Saturday, February 12, 2011

Frederick Named for Frederic Van Blarcom

Column sent to Frederick Leader and Frederick Press
February 9, 2010

Search for Frederick’s Namesake
Had Disappointing Outcome

To entice the Blackwell, Enid, and Southwestern (BES) Railroad to place their new depot in the town of Gosnell instead of the rival town of Hazel, in 1902 Gosnell’s leaders offered to rename their town “Frederick” after Frederic VanBlarcom, the only son of a BES official.
Charles Hunter, agent for the BES Townsite company, agreed. The depot (now located at the Pioneer Townsite Museum) was built at Gosnell and in September 1902, Gosnell became Frederick.
Whatever happened to Frederic VanBlarcom? As Frederickans prepared for the national Bicentennial celebration in 1976, they conducted a search for Frederick’s namesake or his descendants.
In a February 1977 article for the Sunday Oklahoman’s Parade Magazine, Carolyn Watson Maxwell Tharp wrote a fascinating account of the search. Part of Carolyn’s 1977 article follows:
“All hopes of locating Van Blarcom were centered on letters which were written explaining the group’s search for the town’s namesake and sent to Frisco railroad offices (BES became the Frisco in 1907), newspapers in St. Louis were the Van Blarcoms were known to live in 1902, the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, and two widely-circulated railroad magazines. Any leads would be appreciated, the letters said.
“John McGuire, news editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, upon receipt of the letter was intrigued and challenged by the project and began a search of his own through the volumes of old newspapers in the Post-Dispatch’s morgue. He found what he was looking for in a July, 1031, issue of the paper, but the story he read in an obituary was far different from that anticipated by the history buffs in Frederick, Oklahoma.
“Frederic Van Blarcom (whose first name was spelled without the final ‘k’ in the newspaper accounts) was born in 1886, the only child of Jacob C. and Mary G. Van Blarcom. His childhood was pampered by adoring parents and the luxuries afforded by his father’s position as president of the St. Louis’ National Bank of Commerce and director of the Blackwell, Enid, and Southwestern Railway. The Van Blarcom home was a mansion located at prestigious 1 Westmoreland Place.
“As a youngster Frederic exhibited some personality traits which concerned his parents, but these for the most part were explained away as characteristic of adolescence and the general behavior of young men in his social set.
“Van Blarcom, who was attending Washington University in St. Louis in 1908, was greatly affected by his father’s death that year. Leaving the university before graduation, he started on a strange odyssey that ended only with his death 23 years later.
“He worked first in a car factory and later in an aircraft factory, but in 1912, because of his erratic behavior following an illness, was placed in a sanitarium. He escaped from there and wandered through the country, eventually enlisting in the United States Navy and being sent to the Philippines.
“(It was during this time that E.H. Shelton, pioneer Tillman County schoolteacher and then representative in the Oklahoma legislature, met Van Blarcom in Oklahoma City. Shelton was staying at the Kinkaid Hotel when a stranger approached him one morning and said he had been told Shelton lived in Frederick. Van Blarcom introduced himself and then related his story to Shelton, who recalls, ‘He was a pathetic man. It was as if he was burdened and had to have someone listen to his tale and believe a town had been named after him.’)
“Van Blarcom, upon his return from the Philippines, was placed in a Washington Naval hospital but escaped once again, this time going to England where he joined the British army and saw service in France.
“A war injury forced his return to St. Louis in 1920 where, once more, he was placed in an institution. A probate court jury in April, 1920, declared him of unsound mind, and he was placed in the city sanitarium. He paid the city $50 a month for room and board and was permitted to be at large during the day, staying in a hotel room downtown.
“Van Blarcom fought in the courts for entire freedom, and after two adverse decisions, he obtained a jury verdict in March, 1922, that declared he was of sound mind. With this decision he gained an inheritance of $1,000 a month from his mother’s estate. She had died in 1921. (His father’s estate had been so encumbered as to have little net value.)
“Within a month after his release from the sanitarium, Van Blarcom married Maxine Coppas of Sedalia, Mo., but two years later he had his wife arrested on a charge of bigamy. The charge was later dropped when he failed to appear as witness in the case.
“Frederic Van Blarcom died of a cerebral embolism seven years later in his apartment in the Gaylord Hotel in Kansas City, Mo. Nothing was known of his life after he left St. Louis in 1924. Since he was childless at his death, the remainder of his mother’s estate, about $270,000, went to Washington University designated as the Van Blarcom Scholarship and Fellowship Fund. Frederic’s body was cremated on July 30, 1031.”
“In Pioneer Park [now the Pioneer Townsite Museum] stands a flagpole given to the town in 1962 by the Frisco railroad. Inscribed on the granite base is the story of the part the railroad played in Gosnell’s victory over Hazel and the naming of Frederick. Perhaps, too, it stands in this small southwest Oklahoma town as a remembrance of a tragic man from St. Louis who was proud that the town was named after him.”
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Carolyn Tharp was one of the founding members of the Tillman County Historical Society and wrote extensively in the late 1970s and early 1980s about Tillman County History. She currently lives in Norman.

1 comment:

  1. The E. H. Shelton referenced in this article has to be my grandfather. I know he was an educator, (so was his wife Evaleta Shelton) and I know he was in the Oklahoma legislature. He passed away in 1978 at the age of 95.

    Charles H. Shelton, Ocean Pines, MD