After I picked up Sarah at the Clinton Library, we headed to Fort Smith for the night. The next morning, we crossed the border into Oklahoma. If you are keeping score , we’d visited six cemeteries so far in three states (Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas).
This was not my first visit to the Sooner State. That was in the late 1990s when I went with Sarah to her childhood home in Lawton to visit her parents. I loved visiting Oklahoma then and again in 2019. There’s no other state like it and the people there are wonderful.
Remembering a Tragedy
During that first visit, the Oklahoma National Memorial Museum had not yet been completed. It is devoted to telling the story of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 and memorializing the estimated 168 lives that were lost that day. Sarah had already visited it so I asked if she would drop me off there while she visited some family nearby.
There are no bodies buried on the grounds of the museum. But it is a poignant memorial to those who died in what was at that time the worst act of terrorism on American soil. I felt compelled to go there to pay my respects. The museum does a respectful, thorough job of sharing the story of that day and its aftermath.
Outside the museum, there are 168 chairs that represent those killed on April 19, 1995. They stand in nine rows, each representing a floor of the Federal Building where the field is now located. Each chair bears the name of someone killed on that floor. Nineteen smaller chairs stand for the children who died.
There are two “Gates of Time” on each end of the reflecting pool in the middle of the chairs. According to the museum’s web site:
These monumental twin gates frame the moment of destruction – 9:02 AM – and mark the formal entrances to the Memorial. The 9:01 Gate represents the innocence before the attack. The 9:03 Gate symbolizes the moment healing began.
BBQ and Cemeteries
After Sarah picked me up, we headed for Van’s Pig Stand in Norman, a suburb of Oklahoma City. Van’s is a local chain with five locations. I’m always eager to try new barbecue places and Van’s did not disappoint. I think I love visiting barbecue joints as much as I do cemeteries! I’m not loyal to any one protein. I enjoy chowing down on pork, beef, turkey, chicken, etc. You smoke it, I’ll eat it. Fortunately, Sarah didn’t mind enabling my addiction.
Sarah had some other kin to visit in Norman, so I asked her to drop me off at the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) Memory Garden Cemetery located there. I’ve written about the IOOF before but I’ve never visited a cemetery that was owned/sponsored by them. It’s a fraternal organization with deep roots that still exists today, albeit with a much smaller membership.
To refresh your memory about their history, here’s a link to the IOOF web site.
The IOOF Cemetery in Norman is large and includes Saint Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery, located in the middle of it. I didn’t realize when I was walking around that I was photographing graves of both without knowing who belonged where at the time.
According to Find a Grave, there are more than 16,000 memorials recorded for the IOOF Cemetery. According to the sign, it opened on Sept. 25, 1891. Norman’s first graveyard was located on public school property on the southwest corner of Main Street and Berry Road. When the IOOF cemetery opened in 1891, most (but not all) of the graves were moved there.
It remains an active cemetery. You don’t have to be an IOOF member or related one to purchase a plot there. The Norman IOOF chapter operates it. There wasn’t much information online about it. I don’t know exactly when Saint Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery opened but it is much smaller with about 1,800 burials recorded on Find a Grave.
Death of an Oil Man
One of the more curious looking structures I saw that day was this mausoleum for Melvin L. Howarth, his wife, Maybel Fox Howarth, and their daughter, Myrtle Howarth Welch. It’s definitely rustic, with what looks to be block construction, and could use some restoration work. But it made me interested enough to see who Melvin was, and what his life in Norman had been like.
Born in the early 1860s in Chippewa, Mich., Melvin Leroy Howarth was the son of farmer George Washington Howarth and Sophronia Godfrey Howarth. In 1886, he wed Maybel Fox in Riley, Kans. They moved to the Norman area and began farming there.
The Howarths prospered in Norman. I found an article detailing how Melvin was instrumental in bringing a dependable water system to Norman in 1902. Son Floyd was born in 1888 in Kansas, while son Carl was born in 1896, and daughter Myrtle was born in 1898 in Oklahoma.
Maybel died on Jan. 11, 1900 at age 37, a few days after giving birth to daughter Pearl. Floyd was 13, but the other children were so young. Carl, Pearl, and Myrtle went to live with their Aunt Junia (Maybel’s sister) in Los Angeles, Calif. Carl later returned to live with his father. Melvin got into the oil drilling business, using the skills he used to find water in Norman. It was that work that would end up taking his life.
On Feb. 12, 1917, Melvin was helping build an oil well in Oklahoma City for Packington & Co. when tragedy struck. According to newspaper accounts, he was up on the derrick oiling the machinery when part of his jacket got caught in the cogs. Melvin was horribly injured before it could be shut down. He died as a result at the age of 54 and is interred with Maybel in the mausoleum.
Melvin’s obituary noted that he was a Mason and a member of Woodmen of the World (WOW). I’m not entirely sure he was an IOOF member. The WOW involvement would explain the tree-shaped monument beside the mausoleum. There are a LOT of WOW markers at this cemetery.
“Asleep in Jesus”
Daughter Myrtle married tinner Edward Welch on Christmas Eve 1918 and the couple settled in Tulsa. Floyd married in 1916 and was living there, too. Edward died in 1929 at age 33. Carl, who was wounded in World War I, died in 1926 at age 30 in Sawtelle, Calif. Floyd died in 1961 at age 73 and is buried in Glendale, Calif. Pearl died in 1973, also in California.
Myrtle died at a hospital in California on July 17, 1931, having spent a year there. She was cremated and her cremains were brought back to Norman, where she was interred with her parents in the mausoleum.
Mystery Mausoleum (Now Solved!)
I photographed a mausoleum that is a mystery to me. I only know that the last name is Berry and it is likely for a female. How do I know that?
There are 42 recorded Berrys with graves at the IOOF Cemetery, none in Saint Joseph’s. None of the IOOF memorials included a photo of the mausoleum. So I couldn’t tie it to anyone there.
Then I looked at the photo I’d taken of the inscription above “Berry” and saw that the deceased had been a member of the Woodmen Circle. This was the women’s auxiliary of Woodmen of the World and Norman had an active Woodmen Circle chapter. I did a little Newspapers.com dive to find out more.
Among the Berrys on Find a Grave was Adeline “Addie” Henry Berry, who died of heart disease on March 30, 1939 at age 65. She has her own flat marker and a surname marker she shares with husband Adolphus Andrew Berry, who died in 1916. The surname marker has a Woodmen of the World seal on it, indicating his involvement. From many articles I found, Addie was very active in Woodmen Circle and was one of the officers in Norman’s chapter.
“Beyond the Skies”
Then in researching Addie’s husband, Adolphus, I stumbled upon another potential candidate. On the same page in the Norman Transcript for Dec. 28, 1916 that published Adolphus Berry’s obit was the death notice and biography of Nora Irene Pugh Berry. They were not related. But Nora had passed away on Dec. 24, 1916 in a hospital in Oklahoma City after an operation to save her life had failed. Nora was 46 and has no memorial on Find a Grave.
As I scanned her obituary, the words “Interment will be in a vault in IOOF Cemetery” leapt off the page. There it was. I’m posting part of that death notice. Among all the tributes to her, none mentions the Woodmen Circle. It notes she was a member of the Ancient United Order of Workman (AOUW), the Degree of Honor, and Order of the Eastern Star (Masonic auxiliary for women). But nothing about Woodmen Circle.
Is it possible the vault/mausoleum wasn’t ready when Nora was buried? She died on Christmas Eve and her funeral was held only four days later on Dec. 28, 1916. I don’t think it could have been completed by then. Nora’s husband, Robert, remarried in 1919. His death in January 1940 of pneumonia and funeral was reported in several Oklahoma newspapers but none of them reported where or if he was buried anywhere. Only his funeral services were noted. If he was buried in the IOOF Cemetery, there is no Find a Grave memorial for him.
His obituary did note that he was a member of Woodmen of the World (among other fraternal organizations). Perhaps it’s through that connection that Nora’s vault was obtained. Perhaps Robert’s second wife was not keen for him to be buried with her. I don’t know.
EDIT: I called the number listed for the IOOF Cemetery’s office and left a message. A very nice young lady called me back to confirm that I was right. Nora is indeed buried in the Berry mausoleum, along with her oldest son, theater owner Ray C. Berry. He died in 1932 at the age of 40.
I’m just getting started so join me for Part II soon.