We have been on a bazillion road trips, sometimes even being called Thelma & Louise for the crazy adventures we have. Don't get out much? Then live vicariously through us because we have a lot of fun. We will bring you new road trips regularly and we hope you enjoy reading about them as much as we enjoy going on them.
One of our goals is to get you off your butt and get out there and see all the crazy and wonderful things Oklahoma has to offer. You'd be amazed at what's out there and we'd bet you didn't even know about most of it, so we're here to tell you all about it.
The first road trip of the year took the OPEN staff to Hugo, Oklahoma. Why? Because that's where the circus people are, of course. Hugo, also known as Circus City, is the home of several circuses and has a very rich and wonderful circus history, which you can read all about at www.carsonbarnescircus.com.
Our arrival in Hugo brought us first to the circus grounds, which were absolutely an experience of a lifetime. They will gladly show you around as long as you call first. They are on the road performing from March to November so there's not much to see unless you catch them while they are wintering. That's more or less their time off though, so they don't mind visitors as long as you respect that and make an appointment. In town, there is a restaurant called Angie's Circus City Diner. The walls and tables are covered with circus memorabilia and it's a worth a stop to see all the history they have on their walls, and the chicken fried steak isn't bad, either.
Hugo is proud of its circus history and you can see testament to that throughout the town. There are murals, displays, statues, and the children's section of the local library is decorated like a circus, ring and all. But we learned there's more to Hugo than the circus. Hugo is a mecca of Oklahoma history and we were amazed at all it had to offer. The kids will love it, too, so load 'em up and get going!
While we were in Hugo, we stayed at the Old Johnson House Inn, a beautiful 1910 Victorian home turned bed & breakfast. As we unloaded our bags, we prodded our Inn Keeper, Metra Christofferson, for ghost stories and sure enough, she had one, which you can read about at www.oldjohnsonhouse.com. She met us with HOMEMADE hot cocoa with HOMEMADE marshmallows. Did I mention the marshmallows were HOMEMADE? We didn't even know you could make marshmallows; we just assumed you bought them in a bag and used them to make other stuff. But there we were, faced with an entire tray of homemade marshmallows with hearts cut out of the middle to commemorate Valentine's Day and they were divine. The place was spotless and Metra was a pleasure to stay with and a wonderful cook to boot. And of course, being ghost hunters, we were totally intrigued by the ghost story. Contrary to popular belief, there is more than one haunted B&B in Oklahoma and we're making it our mission to find them for you, because that's the kind of friends we are.
In the early 1900's several boys and midgets were hired to portray Buster Brown in various cities around the country to boost sales of Buster Brown shoes. One of them was Hugo's own William Edmond Ansley as well as former Munchkin, Jerry Maren. Singer and performer BJ Thomas, best known for big 70's hits such as *Hooked on a Feeling*, was born and raised in Hugo, too. Turk Robinson, the original Marlboro Man, is also a Hugo native. He has a headstone at Showman's Rest, the cemetery reserved for performers, but he is still very much alive, as we were assured by Jack Webb, a Hugo local.
Webb and his wife were in the process of getting the Harvey House Restaurant ready to open for business. Harvey Houses were hospitality havens located at train depots cross the nation. Good mid-western girls were hired to live and work in the Harvey Houses to ensure that the railroad guests were treated well during their stops at the depots and were known as Harvey Girls. The Hugo museum houses the original living quarters of the Harvey Girls as well as a plethora of other fascinating Hugo history. The restaurant was in wonderful condition and still has the original tiled floor and lunch counter. It's worth the trip just to see the beautiful art deco details of the building, but from the menu and the ever driven attitude of the Webbs, we're sure you won't be disappointed by the food and service either. They weren't open yet, so we didn't get to try it but you can bet we'll be going back.
They were unearthing a Civil War steamboat from the river just down the road. It was too rainy and muddy for us to make it out there to see it, but apparently, the boat was sunk at some point during the Civil War and has just recently been discovered. Officials believe the boat was headed to Fort Towson near Hugo where the last remaining Confederate troops surrendered to Union forces – right here in Oklahoma!
Another big archeological project is the town of Doaksville, the former capital of the Choctaw Nation. It was an active town in the mid-1800's and like so many other ghost towns, met its demise with the arrival of the railroad about a mile away. A walking trail leading visitors through the site passes by each excavation area, where foundations have been rebuilt so they can be seen. Trail signs relying heavily on information from documents and from the archaeology tell the important story of this once forgotten place, as it was at one time a large urban Choctaw village.
Wheelock Academy , an old boarding school for Indian girls, is about 20 miles away near the town of Millerton. The Wheelock campus is one of the top 11 most endangered historical locations on the United States and is in dire need of funds to help restore and maintain it. As most big empty buildings do, Wheelock has gained notoriety as being haunted. The curator of the museum on the grounds says that this is not the case, as does the caretaker and groundskeeper, but there have been a few reports by people that work there of apparitions in windows and so forth. A local newspaper reported the location to be haunted in October to boost Halloween readership, and sadly it resulted in several hundred dollars of vandalism to the old buildings. Wheelock campus is beautiful and dripping with Oklahoma history and there may indeed be spirits wandering the old halls, but vandalism and trespassing are not necessary – it's open to the public on a regular basis and the staff was very friendly and glad to answer any questions we had.
When we went to Hugo, we seriously only went to see the circus people and we learned so much more than we ever bargained for. Hugo is a little town with a huge history and it would make a great road trip for families or anyone interested in obscure history. So give Metra a call and book your room and get down there to experience the plentiful history and interesting things Hugo has to offer. If you go in the fall, you will witness the changing of the leaves and it's not a sight you will soon forget. Southern Oklahoma in the fall is one of the most beautiful sights in the country. Go to Hugo!
You won't be disappointed!