Rich in history and tradition, Corsicana and the surrounding county have more stories to tell than could ever possibly be told.
Sadly, many of those stories are lost to the ravages of time. Passing down stories from generation to generation word of mouth is one way they stay alive, as are written accounts of historical happenings and events.
But what about the stories nobody ever writes down? What about those with family bloodlines that stop with that generation, so no stories are ever passed down?
Oakwood Odyssey is an attempt by the Navarro County Genealogical Society and the Liz Gillispie Genealogy Department at Corsicana Public Library to dig out a few of those stories, tied to people whose final resting place was in Oakwood Cemetery.
For the sixth year, evening tours through the cemetery will bring characters in Navarro County history to life, and impart their stories in a way they will hopefully not be forgotten.
On your way through the historic cemetery, you will get to meet a “vamp” flapper (Alicia Rogers), a bootlegger (James “Buddy” Kirk), Joseph Napoleon “Pole” Edens (Duane Nutt), Dr. Dubart Miller with stories by descendant Catherine Johnson, stories of the people at the IOOF Home, as told by Cindy Pillans Black, victims of Spanish flu, portrayed by Navarro College drama students, and Judge James Harle (Rob Jones).
Also featured will be Capt. James Garitty (Mark Bedgood), Roy and Eloise Deskin (Norman and Dana Stubbs), Agnes Kantor (Camille McClanahan), and Sam Blair, portrayed by Stanley Black.
Serving as docents to guide the tours will be Sharon Goodman, John Barron, Barb Honea, Wanda Luedecke, Paula Perkins, Marianne Wilson, Debra Aday, Chris Steele, Tonya Hartline, Nancy Smith, and Joanie Teel.
This year’s Odyssey is dedicated to Lea Murray, a long-time beloved volunteer at the Genealogy Department. She went to the Mesquite Meander (a similar event) with Norman and Dana Stubbs once and loved it. The first year Oakwood Odyssey took place there were 350 people and 18 tours that went through the cemetery. They have touched on people from the Civil War, World War II, Beaton Street stories, and the Hampton McKinney family in Navarro County.
Cindy Pillans Black decided to research the people who resided at the IOOF Oddfellows and Rebekah Home at the turn of the 19th Century. She examined headstones at Oakwood and noted dates, and realized there weren’t just children who lived there, some were older adults.
“At the IOOF Special Events Center, the back part of the building facing Second Avenue is actually the state office for the IOOF Lodge,” Black said. “There are women who work in the office. One lady took me to the basement, where there’s a sort of museum ... toys, a dollhouse, I could have stayed there forever. Physician’s reports they had to give to the state office were kept in books, and I pulled the books from 1914 to 1929.”
Somewhat confusing in Corsicana was the difference between the State Home (before it became a juvenile detention center) and the IOOF Home. Both were orphanages, and they were in close proximity to one another. In the late 1800s, early 1900s, if a father passed away, the widow and her children would be sent to the IOOF Home, because at that time women simply could not make it on their own. People from various towns “sponsored” children or families. There were records of money brought in, what it was used for, and it was all based on service.
“I finally got it in my brain it was different from the State Home,” Black said. “I started looking at the physician’s reports. The diseases, illnesses from that time period ... so amazing. They list every single accident a kid or old person or widow had, how many hospital cases there were — they had their own hospital, and the building is still there — there’s much fascination with the old buildings.”
Another old building was billed in the reports as a “new, state-of-the-art auditorium” in 1902. It was a place where children sang and put on programs, and Black imagines it was very beautiful.
The place was like its own little community: they had horses, cows, chickens, and at one point the doctor recommended they get more dairy cows so the children could all have fresh milk every day.
“Dr. T.A. Miller, a Corsicana doctor, did the physician’s reports,” she said. “You could tell the year he retired and turned it over to his son, Dr. Dubart Miller.
“The Spanish flu, which they called La Grippe, was an outbreak of flu,” she said. “The State Hookworm Association came and did a thorough examination on each inmate for hookworms.”
Inmate is the term they used for a person who resided at the IOOF Home. It was not a derogatory term. Other diseases they had to contend with included tuberculosis, scarlet fever, German measles (had a bad outbreak of that one year), some dysentery, and took tonsils out regularly.
“People of all ages died from appendicitis,” Black said. “One kid was run over by a team of mules. He lived about a month, was very bruised, then died.
“Dr. Miller sent some patients to the ‘sanitorium’ near the courthouse to get recuperated with help from a Dr. Suttle.”
There were notes about Sunday School, visiting preachers, and how many scriptures were memorized and recited each year by the children. There was a school with its own accreditation, and only members of the IOOF Home attended. Black learned about a kindergarten teacher named Miss Lois Hornbeak, who fascinated her. In those days, teachers were usually unmarried women.
Black noticed about the time the United States entered the war, there were more boys than usual who ran away, and it made her wonder if they did so to go off and join the military.
Information such as this and much more will be part of the Oakwood Odyssey, covering the time period from the Great War to the Roaring 20s.
This year, there will be a Preview Presentation the night before the Odyssey for those unable to walk through the entire tour. Seating is limited at the Corsicana Public Library Nancy Roberts Room, so please make your reservation soon for 7 p.m. Friday, May 10 by calling 903-654-4808.