Shaman's Portal Oklahoma

Restless Oklahoma: Shaman’s Portal

Shaman's Portal Oklahoma

Something strange is afoot in Beaver Dunes Park. Located in the panhandle of Oklahoma, the dunes are home to a legend involving the Spanish explorer Coronado, mysterious late night military excavations, Men in Black encounters, and enough mysterious disappearances to warrant the nickname “Oklahoma’s Bermuda Triangle.”

The story goes that Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, as he traversed the area on his quest to discover New World gold, ignored the warnings of his Native American guides to keep away from the dunes. The price he paid was to have three members of his expedition suddenly vanish before his eyes amidst strange flashes of green lightning–a description Coronado himself penned in his expedition diary, calling the phenomenon “the work of the Devil.”

Known by the natives as the “Shaman’s Portal,” the area has since been blamed for numerous such alleged disappearances, although none have been verified, especially in the last century or so. However, locals have claimed to witness mysterious military excavations conducted under the cover of darkness. In the Nineties, after receiving reports of unspecified “strange” findings from an Oklahoma State University archaeologist, one Dr. Mark Thatcher is said to have spent three years studying the area until he was shut down by men with military credentials who fit the description of the notorious Men in Black. It’s unclear whether Thatcher was part of another unidentified university geological team who is said to have studied the area in the mid-Nineties. This team supposedly took a number of geological samples and found strange anomalies that included ionized soil and electromagnetic interference. All of this has led some to believe that an ancient alien spacecraft lies buried beneath the dunes.

A flying saucer isn’t the only thing believed to be buried down there. Apparently, the area is also an ancient Native American burial ground. And we all know that building anything on one of those is generally a Bad Idea.

And the alien connection is only one hypothesis surrounding the area. Theories about the disappearances and the weird lights abound. Is the area a portal to another dimension? Were the missing people transported, or incinerated by the green lightning? Was this some kind of Native American magic meant to protect the tribal gold from greedy European explorers like Coronado?

As freaky–and kind of cool–as all of this is, unfortunately the only thing that exists in the way of real evidence is Coronado’s diary. Every other claim over the last five hundred years or so have been, shall we say, sketchy? Still, it seems that something happened to those lost explorers–something unnatural and extremely difficult to explain.

And that’s enough to keep me from exploring those dunes anytime soon.


Restless Oklahoma: What is Going on in Dewey Public Schools?


Gross-Tinz, Germany, 1892: a ten-year-old girl develops a tremor in her right hand, which quickly escalates to full-body seizures. Soon after, 19 other students are similarly afflicted. Doctors are stumped as to the cause.

Montreal, 1894: at a ladies’ seminary, sixty students suffer mysterious seizures with no known medical cause.

Bellevue, Louisiana, 1939: a girl develops a twitch in her leg while at a high school dance. Soon after, all of her friends are similarly afflicted. Again, health professionals are confounded.

Blackburn, England, 1965: 85 students at a girls’ school are overcome with fainting spells. No illnesses were discovered and no pollutants or toxins were found in their food or the environment.

North Carolina, 2002: Ten girls–mostly cheerleaders–attending a rural high school experience seizures and other inexplicable symptoms lasting for five months.

LeRoy, New York, 2011-2012: 12 high school girls suddenly develop ticks and other symptoms similar to Tourette’s. Investigations are carried out, and even Erin Brochovich’s team is called in to test the ground water and other possible environmental causes. Once again, no physical explanation can be found. The girls are all diagnosed with conversion disorder, a mental disorder in which stress and anxiety manifests as symptoms of a physiological illness.

What do all of these things have in common, apart from having similar symptoms with no known cause? Each of them is considered a classic example of mass hysteria. While examples of mass hysteria date back to the middle ages and at one time were thought to be the result of witchcraft, and is even blamed for the infamous Salem Witch Trials, it seems that in modern times, these cases more often than not occur amongst populations of young women and teenage girls, usually in some type of school setting.

Such incidents served as the basis for the film The Falling, which is a fictional account of mass hysteria spreading through an English girls’ school in the 1960s, inspired primarily by the Blackburn case of 1965. The more recent case in New York was covered in the documentary, The Town that Caught Tourette’s.

The more current and politically correct term for this type of event is “mass psychogenic illness.” According to Time article covering the New York case, such an illness is ” thought to be triggered by stress or emotional distress, in response, for example, to reports of a chemical exposure, toxin or virus.” Symptoms can vary, and have included not only those described above but also uncontrollable dancing or laughter, and even fits of meowing like a cat. They’re believed to be spread “by way of humans’ often unconscious social mimicry of one another’s behavior,” according to Time.

That certainly fits in with the Blackburn incident, which is thought to have been triggered by the combination of anxiety over a recent polio outbreak and an incident from the day before it all started in which 20 people fainted from exhaustion during a three-hour long parade through the town.

All of which brings us to…

Dewey, Oklahoma, 2017: a “rash of student health issues” among middle school and high school students have been reported from the beginning of the fall semester. Although school officials aren’t identifying specific students or releasing information as to the specific symptoms of the illness, one concerned mother allowed the local news to film her teenage daughter, who has been experiencing mysterious seizures and trouble walking and talking, and other students are said to be experiencing similar symptoms. Investigations into the cause of the symptoms are ongoing, but so far officials haven’t been able to identify either a contagion or toxins to which the students could have been exposed. The school recently released an official statement saying that several of the students have been officially diagnosed with conversion disorder, but many of the parents involved are not having it.

Here is a recent story on the case from KOTV News in Tulsa, complete with video of the above mentioned girl and her mysterious symptoms. It’s worth noting that the comments are full of theories ranging from mold to the flu vaccine to Gardasil, with no one willing to accept the diagnosis of conversion disorder.

So what in the world is going on with this little Northeastern Oklahoma town? Is this another case of mass psychogenic illness? It certainly appears that way. But if so, then what could have triggered it? Is this just the culmination of anxiety from the onslaught of terrible things that have been in the news over the last few months? Goodness knows these kids have plenty to be stressed out about. Of course, many of the parents aren’t accepting the conversion disorder diagnosis and are consulting medical professionals to get to the bottom of this. So maybe a medical or environmental cause will eventually turn up. But considering the similarities between this case and prior incidents cited above… I’m not going to hold my breath.

Restless Oklahoma: Ponderosa Water Park

Credit:Johnny Fletcher via Abandoned Oklahoma

When I was a kid in the early ’80s, somewhere around 9 years old, something magical happened in the sleepy little lakeside subdivision in which I lived: the family that lived below the bluff atop which our end of the neighborhood sat built a water park on their property

It was no Whitewater Bay, but for basically being built in someone’s back yard on the side of a two-lane country highway, it was pretty impressive. It featured two slides–one long half-pipe slide that twisted and turned until it dumped you out into the large pool at the end, and an inner tube slide that was a series of shallow pools with straight slides connecting them all the way down until you got to the big pool. There was also a mini golf course and a snack bar and grill, and they were working on putting in a go cart track before they were forced to shut down.

The two or three summers that park was in operation were the best ever for the kids in that neighborhood. While admission was ostensibly $1 for two hours, they would let us pay $1 and then “forget” to kick us out when our time was up. Most of my allowance money went to spending just about every day at the slides with my friends. When we got tired of climbing back to the top of the hill to stand in line and go down the slide again, we would just hang out in the big pool until we got pruney or our moms would call and tell the park operators to send us home.

My friends and I particularly liked to hang out in this one corner of the pool, next to the pump. Not only was it far enough away from where the slides dumped people into the pool that you didn’t have to worry about colliding with anybody, but if you got in the water there you could feel the pump pulling you toward the low wall that separated it from the rest of the pool, which we all thought was a neat sensation. We also liked to get on top of the pump wall and do flips and dives off of it.

This is how most of my summer days went until one day during the summer of my eleventh year, when tragedy struck.

My friends and I had gone there that day as usual, and nothing was amiss. It wasn’t until a few hours after we’d gone back home for the day that we heard the news: a nine-year-old girl from town nearby had been playing in the pool next to the pump wall when she fell in on the pump side. I’ll spare you the details of exactly what happened to her, except to say that it was one of the most horrific ways to die I’ve ever heard of. Of course, the park was shut down immediately and everyone was sent home.

The family who owned and built the park were devastated, and I can only imagine what the girl’s family went through, and likely still goes through today. There was, of course, an investigation, and as far as I remember, the owners were fined heavily for not having covered and secured the pump area. In spite of all of this, there were occasionally noises made about reopening the park, and at some point in the nineties ownership changed hands and the new owners expressed their intentions to get it back up and running. But it never happened, and the park still sits there, abandoned to this day.

This is not a story about a haunting — at least not in the traditional sense. As far as I know there have never been any reports of disembodied voices, no objects moving of their own accord, no inexplicable lights or shadows, not even any orbs showing up in photographs that I’m aware of. But a place doesn’t have to have a literal ghost in order to feel haunted. Sometimes the aspect of tragedy is enough, as is the sense that it could have easily me or one of my friends who ended the park’s–and our own–life that day.

Here’s a haunting video slideshow of photos of the abandoned park (note that their timeline for when the park opened is way, way off):


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.

Restless Oklahoma: Spook Light Road

Tri-State Spook Light publication.

Way up in the corner of Northeastern Oklahoma, not far from the Missouri border, lies a stretch of dirt road that is pretty unremarkable except for one thing: it’s the site of an eerie, unexplained phenomenon described by locals as the “spook light.” This mysterious ball of bright light can be seen on just about any given clear night. It appears to float above the trees, moving slowly, changing directions at random, and also changing in size and intensity. You can see it in action in the following news report:

Sightings of the light go all the way back to the early 1800s, and in that time nobody has been able to come up with a solid explanation, although everyone from locals to paranormal experts to scientists to the Army Corp of Engineers have tried. Theories that it’s merely reflected vehicle lights have been thoroughly debunked (especially given that sightings of the light pre-date both vehicles and electric lights), as has the theory that it’s some sort of natural gas ignition, a la a will-o-the-wisp.

Other, more paranormal explanations have also been put forward, the foremost of which is legend involving a young Quapaw Indian couple who eloped after the maiden’s father refused to allow the marriage. Her father sent a hunting party to track them down, but when they were close to being captured, they jumped into the Spring River, hand-in-hand, and were swept away to their deaths. According to the legend, the light appeared in the night sky soon afterwards.

Another legend involves a miner whose wife and child disappeared after Indians attacked his cabin while he was away from home. The light is said to be his wandering spirit hunting for his lost family. And a slightly more grisly story says that an Osage chief was decapitated nearby and wanders to and fro with a lantern seeking his lost head.

So far, the most likely–or at least the most plausible scientific–explanation put forth is that the light is the result of electrical charges in the atmosphere relating to the New Madrid fault line that runs through the area, although this theory is by no means conclusive.

Whatever the light is, and whatever is causing it, one thing is for sure–it’s definitely spooky. So much so that the four-mile stretch of road it hovers over, officially designated East 50 Road, is affectionately known by locals as “The Devil’s Promenade,” which is also the title of my short story about two young women who set out to witness the light for themselves–to disastrous results. That story can be found in the Midnight Snacks collection.

What do you think the light is? What’s your favorite explanation? And have you witnessed the Spook Light for yourself? If so, share your story in the comments!

Restless Oklahoma: Tulsa’s Hex House
Archive photo © Tulsa World

Suspicious deaths, basement-dwelling slaves, fraudulent activity and mysterious midnight burials — these are just a few of the sordid goings-on inside a stately-looking brick duplex in early 1940s Tulsa, which served as inspiration for one of today’s top annual Halloween haunted house attractions.

The true story is about as crazy as it gets.

Carolann Smith, a seemingly mild-mannered woman of 51, lived in the duplex with two other women, Virginia Evans and Wiletta Horner, both in their early 30s at the time. It might not seem so strange for a middle-aged matron to share a duplex with two younger women. But what is strange is the apparent hold Smith had over the two.

See, Evans and Horner didn’t live in the other half of the duplex. They made their home in the house’s basement, living in rags and sleeping on orange crates, while Smith herself occupied the rest of the house and lived in luxury, “buying expensive perfume, a $250 silverware set, a Packard car, 46 pairs of shoes, 18 pairs of gloves, 26 hats and enough makeup and beauty supplies ‘to stock a drugstore’,” according to the Tulsa World. She was able to afford this largely due to the fact that Evans and Horner, both of whom had steady jobs, signed all of their paychecks over to Smith. When all of this came to light, the women claimed that Smith had “mesmerized” them into becoming her slaves, earning Smith the nickname “She-Svengali.” Upon searching the house, authorities later found several books on magnetism and the power of the mind, as well as on magic and witchcraft.

After finally being discovered and rescued, the women told authorities that Smith had starved and beaten them for “religious purification” purposes. News coverage at the time also hinted at details pointing to a “sex angle” that was apparently deemed too lurid to report in full.

But that’s not all. Smith also managed to bilk Evans’ father out of $17,000 by convincing him that she was providing nursing care for the young woman. She also somehow convinced the federal government to give her a wartime ration book in the name of her pet bulldog, Bon Bon–one of two dogs later discovered occupying coffins that were dug up after neighbors reported witnessing a suspicious moonlight burial in Smith’s back yard.

And that’s still not all. The bulk of Smith’s income actually came from life insurance policies taken out on her husband, father and even her maid — each of whom conveniently died after naming Smith the beneficiary.

Was Smith a serial killer, a Svengali-like mesmerist wielding her occult powers to control her victims, or was she simply a con artist? Apparently no evidence was found to support the former, despite the convenient timing of the insurance payouts. For all of her apparent misdeeds, Smith was only convicted on charges of inducing Evans and Horner to falsely testify against a neighbor she apparently didn’t like, and also charged for mail fraud over the war rations. For this, she served only a single year in prison.

No one’s sure what became of Smith after she served her short sentence, and not much else is known because the file kept on the house by the city library was since stolen. As for the Hex House itself, it was demolished in the 1970s and eventually the site became a parking lot. The basement where Evans and Horner were enslaved, however, reportedly still remains beneath the black top, and both the rock foundation and the original front steps can still be seen around the lot.

The parking lot doesn’t get a lot of use these days, but when it was in regular use there were anecdotal reports of car lights coming on by themselves. Whether or not the location is actually haunted, there’s no doubt that the Hex House left an indelible mark on Tulsa and its history.