cents
1 can Drano 19 cents
1 lb. cheese 29 cents
1 doz. Jonathan apples 33 cents
2 doz. Sunkist oranges, small 33 cents
This year, due to last winter's freeze, just one orange sells for more than two dozen oranges did in 1929. Mass production, globalization, rapid shipping and better insulated modern buildings made changes in what we buy and the prices we pay today. It's interesting to note some prices, such as a can of tuna, have not changed as much as the prices of fresh fruit.
Here's an idea to spark discussion at your next family gathering. Ask your older relatives about the items and prices they remember from their younger years. You might even want to take a field trip to the Muskogee Public Library to look at microfilmed copies of old newspapers.
Labels: Connie Ogden's store, Fetterman's Drug Store, Gaddis Drug Store, Sears Roebuck and Co.
Rural Life In Muskogee County
Willa Council Sloan was interviewed in 1976. This is the story of her life in Muskogee County.
In the same year World War I ended, Willa Council and her husband Claude moved to Muskogee County. Willa rode the train to Warner with all of their possession loaded in a freight car. It was agreed that she would take a room in the hotel and wait her husband's arrival the next day.
The trip itself was uneventful. However, upon arrival in Warner, Willa found the town's sole hotel to be empty. That day, the former owner had walked out before the new hotel owners arrived. In between Willa walked in with no where else to stay. The night she spent in the vacant hotel she heard mice and every creak in the wooden floors. The next day, the new owners arrived and Willa helped them take inventory. That evening her husband joined her.
The couple rented a wagon and drove to their new farm on Dirty Creek. It was located between Warner and Webbers Falls and was not in good shape. The house was missing a corner support. Inside, the pot-bellied stove sat on a box of sand that had been used as a spittoon. Willa's first task was cleaning out the sand. Her dictum "there will be no spitting in here again" came shortly afterwards.
A well was located in the front yard. Often it was used by travelers who stopped for a drink and to water their horses and mules. One day a traveler named Henry Starr came by. Setting the bucket down after getting a drink, he told Willa that he was going to dig up some money he had buried nearby. Later, Willa followed in his footsteps and found a hole in the ground. The imprint of a box in the hole told her Starr had found his loot.
Another traveler a decade later stopped by. He was Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd from the Cookson Hills. He arrived with another young man in a buggy. After getting a drink, the two asked for something to eat. Willa professed that she and her husband had already eaten. Furthermore, she had nothing else prepared. Later, she regretted that she hadn't fixed a bite for the two young men. She said "He was just as nice a person as you would want to be around."
An old unused railroad track passed through Willa's farm. The rails had been removed, but not the ties. The creosote ties made great fence posts. Willa and her husband worked together re-establishing the fence rows around the fields using the ties.
The agricultural market crashed in 1921, making it unprofitable to harvest their cotton. In other years, flood waters from Dirty Creek washed out the fields of corn, cotton and wheat. One year she had to wade in two feet of water in order to reach the henhouse. Eventually, Willa and her husband turned to raising livestock. Over time the operation became a dairy farm.
Willa never had children of her own, but supported a boy named Gene N. Eastin in a Masonic Orphans Home in Kentucky during the middle of the Great Depression. Later she took in two foster boys, but never adopted them.
At age 68 she retired to a house in Webbers Falls. She remained active in the Order of the Eastern Star as long as she could get around. Willa Council Sloan passed away in 1984 after surviving two husbands and a full, full life.
Labels: Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, Dirty Creek, Farming, Henry Starr, Willa Council Sloan
Expanded Railroad Day at Museum
This year the annual Railroad Day at the Three Rivers Museum
is on Saturday, May 19th. If you have not visited the museum on Railroad Day before, come out for an interesting time.
Over the years the museum has collected artifacts depicting early Muskogee County life. Because the museum is housed in the old Midland Valley Railroad depot, it is natural that railroading would be a focus. An extensive collection of railroad memorabilia is on exhibition for this special occasion.
The largest artifact is the black and red train engine located on the north side of the depot. It is a switching engine. Such an engine was not designed to pull trains over long distances. Instead its function was to pull box cars into position for coupling in a switchyard. That's where the long-haul trains were assembled. Why not come climb into the switch engine control booth and feel the rush of an engineer as you look down the imaginary track?
The switch engine is only one of many items from the railroading past. Touring the exhibits inside the depot will give visitors a fuller idea of Muskogee's railroad development. Collectors of railroad models will be showing their "O" Gauge layouts. One railroad enthusiast will have almost 100 small engines and box cars on hand.
This year the exhibits for visitors are expanded to include the additional themes of "planes" and "automobiles." New acquisitions of aviation memorabilia include leather flying helmets from the early days. There is a new exhibit on Hatbox Field's history.
In addition to exhibits, a presentation by Carl Gregory will be given. Carl co-authored "The Oklahoma Aviation Story" in 2004. His talk begins at 10:30. He will focus on the flying history of northeastern Oklahoma. Two of stories he tells will be about the arrival in Muskogee of Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh, famous pilots of the 20th Century.
Going places slows down when you are driving a Ford Model T. Members of the Tulsa Model T Club will have real cars on hand for visitors to examine and admire. The special features of each car will be described by the owners.
Admission to the Three Rivers Museum for this special event will cost $6.00 for adults and half that amount for students. Lunch, sold separately, will be provided by Smokehouse Bob.
The Expanded Railroad Day is the sixth annual event on this theme. All have been different. Don't miss this one!
Labels: Amelia Earhart, Carl Gregory, Charles Lindbergh, Railroad Day, Three Rivers Museum
Opera Night in Muskogee
Madame Nordica, the Yankee Diva, came to Muskogee in 1906. Opera lovers from all over eastern Indian Territory came to hear her perform for one night only at the Hinton Theatre. The theater was located on the northwest corner of Court and Third Streets, just across the street from the Turner Hotel where it's likely many guests stayed after Madame Nordica's performance.
She was, during the Golden Age of Opera, America's most glamorous operatic soprano. Mme. Nordica arrived in her personal railroad car on the Katy line. In addition to a troupe of performers, she brought her own Everett Grand Piano.
As soon as the doors to the Hinton Theatre opened the well dressed elite from Indian Territory began their search for seats. This was the day of hats and gloves for ladies. And the theater was filled to capacity for the night's performance. Attendance was estimated at 400, i.e., full capacity.
The audience received a grand performance. Though she always felt trepidation upon going on stage, Madame Nordica exhibited a calm, commanding persona. Perhaps she felt more self-assured because of the luxurious gowns and jewelry she wore.
Madame Nordica really was an American, having been born in 1857 in Maine. She took her stage name when she was told in Italy that she would never succeed in Europe as Lillian Norton. The range and richness of her voice insured her success all across Europe and in America. By the time she appeared in Muskogee, she was America's most beloved prima donna.
Madame Nordica appearance in Indian Territory was due to the efforts of the Ladies' Saturday Music Club. When the club learned that her fee was over $1,000 per night, they sought the backing of the Elks. With the Elks' guarantee, the contract was signed. After Mme. Nordica's departure, it was calculated the Elks and the Music Club made a profit of $350.
The ladies of the music club gave Madame Nordica an informal reception after the concert. The singer expressed her appreciation by saying, "If I had such a beautiful country as yours I wouldn't submit to going in with Oklahoma as a state." Then she mopped her brow and commented that she was not accustomed to such warm weather.
After Madame Nordica sang on Wednesday, April 25, she boarded her railroad car and departed for Joplin, MO for another performance. It was her heyday both professionally and financially. She had, after all, been singing opera for twenty-three years and opened the 1905-1906 season at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. A smaller venue such as Muskogee was indeed fortunate to hear her perform.
Labels: Hinton Theatre, Lillian Norton, Madame Nordica, Opera
Muskogee County Genealogical and Historical Quarterly
The Muskogee County Genealogical Society started printing a quarterly in 1983. From its beginning, it contained both genealogical and historical material. It continues that tradition under its new name.
The current issue includes an article on the finest hotel built in Indian Territory. The Hotel Adams stood on the northwest corner of Okmulgee Street and the railroad tracks. This magnificent hotel was built in 1889. It burned down ten years later when the Great Muskogee Fire destroyed most of the downtown district.
Many past issues contained biographical sketches of individuals from the area. The current quarterly contains sketches of a number of old-time residents. These include William S. Harsha; his wife, Laura; and Hoy Harsha. William Harsha first came to Muskogee in 1876 and worked at different times for and with merchants J. E. Turner and Homer B. Spaulding. Laura was his wife; Hoy was his eldest child. Laura was interviewed in the 1930's for the Indian-Pioneer Papers. Hoy was a mayor of Haskell.
Several others have biographical sketches in this issue. These include J. F. Standiford (early day photographer), Gilbert W. Pasco (a real estate lawyer), John O. Cobb (Muskogee merchant), William T. Hutchings (lawyer) and, finally, the Rev. Mason F. Williams (Presbyterian minister and surgeon of the MKT railroad).
Past issues often contained snippets from various newspapers. These are always enjoyable. In a few brief lines everyday events from daily activities appear frozen in time. Here is one situation reported in January, 1884. It shows how important bridges are. "The ferryman refused to take across [the Arkansas River] the mail to Fort Gibson, on Tuesday morning, owing to the cold and ice, and in the evening none of the dancers from this side of the run could get across to attend the ball given by the Knights of Honor."
It is common knowledge that Indian Territory was full of outlaws. The lives of the more well known have been chronicled. Yet, many families can tell stories about similar escapades by a relative. Sometimes it is possible to find contemporary references that substantiate the wild tales that have been handed down. Ann Gardner has done this in "A 'Skelton' in My Closet," another article in the current issue.
If you are interested in subscribing to the quarterly, the cost is $21 a year. A membership application may be requested from email@example.com, or picked up at the Genealogy and Local History Department at the Muskogee Public Library.
Labels: Muskogee County Genealogical and Historical Quarterly
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