From country English to a scream in the dark
Not so long ago: Stories from Tulsa’s past
The Ma-Hu mansion
The man responsible for one of Tulsa’s most famous “haunted houses” was in the second and lesser-known generation of successful Tulsa oilmen.
A second generation that provided the tools for the first generation of oil barons — the Skellys, the Gettys and the Phillipses — to bring the “black gold” out of the Oklahoma ground.
To most Tulsans, the greatest fame of a member of that second group, Hugh Blair Hodges, has little to do with oil and more to do with the grand mansion he built at East 27th Street and South Memorial Drive.
A house that in its time was Tulsa’s welcoming structure to visitors arriving from the south via Highway 64 (Memorial Drive).
While the big names in Tulsa’s oil history were cutting oil field deals in the lobby of the Hotel Tulsa, unsung and mostly forgotten men such as Hodges were toiling on drilling rigs.
Matter of fact, Hodges was a tool pusher with Roxana Petroleum Co. prior to working for other oil companies before launching his own drilling company, Mid-Union Drilling.
His founding of the latter, as well as partnering in successful oil field ventures with the more renowned Franklin Edwards Bernsen (who was to establish an eponymous philanthropic foundation), made Hodges a very wealthy man.
Hodges and Bernsen met for the first time in 1919 in Covington, Okla., where Bernsen had been sent by his employer, an oil field equipment company called Lucey Manufacturing. His contact there, according to a letter from his boss at Lucey, was Roxana Petroleum’s Hodges, who would provide him with accommodations and guidance. This was the beginning of a longstanding relationship.
As men who made their wealth in the oil fields were wont to do, Hodges built a home befitting his economic standing.
Designed by architect Donald McCormick, Hodges’ mansion was built in 1937, the same year Lucey Products Co. (Bernsen’s sales outfit), Mid-Union Drilling (Hodges’ company at the time) and two other oil-related firms moved into suite 1707 of the First National Bank building.
Hodges’ home was on a grand scale. As described in John Brooks Walton’s “One Hundred More Historic Tulsa Homes”: “Constructed of native limestone — mostly gathered on the property — the two-story Country English-style structure totaled more than 9,000 square feet of floor space, including a full basement. … The interior of the mansion was also on a grand scale. The long living room had a high-vaulted beamed ceiling. … The front façade of the house measured 156 feet in length, and with its massive stone barn and stables, Ma-Hu truly resembled something out of the English countryside.”
The mansion’s name came from the first two letters of Mrs. Hodges’ first name, Mabel, and the first two letters of Hugh.
Baby boomers whose parents were members of one of Tulsa’s first warehouse discount clubs/stores, Oertle’s, well recall Ma-Hu. A visit to Oertle’s, which was located directly east of the 40 acres of Ma-Hu, would include gawking at Hodges’ longhorn steers and peacocks that populated the property.
In 1970, Hugh Hodges died, followed eight months later by his wife. Because there were no heirs, Walton notes, the mansion went into the Hodges’ estate as a trust. Development plans for the property failed to materialize.
Soon, the abandoned house fell victim to vagrants and vandals. Sitting on the top of the hill viewed from Memorial Drive, the once-proud structure began to take on a nearly sinister shroud. Making a reality out of a perception, local charities, among them the March of Dimes and Jaycees, joined with the Campus Life organization and KELi radio station to trick out the hulk as Scream in the Dark, a haunted house and fundraiser that started in 1972. According to newspaper accounts, assorted ghosts and goblins spooked 60,000 visitors over the years.
Alas, it ended as Halloween neared in 1977. On Oct. 17, a massive fire gutted the structure. It was razed in 1978. From oilman’s mansion to haunted house to ashes.