Inside Tulsa’s Cave House
Inside Tulsa’s Cave House
I thought we were going to Fred Flintstone’s house. I’d heard of it. Had seen pictures of it. But I was wrong. Fred’s house is in Hillsborough, California.
We were in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We were going to the Cave House. A house with a checkered past.
And with a checkered past you have the strange and bizarre. Bootleg stories. Ghost stories. Crazy lady stories.
I was working a trip with an overnight in Tulsa. The other flight attendant, Salathia, had tried to see the house on a previous trip, but it had been closed. So she’d made an appointment with the owner for a tour on this overnight.
And I was invited! Who could pass it up?
Linda Collier is a lovely lady who grew up in Tulsa. Like most Tulsans, she was aware of the house, but had never seen inside. Nineteen years ago the Cave House came up for sale.
She took that opportunity to check it out, fell in love, and bought it. It was derelict, abused, and unloved. Everything you see here is a result of her hard work.
I may have some of the details tangled up, as Linda had dozens of stories and pictures to share. If so, I hope she shares with us her corrections.
She has researched and scouted out everything she could on the history of the Cave House. It has a front parlor, office, kitchen area, upstairs bedroom and bath, and many storage areas closed off. But it’s unlivable as it is. It’s all created for the tour. There’s electricity, but no running water. She doesn’t sleep there. And as it’s located on Charles Page Blvd across from Newblock Park, it could be a noisy street.
While the house and tour are interesting, it would only be a quirky old building without Linda. She brings it all to life. She told us stories for an hour. We could have stayed three more.
The first thing you notice when you park is the roof and facade. Fred Flintstone really could have built this. You can visit Linda’s website here.
Built by Joseph R. Koberling Sr. and James Purzer in the 1920s on the side of a hill, what you see is only the front of the original building.
It was originally a restaurant. A chicken restaurant. They sold fried chicken and apple pie. Little did I know, until Linda told us, that chicken was code for liquor.
A larger room extended into the hill behind. In this cave area was a speakeasy during the Prohibition Era.
Everyone knew. The locals. The cops. The mob. The Klan. Yes, they’ve all been to the Cave House.
The Cave House has been associated with alcohol in some form or another its whole life. There are stories of bags of cash hidden in the floors, rare coins hidden in the pipes.
This is Linda showing us a secret door to storage that ran under the floor to hide the liquor. It was empty when she bought Cave House. So sad.
Bootleggers lived on the hill above the house. There are tunnels in the hill that lead from these houses down to the Cave House so they could transport their liquor for sale during Prohibition. Or visit the speakeasy. Pretty Boy Floyd and his Outlaws are supposed to have been customers.
The Rag Lady once lived here. This was around the late 1920s or 1930s and her name was Ella Walker. Married to Bill, she was supposed to have hidden diamonds in Cave House, but Linda hasn’t found any yet. Today, Ella would be called a horder. She scavenged the trash, wrapped herself in heavy coats and rags year round, and reportedly never bathed.
Linda had two pictures of a younger Ella and her sisters and another of her brothers. It is rumored they were a bi-racial family. We saw the pictures. It seemed possible.
The Ku Klux Klan was very active in Tulsa then and a bunch of them lived on the hill above the Cave House. There were lynchings. People disappeared. Many were killed with no effort made to find the killers. There was the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. It’s also rumored bodies have been sealed in tunnels in the hill and that there’s a mass grave across the street in Newblock Park.
Ella had good reason to be afraid. And it’s speculated she hid the fact she was bi-racial every day — in plain sight.
Linda had a broken window upstairs. There has been vandalism through the years. She covered it with plastic. She returned to find the window covered in rags. Her husband swore it wasn’t him. Later, she learned Ella would wash her rags and hang them out to dry from that window. Creepy, huh?
But, it begs me to wonder . . . why she washed the rags, but not herself?
The Paranormal Investigation Team of Tulsa investigated the Cave House and felt the strong presence of ghosts. They’ve placed it on their tour of Tulsa haunts.
This is the front parlor when you first enter. The bike and key tree are homage to the Key Lady who lived here in the 1960s. She rode her bike (not this one) around town and stole people’s keys. Back then, people would leave their keys in their cars. She’d ride by and steal the keys. Not the cars, just the keys. Linda, as well as others who have visited Cave House, have lost car keys here only to find them days later in some random place they were never near— like under a tree outside.
You can see this shot below is to the right of the above picture. That is real rock, but not a real fireplace. This is where the entrance to the speakeasy was sealed off years ago. The ceiling was falling in and the room dangerous. The city was going to condemn the whole place. The owner at that time made an agreement with the city to seal it off, if he could remain in the front portion that was still safe. I hope Linda can repair it some day.
BTW, I’m holding a piece of a real mastodon jaw Linda owns.
The Cave House is filled with items Linda has found at “Curby’s Boutique.” Her favorite place to shop. Where is Curby’s? She said right outside. It’s stuff she finds around town by the curb that people have tossed.
Visitors have donated some of her things, like this jaw, too.
If you come in the front door and turn around, this is what you’ll see. The twigs and limbs are resting on an original stalactite created by the builders. You’ll see there are several in the parlor.
That’s not real rock, but paper bags that Linda’s glued and painted around the windows and door to look like rock. This is a closeup of the paper bag treatment.
These are called drunkard’s stairs because nothing is straight or even about them. Can you find the three mice?
This wall seeped water because of the hill behind it. Linda painted it with waterproof paint, but it still leaked. She thought, “I have plastic bags! Lots of Walmart plastic bags. They never go away!” She dipped them in her paint and plastered the wall. It’s never leaked since.
And, somehow, this look works.
Upstairs is a bath, bedroom, and what I’ll call a sun-room with a slide. A real slide.
Since there’s no running water, she made the hot water heater look like a still.
Linda created this canopy of twigs herself.
Look above . . . to the right side of the bed. See the light glowing behind the chair? That’s the light you see below. Those steps lead up to a
cut-out in the wall . . .
. . . where you can slide down into the sun-room to the right of the bedroom.
Linda had a window break in her office. She glued broken bits of glass to the new pane to create this:
She said the afternoon sun streams through and makes pretty sparkles inside. And this shot below is from the sun-room looking outside on to the roof.
There are more interesting things in Linda’s Cave House than I can remember.
Linda collects bones.
Those are Moon Flowers on the left side of the picture. Her bush must have been 10 feet in diameter. I told you about my own little potted Moon Flower here.
It was a fun hour and $10 well spent.
Oh, BTW . . . those two sticks at the door are propping up a screen door hinged at the top. Linda can let them down and have a screened door.
Until next time. Be sweet.