I’m back at the IOOF Cemetery in Norman, Okla. to share more stories behind the stones.
In my previous post, I mentioned that there are several Woodmen of the World (WOW) tree monuments at this cemetery. I saw far more of those than any IOOF-marked graves. During a certain span of years, WOW members could receive a marker if they paid an additional rider to their insurance policy. I don’t think the IOOF was offering such a sweet deal.
A Woodman of the World
One of the first “trees” I noticed was for Thomas Jefferson (T.J.) Wall, who was only 30 when he died in 1900. Born in 1870 in Missouri, T.J. married Katherine Grotts in 1894. Their first son, Charles, was born in 1897. Second son, Jesse, was born on Sept. 11, 1900.
T.J. died on Nov. 1, 1900. His obituary tells us that his cause of death was pneumonia and that he was a fairly recent but active member of WOW. While I still find it puzzling that newspapers included such information at the time, I wasn’t surprised to see that his obit included the fact that he carried a $1,000 life insurance policy with WOW.
Why did newspapers publish such details? My theory is that those concerned about the welfare of Thomas’ widow and two young boys, one only a few months old, would want to know. However, it truly did not need to be made public and it makes me cringe reading some of these old obituaries that mention it.
Bootleggers and Murder
I was not expecting to uncover the story I found when I started doing research on the next “tree” I found for Grover Cleveland Fulkerson. When I looked him up on Newspapers.com, I found headlines describing the young Cleveland County (Okla.) undersheriff’s murder at the hands of bootleggers on Aug. 24, 1917.
The story behind Fulkerson’s murder is complex and the trial coverage was extensive. The short version is that while conducting a traffic stop two miles from Norman, he encountered Charles Holden and John Jay. The two men had no intention of agreesng to a search, so Fulkerson jumped on the running board and reached in to turn off the car. Fulkerson attempted to subdue Holden, striking him. In the process, Fulkerson’s gun fell on the floor. Holden picked it up and allegedly shot Fulkerson in the stomach.
Bleeding, Fulkerson pleaded to be taken back to Norman so he could be treated for his wound, but the pair waited an hour before doing so. Fulkerson was able to make a statement about what had happened that day before succumbing to his wounds while being taken on a train to Oklahoma City for further treatment following surgery.
Both Holden and Jay were arrested and charged with Cleveland’s murder. Holden went on trial and was found guilty of manslaughter, receiving a four-year sentence. However, he was released on a $20,000 bond pending his appeal. Only a few days later, Holden hot and killed Deputy James Coffee of the Wilbarger County Sheriff’s Department (Texas) when he stopped him for running liquor out of his county and across the Oklahoma border.
Holden was convicted of Deputy Coffee’s murder and sentenced to 99 years. To my dismay, I learned that his sentence was later reduced to 12 years and he was released in 1929. Texas authorities failed to tell Oklahoma authorities he had been released. Holden was arrested several days later in Sapula, Okla. and sent to Mcallister Penitentiary to serve his four years for Fulkerson’s murder. I believe John Jay was acquitted at the first trial with Holden. He was not involved in the Coffee murder.
Grover married Mamie Smalley in 1911 before he became a policeman. They had a son and a daughter. Sadly, the couple had just lost a son, Grover C. Fulkerson, Jr., when he died at birth on July 8, 1917. Mamie remarried in 1922 to Ben Harris and they had a daughter together in 1924.
Officer Fulkerson’s death has not been forgotten in Norman and anyone visiting the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office can see his picture on the wall. In 2015, a wall of honor was created for Norman officers who died in the line of duty and Grover is one of the three honored.
Memorial to Lives Lost
Finally, I wanted to include a memorial that I found while walking around the cemetery. It has 39 names on one side of it. On the other is this quote with no context of any kind to explain it.
I learned that on April 13, 1918, 40 patients died in a fire at the Oklahoma State Hospital, now known as Griffin Memorial Hospital. It was a mental institution. All but two of the victims were burned beyond recognition. The dead were buried in a mass unmarked grave. Apparently, until 2015, nobody exactly knew where that mass grave was located. But the suspected cemetery was the IOOF Cemetery.
The hospital staff first talked with the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey (OAS) at Oklahoma University in 2010 to search the suspected burial site at the IOOF Cemetery in Norman. But the technology for such a task was unavailable until 2015. OAS research faculty member Scott Hammerstedt said the equipment allowed them to see underground and confirm that the imaging shows the dirt was disrupted all those years before.
The grave was not excavated to prove 100 percent that the bodies were there but evidence strongly indicates they are. Newspaper articles I found from that era say they were buried at the “Norman cemetery” and the IOOF Cemetery is the logical one to conclude that it is.
The monument I saw was unveiled on April 13, 2015 at the IOOF Cemetery in Norman, 97 years to the day of the fire. This article detailing the memorial held that day also talks about the fire, the victims, and their descendants. From what I read, 40 bodies were recovered and only one was claimed by the family. Ona Havill was identified by his brother, Charlie, and he was buried in Norman’s Independence Cemetery with family.
It was a cold, windy day and few spectators came to the graveside on Sunday, April 14, 1918. This article from the Norman Transcript provides more information. At that time, it was believed that 37 bodies were buried but 39 names are on the memorial.
On the other side of the memorial are the names of the victims buried in the mass grave.
Perhaps it’s wrong of me to ask questions but I have them. Why doesn’t this memorial say where the fire took place? Does the stigma of mental illness still hover so strongly that saying it was at a mental institution simply not desirable? I wonder how many people who have come across this memorial walked away scratching their head in confusion like I did.
It wasn’t just “a fire”. It was a tragedy that took the lives of a number of people who were already living on the fringes of society. I admit that I’m glad there is a memorial for these poor souls who died in an era when mental illness was little understood and often inadequately treated.
It was time to start heading for Sarah’s hometown of Lawton. But first we made two stops just north of Lawton at Elgin Memorial Cemetery and Old Elgin Cemetery.
I’ll see you there.