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Scream in the Dark


Haunted Memories
Kristina Dudley

(Reprinted from the Tulsa World, courtesy of Mike Kimbrell, Web Editor)

Echoes of city's past still conjure ghostly images

It's a quiet place now -- the hillside dotted with a new subdivision.

A newly-built playground temporarily void of children sits vacant on the west side where longhorn cattle and peacocks used to roam. A few crumbled rocks and some clumps of trees are the only remains of what was once one of Tulsa's greatest haunted houses.

Screams in the dark once rang from its rooms.

The Ma-Hu Mansion, which towered over a hilltop at 27th Street and Memorial Drive, spooked Tulsa residents in many respects over the years.

The Ma-Hu Mansion was once one of Tulsa's finest homes, said in the mid part of the century to be the first thing visitors arriving from the south saw when they entered the city.

Built in 1937, and named for a relatively obscure oilman, Hugh Blair Hodges and his wife Mabel Queen Hodges, the two-story structure, plus servants quarters, totaled more than 9,000 square feet.

The well-to-do oilman, like others of his time, reportedly started as a mule skinner in the oil fields, delivering supplies and equipment before settling in as a drilling contractor.

Ma-Hu Mansion, named after Mabel and Hugh, became better known than her owners as identified by the huge wrought iron sign above the entrance. The two-story mansion -- 156 feet long with a full basement -- stood on the brow of the hill and looked down on the vacant slopes which were once occupied by Oertle's, McCartneys and other businesses.

It was said that Hodges liked to show friends his estate, and one of the first places he always headed was the trapshooting range south of the house. He also pointed out several fig trees and enjoyed the fresh fruit for breakfast.

The house, built by Don McCormick, was said to be gorgeous. It was built of limestone, native stone picked up off the 40-acre estate. The basement was even said to be lavish. A club room housed many of Hodges' collections. There was also a beautiful stone-arched bar and hanging on the wall, supported by deer feet, was a gun with the largest barrel east of Fort Sill, Hodges claimed. It had once been owned by Kit Carson, he said.

Then, there were the more unusual items -- some 3,600 beer and liquor labels and opium smoking sets.

There were also several cases of Indian clothing and relics, including a dress said to have been worn by Geronimo's daughter. His collection also included pipes, coins, stamps and arrow heads. The once grand house went into decline after Hodges died in 1970 followed by his wife, eight months later.

They had no children and the property went into the Hodges estate as a trust. Ma-Hu began changing hands along with reports that the old structure and its cattle run would be razed and become the site of a shopping center or office complex.

In 1971, area petitioners opposed rezoning of the area successfully. Instead, young lovers, vandals and vagrants drifted in and out of the house seeking a hidden place of shelter. Graffiti was scrawled on the walls marring its once regal bearing.

Though the house had no reported haunting presence, its mysterious appearance baffled Tulsans for years.

`It looked ominous up on the hill,` said neighbor Del Davis. `It was a big question what was going on up on the hill.`

Rumors ran rampant regarding where the funds to build the house came from. It was rumored that Hodges was a gangster, a mobster, oilman and a money launderer.

`Everyone made up stories,` Davis said, when in all actuality Hodges was just a man who made his millions in the oil field.

`He was a man who didn't get out much. He was very seclusive. He was rich and he could afford it.`

As the house lay dormant, it took on a new mysterious quality all of its own.

The site was described by a Tulsa World writer in as `a place in Tulsa where the moon glides in and out of the bare rafters like butter melting over a grill.

`It is high on a hill, and the wind rushing through an empty door frame stirs tattered insulation strewn on the floor.

`The house seems to wince with one giant creak as it decays further into the soil of the 40 acres it sits precariously upon.`

It was the perfect place for ghost stories to rise. Call it adventure or peer pressure, more than one Tulsa teen drove up the long driveway leading to the mansion in the moonlight for thrills.

Two men, who grew up in the Tulsa area and did not wish to be identified, grew up hearing stories that the mansion was haunted.

`We used to drive over and sneak in,` said one man, who described it as being torn up inside with graffiti on the walls.

He always experienced an uneasy or queasy feeling upon entering the house. `It almost made you dizzy,` he said. `That's how it was to me.`

Another man told of a story he heard about the house involving a longhorn steer which supposedly gored someone on the land and ran about with the victim attached to its horns.

`The fact that it was abandoned, the only house out there. This huge house out in the middle of the field, it just didn't seem to fit in,` he said of the haunted aura Ma-Hu cast.

Finally, spooks, monsters and vampires became more than just a twist of the imagination and really invaded the quarters every Halloween.

Civic-minded organizations such as the March of Dimes and the Southeast Tulsa Jaycees, Campus Life organization and radio station KELi joined hands and decided it would make a fine haunted house and a wonderful fund-raiser for handicapped and children.

Scream in the Dark brought thousands of visitors to Ma-Hu annually to find witches, Count Dracula, Frankenstein and other monsters roaming the house.

It was said that 60,000 guests a year visited the haunted house during its haunted heyday.

But more than decay sought to destroy the fine old mansion. Fire after fire tore the weathering home apart. In 1977 it was reported in the Tulsa World that a major fire began burning from the basement and spread through three stories to the roof. It was the third or fourth time the fire department had responded to a fire in the house that year.

The house irreparably damaged, was razed in 1978.

An article in the Tulsa World described the demolition work while thousands of Tulsans looked on.

`The scene was stark. It was hard to tell whether it was to be an execution or a mercy killing.

`The old house stood, seams sagging, windows shattered and vines crawling all about as though the old girl had just crawled out of bed unable to see or care about her looks.

`She was indifferent to the fact that this was her burial day.` In 1994, the acreage surrounding the mansion gave birth to a residential development opened as Tracy Park II. Three- and four-bedroom homes with eight floor plans are available with full-brick exteriors. Where were all of the people of the past?

The Hodges are gone.

Lovers, vandals and bums have spread to the winds. The thousands who visited ghosts, ghouls, bats, werewolves and the like have their memories.

And the people, who just like to think Ma-Hu was haunted, well, it's also the perfect setting for the occasional `real-life` spooky Halloween tale.

On a dark night, you can still hear the howling wind seeking her presence.

Though all that's left is a quiet subdivision that sits on top of a hill.

Copyright © 2002, World Publishing Co. All rights reserved.

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