Restless Oklahoma: Tulsa’s Cave House

Driving west out of downtown Tulsa, around a bend in Charles Page Boulevard, if you don’t blink and miss it you’ll spy sitting right off the road a house that looks like something out of The Flinstones. If you stop for the $10 tour, inside you’ll find décor that’s as unique and eclectic as the home’s exterior.

But that’s not all that makes the Tulsa Cave House special. This nearly-a-century old building has a rich and sometimes dark history that includes ties to Prohibition-era gangsters and the KKK, numerous hauntings, and secrets still waiting to be discovered.

Built in 1920 as a family-oriented chicken restaurant, the outdoor picnic tables and friendly exterior served as a clever façade. Inside, if you knew the password, you would be led through a winding tunnel that led to a large chamber set deep in the cliffs behind the house, where asking for “coffin varnish” or “horse linament” would get you a shot of illicit, home-brewed whiskey. This speakeasy was said to be a favorite of Pretty Boy Floyd, who reportedly stopped by with his gang whenever he passed through Tulsa.

At some point after the end of Prohibition, the tunnel leading from the house to the hidden speakeasy was closed up and plastered over. According to rumors, other tunnels in the cliffs also led to the chamber, and were used to hide the bodies of Klan victims. Allegedly, the adjacent park is also the site of a mass grave full of victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.

With that kind of history, it should come as no surprise that the house is allegedly haunted, although reports of ghostly encounters describe spirits who seem to be at least somewhat friendly and mostly harmless.

One such ghost purported to haunt the premises is known as the Rag Lady. Apparently the spirit of a woman who was frequently seen wandering up and down the boulevard in the mid-century, wearing layers of coats and collecting rags and scraps from the trash, she is said to still be up to her old tricks, stealing rags from around the house, washing them and hanging them out of an upstairs window to dry.

Another spirit allegedly haunting the Cave House is known as the Key Lady. While not much is known about her origins, visitors to the house are said to have had their keys go missing, only to have them turn up on a nearby hilltop where they had not been previously.

The house is also allegedly full of secret hiding places. One such secret spot, a loose floorboard in one of the upstairs rooms, was discovered in the 1970s and was still hiding a stash of Prohibition-era liquor bottles. Other such places are believed to remain undiscovered throughout the house. One legend even says that diamonds are hidden somewhere within the Cave House walls.

So the next time you’re in Tulsa, if you’ve got $10 and half an hour or so to spare, head west on Third Street until it turns into Charles Page Boulevard, pull over at the weird house on the curve, and tell the owner you’ve always wanted to see the inside. Just be sure to hold onto your keys.

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