Once upon a time, attending a local firefly dance was as easy as taking a few steps into a warm summer’s evening. And in this old neighborhood where I am grateful to live, the grandest dance of all took place on the grounds of the Overholser Mansion.
The many keepers of Oklahoma City history record that the Overholser’s were known for their grand and gracious entertaining. Going even further, some say that Henry and the lovely young Anna were the hub of early Oklahoma City’s high society.
Henry was one of the first to purchase property in the subdivision north of downtown, that is now the heart of the historic preservation district of Heritage Hills. The story is fondly told of how Henry purchased three residential lots, which bordered Hudson Avenue and Northwest Fifteenth Street, when the land was nothing more than a cornfield.
Henry’s cornfield cum mansion grounds reminds me of another cornfield cum baseball diamond and that mysterious whisper that repeatedly urged…
…”If you build it, he will come.”
As the story was told on the silver screen, the cornfield cut diamond went on to host the ghosts of some famous boys of summers past, most notably “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and his teammates who were caught up in 1919 World Series “Black Sox Scandal.”
The Overholser Mansion is not host to any scandals of note, though apparently the Mansion is no stranger to ghosts. With more than a few reports of paranormal activity floating on the Internet these days, who knows but that maybe Henry heard his own mysterious voice while looking across his own field of dreams; for sooner rather than later, this “Father of Oklahoma City” built his dream mansion…and the invited citizens of Oklahoma City came.
In the book, Oklahoma City, Land Run to Statehood, one local historian notes that,
“Mrs. Overholser gave her first party in 1904 to 400 lucky guests. The Times-Journal society column reported that as guests entered the home, they were greeted by a string quartet playing on the second floor turret landing, hidden by a blanket of palm and fern.”
It’s been two dry summers since I last attended a firefly dance at the Overholsers, though not for wont of trying. Many evenings I have put on tennis shoes for a short walk down Hudson Avenue, hopeful of crashing headlong into a firefly ball.
Previous rendezvous have taught me that these shy little social-lights never gathered on the front lawn proper. Rather the fireflies gravitate to the east side-yard, where they danced above dusk-tinted lawn between an old Model “T” clothes line and the tree-lined sidewalk.
Like a curious child chasing fireflies, I used the net to discover where the fireflies have flown. The answers I caught at firefly.org knocked me for a loop though; unless something changes their fate, these charming bugs of summer will soon be ghosts; or in the words of the website, “glowing, glowing, gone.” Just as sad for this drylocked Oklahoma gal is to know that fireflies prefer life in the warm humid wetlands, the sort of place where tall grass hits water.
Our typical carefully groomed neighborhood lawns, along with other regions of Oklahoma, must have resembled a wetland two years ago, as our rainy month of June left us with non-mowable yards wallowing in standing water. But it’s interesting that with so many neighborhood wetland yards to choose from, the Overholser place still held a monopoly on firefly dances.
And why not? There’s simply no better place in the neighborhood to gather than this place that has long been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And just as fireflies are anything but a typical guest of an Oklahoma summer, the Overholser place is anything but a typical house museum. As noted by the Heritage Hills website,
“The Overholser Mansion still contains all of the original furnishings and belongings of the Overholser family, making it one of the rarest house museums in the world. The silverware, dishes, drapes, carpets, furniture – even little Henry Ione Overholser’s doll collection and other toys remain with the home providing a rare snapshot of life at the turn of the 20th Century.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, the Overhoser’s firefly dances of 2007 provided me with “a rare snapshot” of summertime life in Oklahoma. That little bit of white magic on a former Oklahoma cornfield was something infinitely precious, and though blind, I now see it was a bit of amazing grace served up by a rare summer monsoon followed by a little firefly chaser.