Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Oklahoma Sanitarium Company, 1895

Two wide-release, big-budget movies filmed in Oklahoma will be released in 2022.  First is the series on Paramount, Tulsa King, featuring Sylvester Stallone.  I watched the first episode. It was free.  I’m not sure I want to pay $10 / month for a Paramount subscription. Oklahoma is doing a great deal to try to attract companies to film in Oklahoma and to hire Oklahoma talent. I hope it works.  

Oklahoma would be a great location for horror films. Norman, Oklahoma, would be a perfect location for a new sort of horror film – not one designed just to shock, disgust, or startle, but one that would trigger compassion and a more open and inclusive view of history and the people we tend to hide and make invisible. 

In 1948, Daily Oklahoman journalist Mike Gorman published Oklahoma Attacks its Snake Pits in the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.  It was based on a long series of articles he had written about Norman, Oklahoma’s Central State Hospital, founded originally in 1895 as The Oklahoma Sanitarium Company, which took over the buildings first occupied by High Gate College, a Methodist women’s college founded in 1890, but quickly overshadowed by The University of Oklahoma. The book shocked its readers and Gorman went on to write another book which is available online, but originally published in 1956. Entitled Every Other Bed, it detailed mental health practices and patient care in mental hospitals throughout the United States.  It was a strong criticism of the mental health care, and it perpetuated the notion that “insane asylums” were “snake pits” where there was rampant abuse. Central State Hospital tried to fight back by filming a very detailed documentary in 1953, which focused on how benevolent and kind-hearted the mission of the hospital was.  It featured photos of mental health patients in rehabilitation activities such as working on farms and in bakeries. We were not treated to any scenes of electroconvulsive shock therapy, ice bath shock-to-the-system therapy (cold showers but taken to an extreme), sedation by Thorazine, or lobotomies. 

Oklahoma Sanitarium Company, established 1895 -- Hope Hall

Dr. Griffin founded the Oklahoma Sanitarium Company as a for-profit endeavor. It was envisioned as a cheaper alternative than shipping the “insane” and “mentally defectives” to a sanitarium in Illinois where it was necessary to pay $25 per month per patient for their room, board, and care. If they could take care of Oklahoma’s mentally ill, they would have a profitable, sustainable, ongoing business model. 

It worked well, but there were a few bumps in the road. First was a dreadful fire in 1915 which resulted in many deaths, partly because the wood walls and stairs were soaked in paraffin for sanitary reasons.  I guess it was designed so that human excretions would not soak in.  No one knew how many patients perished, or even exactly who they were until a study was conducted in 2015 using ground-penetrating radar. They found a mass grave with 39 boys’ bodies on the grounds, and after doing research, they found that they were between the ages of 10 and 15, and had been sent to live at the hospitals because they had what we would now call “Intellectual Disability Disorders.”  I would imagine that would include kids with Down’s Syndrome, extreme autism, very low IQ, etc. It’s very sad, and I can only imagine how it was in those days – having an “idiot” child was considered such a tremendous stigma.  So sad. I wonder if those little boys ever felt any love poured out toward them in their young lives. How could the mother give up on them? I don’t mean to judge – it would be hard at any point in time. 

The hospital rebuilt and expanded with stunning brick buildings with wrought iron and Corinthian pillars, as well as a gorgeous chapel. The largest of the buildings was named Hope Hall.  The goal was to try to help the patients who were deemed to be able to improve and to protect the more extreme cases from being a harm to themselves and/or to others. In 1953, there were 3,200 patients living there, and at least 500 employees. It was considered a small city and even had its own power plant, water supply (wells), cannery, bakery, farm, butchery, dairy, and laundry.  Obviously, there would be doctor’s offices and pharmacies as well. 

When I was a child, my Uncle Gene’s wife, Sylvia, was committed to Central State.  Uncle Gene was an electrical engineer and a bit of a geek. I am sure he drove her to a state requiring hospitalization.  Perhaps she was “out of hand.”  When I was an undergraduate, I knew a guy who worked there as an orderly. Apparently, it was true that on a full moon, there would be restlessness. Missives from a patient who claimed he an emissary from God would come to my dad’s office. I was always asked to write a polite response. In the 1960s, you could not enter the grounds without being allowed in by a guard at the gate. 

I think it would be an amazing to put together a ghost story / horror series with patient stories: 

Young intellectually disabled children who died In the fire

Elderly suffering from dementia (or greedy relative syndrome)

Extreme depression

Criminally insane (although Vinita had most of them)

Paranoid schizophrenia

Delusional disorder

Dipsomania (old term for alcoholism or violent cravings for alcohol)

Native Americans who violated cultural norms (and who may have had guardians for their oil and gas interests)

Each person’s story would be quite different, but there would be a common thread. I think there should be at least two story arcs, perhaps three. I can work those out. 

Here are a few ideas for the title of the series: 


Oklahoma Sanitarium Company

Hope Hall

Hospital Lake (not really appropriate because little would happen there)

Griffin Memorial (would be interesting although not accurate to include gryphons)

Echoes at Dawn

Probably Hope Hall would be the best. It’s an actual place, and not a title that has been used many times before. It is hard to tell from the photo, but the building is very large and has three Corinthian pillar entrances. Notice the barred balconies. It is probably a good idea, but rather scary. 

What makes mental illness so scary? I think that there are one or two obvious reasons – 

Lack of socialization & refusal to conform to social norms (and thus unpredictable)

Lack of contact with common points of reference, hence it’s hard to communicate or relate

Dehumanization – lack of markers that identify one as a human being – the half-human/ half-beast concept can be profoundly disturbing

The concept of community mental health care (outpatient, medication) took over and now the old residential “insane asylums” stand empty. Granted, the therapies were cruel. But is it better now in 2022 for the mentally ill?  As one article put it, in Oklahoma, the county jails are the mental health facilities, and they are woefully inadequate and unprepared. I’d say that homeless encampments are the ersatz, DIY insane asylums, but with self-medication and drug dealers acting as community mental health doctors. It’s horrible. I’d rather see people have opportunities to live in clean, regulated environments with the opportunity to work (farm, dairy, bakery, etc.).  But, the majority would probably prefer squalor. Mentally ill people prefer their ”freedom.” But, what is “free” about addiction? 

HOPE HALL: First Episode - Oklahoma Sanitarium Company -- Fire: April 13, 1918

13-year-old Julieta Klehrmorgan

Moved to Norman, Oklahoma

Dad is an engineer, mom a geologist –

both love Julieta, but are chronically worried and self-absorbed

Julieta likes to explore

Mysterious traffic circle at the end of Main Street

Twirl  twirl

take the second outlet

Follow the road, weeks pushing up from cracked asphalt

The block-long three-story red brick Prairie Corinthian

An abandoned psychiatric hospital, an “asylum”

Boarded up, a time capsule shivering

with its own knowledge -

Julieta peers into windows, sees the

No Trespassing Sign on door…

but the door opens,

a boy around 12 waves to her to come in.

Slender, wearing khaki pants,

sky blue button-down shirt

(or chambray)?, leather shoes

Dark, straight hair, round face –

Walks through the door … slips down stairs –

now in new dimension

new wood building, smells like oil

She touches the wood – it feels like a candle

Windows have metal bars

Through the window, she sees tall, uncut prairie grass,

cedar trees, and a large pond

A couple of people are on horseback

An apple orchard is in bloom

In a room, boys are seated around a table

Sorting colored blocks to put in small boxes

They seem to be wooden toys of some kind

The boys are sorting, grouping

Some are able to move smoothly

Others have limited range of motion

One is making grunting noises

Another, round face, lashless eyes,

a perfect “O” for a mouth

Partial to the red blocks

A small blonde boy keeps standing up on his chair

Another, pensive, hunched-over,

sorting, sorting, sorting

Julieta picks up a block

Wonders, does it, too, feels like a candle?

She thinks “no” –

Just a regular block of wood, sanded smooth

Painted even smoother…

Through the window, the sun is starting to set…



Evening prayers. Pray for today

Pray for the fading memory of a mother’s embrace

Pray for roommates sleeping in iron cots, boys

sleeping under identical wool blankets

soft, crisp white sheets

4 am, Saturday, April 13, 1918

The boy gestures to Julieta,

Look through the barred third-floor window

Thunder growls in the distance

Flash of lightning, crack and rattle of thunderclap

Old, twisted, half-dead cedar tree bursts

Showers of sparks and crackling flames

Gust front in a savage Derecho

Bends the limbs, strips the blossoms from the tree

Fans the sparks like bellows into a small flame

On a dark, cold night

Flames tear through the dry pampas grass

Eating their way to the dormitory building

The walls feel like candles

The floor sealed in wax

Screaming, shouting, rattling of keys

Windows open, but bars built into the frame

Doctors, nurses, night guards screaming, shouting

Boys run down the only corridor

To the only stairwell

Paraffin snapping, sparking, crackling

Yellow-orange unstoppable passion

L.T. Hawes running through flames

Unlocking doors, hoping against hope, and

The guard shielding two little boys with his body

One boy clasping a block from the day before

The ones able to talk sobbing for their mothers

The deaf-mute wide-eyed

The Downs Syndrome boys suffocating while they slept

Another guard with blanket over hands on fire-hot bars

Trying to worry them out of the wood frame

But then the smoke

Acrid wool, cotton, paraffin and oak

Clouds inside

Clouds outside

The deadly Derecho with its drenching rain

Put out the fire with water

From the same anvil clouds that hammered

and sparked the cedar with a jagged streak of lightning

Days later after paper telegrams and letters delivered

Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters

Mute with guilt and grief: silent, heaving shoulders

Regretting believing Dr. Griffin’s promises – a brand new treatment

For their child who could not mentally advance,

Or the ones who would not speak, would not look in the eye

Long, protracted tantrums, hour after hour

Riding on their wooden rocking horse

Or simply rocking, rocking, rocking back and forth

Could they have been helped after all at home?

More prayers? More pleading? More bargaining with God?



But by day the headlines:

“Three paraffin-soaked wooden fire traps kill little boys!” 

No more words needed

Julieta looks up

She is seated on an old park bench

North of the red brick Corinthian buildings

Clipped grass, concrete silhouettes of building foundations

The air smells like wet dirt and impending rain

Cardinals and robins chirping

The boy is back


“What is your name?”


November 27, 2022


Poetry of the Present: Fox on the Run


November 6, 2022


8:45 pm, a November full moon Sunday, crisp air

Soft light from the skies and my Honda Passport headlights

I see an industrial duster appended to a lean, little wolfish body

Scampering across the green space just beyond the iron gates

Bolt, bolt somewhere off in the direction of the winterized pool

And the backyards with offering plates of dry dog food 

Semi-urban fox, opossum, raccoon, rabbit

Easier pickings here than the cotton fields across 48th Avenue

Fox? Coyote? The yip-yips I hear in the fields toward the South Canadian River

Suggest coyote, not fox, not dog, not caterwauling feline (that would be me, at least 

in my own idea of self years and years and years ago… so glad that’s in the rearview mirror)

To all wildness, I support you

I leave a special Seventh-Heaven Pumpkin Spice muffin (well, half – I ate the muffin top)

Broken into chunks and tossed behind my Knock-out Roses and red & white periwinkles

And the bushes in front of the hail-pocked weathered cedar privacy fence. 

Tuesday is mid-term elections day. 

I’ll vote. Perhaps this time I’ll do detailed research 

Instead of simply voting “Throw the bums out.”

The coyote’s not a fox

Nor is it an opossum, rabbit, raccoon, or semi-feral cat

Too bad. 1976 Norman High School Spanish Club Spring Break

Trip to Mexico City, Taxco, Cuernavaca and then down winding Sierra Madres

Acapulco Hotel disco “La Tormenta” dancing after straining to see 

The famed cliff divers included in our package deal; 

Couldn’t wait to get out of there; who wants to see self-immolation?

Who wants to pay to see the poor risk their lives just for entertainment? 

Couldn’t wait to dance, dance, dance 

Popular still “Fox on the Run” by Sweet, memories bring a 

Return to innocence – where the poor do not mutilate themselves to entertain the rich

Return to purity –Spanish Club Spring Breaks do not unwittingly play into the old paradigm

Or simply dance to 1975 “Fox on the Run” by Sweet

Coyote tail Pony tail run run run dance

The full moon away

I’m here today

My eyes full moons

The cool picnic table air

I’ll never give up

And nor should you; sweet brushtail bush coyote

November 7, 2022

Wet leaves on the patio

Turn the card

A nest of beetles, or a smaller leaf over a smaller leaf over a smaller leaf

Matrochka fall

Five Russian textbooks, dictionaries, glossaries of verbs

Unboxed and placed on my pristine white bookshelves

Near Erik Satie’s A Mammal’s Notebook

After he died, they found 100 umbrellas in his cramped Parisian rooms

Not too thrilled about this

The velvet eccentric had a dozen identical suits, 

to alternate day by day by week; 

Yet after he died, they found a half dozen of those 

untouched, unworn

Inventories of the “raw” vs the “cooked” 

It’s all symbolic – the unworn velvet suit: 

potential for rebirth, a new “skin” and a new being

The worn-out suit: 

Experience, prior knowledge, scaffolding (but to where…?)

Saturday, November 05, 2022

How to Read D. H. Lawrence’s “Coming Awake”

(Audio recording) It is very hard to interpret D. H. Lawrence’s “Coming Awake” without a clear understanding of his notions of poetry as expressed in his 1919 essay, “The Poetry of the Present,” and a conceptual framework for Imagist Poetry and the Imagist Movement. 

How to Read D. H. Lawrence's "Coming Awake" 

D. H. Lawrence begins by saying that we need a new kind of poetry because most of the genres of poetry currently used either propel the reader into a projection of the future, or pull them back into the a nostalgic past.  The problem with poetry that focuses on the future or the past is that it has to be perfect.

If you focus on the present, however, there is no idealizing gaze and there is no force-fitting a grandiose “message” or meaning. 

If you focus on the present, you tend to chronicle the concrete images and things that are happening around you. In that case, instead of being grandiose, you’ll be closely observant. 

By being in the moment, you can create a “poetry of the immediate present,” and it will capture a part of the present – like a still pictures from a video of reality. 

In addition, the poetry that captures what is happening in the present is, as Lawrence puts it, “like the wind,” and there is “a sheer appreciation of the instant moment.” He cites Walt Whitman as a wonderful purveyor of the “poetry of the present.” 

In contrast, for Lawrence, poetry that attempts to adhere to or conform to “any externally-applied law” would be “mere shackles and death.”  For this reason, he prefers free verse. 

So, if we apply this concept to “Coming Awake” (1916), it is possible to appreciate it as an example of “poetry of the present” which seeks to imbue the poetic space with a sense of immediacy and of heightened powers of the senses and observation, so that what poetry does for you is to intensify your experience of everyday life. It amplifies, intensifies, and magnifies everything you perceive with your waking and awakening mind.  

In “Coming Awake,” the poet’s observations are of minute, delicate details – ones often overlooked by the person whose mind is in the clouds or in a fog of the past. Lawrence begins by observing the characteristics and qualities of light that often go unnoticed: “lake-lights were quivering” and “sunshine swam in a shoal.” The personification encourages the reader to feel the elements of the poem because the language suggests a human body. 

The poet’s intense attention to tiny details makes the reader perceive it as though looking through a magnifying glass and seeing the “hairy, big bee” with “his body black fur.”  The bee “hung over the primulas” which are later described as “airy primulas.” Primulas are also known as primrose, and they consist of clusters of tiny petals and delicate little stamen. The sense of looking at everything as though it were magnified many times, and frozen in time is what the poet’s language has done for us.  It puts everything in super-sharp focus, freezes it in time, and then magnifies it. 

Thus, the process of awakening can be said to be akin to reading the poetry of the present which functions as a tool to bring everything into extremely sharp focus and to put the reader in the very center of what is being described. The result is an experience so intense that it could also be depicted as shrinking to the size of a bee or a primrose and walking around in the garden and observing a gigantic, hairy, furry bee buzzing loudly, triggering your senses into extreme awareness. 

The careful reader will see an influence of Zen Buddhist thought and the poetic ideas of the haiku and other minimalism. 

Lawrence’s concept of the “poetry of the present” is deeply democratic. It basically proposes that everyone can and should write poetry because it is a tactic for living a happier, fuller, more vibrant life. Anyone can write a poem, Lawrence might suggest. The key is to slow down, write observations, exaggerate the concrete details so they appear larger than life and generate an emotional response of joy, happiness, appreciation of life. 

Works Cited

Lawrence, D. H. “Coming Awake” in New Poems. London: Martin Secker, 1919; Bartleby.com, 1999. www.bartleby.com/128/  .

Lawrence, D. H. “Preface: The Poetry of the Present,” in New Poems, 1919. In The Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69403/the-poetry-of-the-present