Oklahoma History: March 2007 Archives

About a year ago, James Lileks posted a picture of a matchbook from a chain of cafes called Harris Lunch, with locations in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and Wellington and Kingman in Kansas.

The matchbook advertises as the speciality of the house "Preacher Style Fried Chicken" and "$400 Waffles." Lileks couldn't find those phrases on the web:

Perhaps there was a contest that gave $400 for Waffle recipes, and the Harris folk won. Perhaps "preacher style" meant all white meat, since you'd give the visiting pastor the best. Who knows? These are the details we lose every day.

Does anyone reading this remember the Harris Lunch or know anything about Preacher Style Fried Chicken or $400 Waffles? Please post a comment below, or e-mail me at blog -at- batesline -dot- com.

UPDATE 2009/06/30:

Two and a quarter years after I posted this, the Long Tail of the Internet works its magic. The son of the man who owned Harris Lunch and invented Preacher Style Fried Chicken and $400 Waffles stopped by to post an explanation in the comments:

I happened across this article on matchbook advertising and was delighted to see this one from my father's restaurants. He built and owned several restaurants throughout Kansas, Oklahoma and other states. The Harris Lunch restaurants were very popular in Kingman, Wellington and Ponca city. My father, U.P. Harris operated the restaurants in Wellington and Kingman, while his good friend, Raymond Elmer, Sr. operated the one in Ponca city. My father had developed a secret ingredient waffle batter which he entered in a national food show competion (I believe in Chicago) in the late 1930's or early 40's. He won best of show and a $400 prize for the waffle. At that time that was a great deal of money. He also perfected a special batter and method of cooking chicken that was good enough to bring your preacher to dinner, thus the term "preacher style chicken". The old Harris Lunch in Kingman, Kansas was moved from its original location along Highway 54 to the fair grounds where it was used for many years. I have run across an old photo of this restaurant in Kingman recently while attending a family funeral in Kingman.

UPDATE 2016/05/30:

Gary Hodges from Waldport, Oregon, worked for the Preacher-Style Fried Chicken outlet in Ponca City, and his sister was married to the son of the owner. He sent a note last summer (which I'd intended to post at the time) and a photo:

I worked for Raymond Elmer Sr. (after school) in Ponca City. My sister married Raymond Elmer Jr. in 1946. In 1948 my brother and I rode the "Doodlebug train" from Ponca to Kingman Kansas to see my "big sister" and brother in-law.

Both of them worked at the Harris Cafe for Raymond Sr. and wife Sarah Elmer. At that time we were introduced to Preacher chicken and $400 waffles. I later worked at the Elmers' cafe in Ponca, when it opened in 1950. I was the after school chief dishwasher.
Had a lot of fun and at later got to do some of the prep work for the chicken and waffle batter. Having made the batter 65 years ago, I should be able to replicate the $400.00 waffle, but, I can't. I think mine turn out to be $4.00 waffles.

Those were $400.00 waffles and the chicken good for a preacher or a king. In Ponca, Raymond Sr. had 3 double waffle irons on the line, and what a terrific smell that was when you walked in for breakfast.

Doodlebug? It was a self-propelled railcar -- effectively an interurban car carrying its own gas-powered generator to run the traction engine, rather than drawing power off of an overhead trolley wire.

Gary also sent this photo of Raymond (Sr.) and Sarah Elmer in front of the Harris Lunch in Ponca City:

Harris_ Lunch-Ponca City-Raymond_Elmer-Sarah_Elmer.jpg

Gary wrote again this week, with more details about the process:

I worked for Raymond and Sarah Elmer in the late 40s in Ponca City. My Sister Patty was married to their son Raymond Elmer Jr. Both Patty and Raymond jr. are deceased.

I was the Elmers' Cafe "pearl diver" for a couple of years while I was in middle school in Ponca City. At the time, they were operating the Elmers' Cafe on west Highland st. in Ponca. The waffles were outstanding and I think their quality was more about the process they used to mix them and the irons that were used to cook them. Otherwise, they contained basic waffle ingredients. Their heated butter, syrup and hot plates greatly added to their popularity.

Related to the origin of Preacher Fried Chicken, As I remember it, Ray Sr. wanted a chicken which could be ready to eat in a few minutes from the time it was ordered by the preacher and people just getting out of church. As a result he par boiled cut chickens and cooled them. The chicken served out of the deep fryer was extremely tender and when the chicken pieces were dipped in flour and batter and cooked in a deep fryer the results were prompt and super tasty. As I recall, it would take 7 to 10 minutes depending on the size of the chicken portion, to prepare a plate of chicken, potatoes, cream gravy, green veg, and hot rolls ready to be served. I certainly enjoyed working for them and learned a lot about the world of work as a 8th and 9th grader while washing the dishes, etc. To this day, I still prefer fried chicken prepared the Elmers way.

Something I never knew, from a George Will column about the prospect of making the District of Columbia a full-fledged state (emphasis added):

The new state probably would promptly enact a commuter tax hitting Maryland and Virginia residents. And, more important, the splendid vistas of the nation's capital might be jeopardized. They are protected by the limits on building heights that Congress mandates. But Congress would have no authority to impose such mandates on the new state. Congress admitted Oklahoma to statehood on the condition that Guthrie remain the state's capital until 1913. But in 1910 Oklahoma made Oklahoma City the capital, and the U.S Supreme Court held that statehood could not be conditioned by limiting a state's sovereign powers. Anyway, 38 state legislatures are unlikely to make of D.C. the only state with no rural interests, and one dominated by a single interest -- the federal government.

Doug Loudenback has a nearly comprehensive history of downtown Oklahoma City hotels from the beginning to the present day, illustrated with postcards, vintage photos, and present day photos. The fate of each hotel is described. One of the more interesting "whatever happened to" stories involves the Holiday Inn (built in 1964) on the west side of downtown, which last operated as a hotel in 1993, closing for good just before the launch of MAPS. Here's what Doug found when he rang the doorbell:

A pleasant young lady came to the door, spoke with me, did not invite me in, but, after a time, she allowed (at my request) that I enter the lobby since it was so damn cold outside! The lobby area was beautifully appointed just like a fine hotel would be. At the lobby desk, we were joined by another pleasant young lady. There, I asked a few but not many questions (understanding that I was an uninvited guest and not wanting to be too pushy) and not necessarily in this order:

(1) Was the building owned/used by the City of Oklahoma City (given the OKC flag flying in the frontage)? Answer: No.

(2) What is the building used for? The young woman who allowed me in said something like it was a character development center. I said, "You mean, like a rehabilitation center?" She said, no, it had nothing to do with rehabilitation. I asked her to explain a little. I don’t recall her exact answer, but it had to do with training programs to build character. Not really understanding and not wanting to be too nosey, I asked if I could have a brochure or something simple, and she gave me a single sheet "flyer" type of paper with the name "Character Council of Oklahoma City" at the top and which contained a picture of Mayor Cornett at the bottom. I asked if there was a website where I could read more, and the young lady gave me this address: http://www.characterfirst.com and, later, I noticed another name on the "flyer", http://www.characterok.org. She also said that a monthly breakfast and lunch was available, the next being 1/24 at 7:00 a.m. and 1/26 at 11:45 a.m., and that I would be welcome to attend (after telephone a fellow to let him know for planning purposes). I asked about the condition of the building above the lobby level and I was told that most of them had been reconditioned, all but 2 or 3. I did not ask what they were used for but didn't get a clear answer about that. That was pretty much the extent of my visit and I left with good feelings generated from the pleasant ladies but still not knowing a lot more than I did in the first place.

Doug did some further digging and learned that the Character Training Center is part of the Bill Gothard empire. The heart of Gothard's teaching is that God's blessing is to be found in unquestioning obedience to the God-ordained authorities to which you are subject. (Here is a pretty fair Time story on Gothard from 1974.)

A version of his teaching that has been sanitized of any religious content has been adopted by many cities, including Owasso. Owasso City Manager Rodney Ray is quoted on the Character Cities website about the program's results:

In the three years prior to our character initiative, we had 42 labor grievances and employee grievances, and seven different lawsuits. In the three years since we put the character initiative in place we have had two grievances and no lawsuits from employees.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett also provides a testimonial:

From experience, I have found this program to be an excellent tool for filling the void of moral character within our state's youth… I recommend the implementation [of this program] within every level of state and local government.

Oklahoma is a "State of Character," which would explain why we have a state-sponsored lottery and public officials going to jail at regular intervals.

During my time as a member of the Oklahoma Republican Committee, many of our quarterly meetings were held in the center's meeting rooms. While there were always a few staffers around the lobby desk, I noticed that they were always polite but never outgoing, and they never seemed to talk to one another. For young people, they seemed emotionally buttoned up.

The walls of the lobby are decorated with framed posters of each of the 49 character qualities that Gothard has identified, each illustrated with an animal who exemplifies that quality. (Some of the connections are quite a stretch, but it would be disobedient to point that out.) If you run in Tulsa's River Parks, you've seen the names of these qualities stenciled on the storm sewer blocks.

(Gothard has also identified 49 "general commands of Christ", each of which he assigns to one of the 49 character qualities.)

Teaching good character is a fine thing, but there doesn't seem to be any need in Gothard's system for grace, atonement, and forgiveness. Jesus appears only as a lawgiver, not as the one who perfectly fulfilled the Law's demands on our behalf. It's a good moral system, a fine civic religion, but it isn't the Gospel.

If you can filter all the Christian content out of a program without substantially changing it, it wasn't all that Christian to begin with.

UPDATE: Doug Loudenback adds a comment and a link to a lengthier account of his research into the owners of the old downtown OKC Holiday Inn. And his article links to another account of someone who wondered what was going on in that building.

Back before I came across blogs, I used to be a regular reader of the websites of many newspapers, including the online edition of the New York Press, an alt-weekly that was at the time published by Russ "Mugger" Smith, who was fairly conservative for an alt-weekly publisher. (I starting reading Smith's column from the Jewish World Review website.)

The Press varied widely in decency and quality, but one column was always worth reading: "Old Smoke" by William Bryk. Bryk wrote about history, mainly some aspect of the history of New York City which shed light on a current event. (I seem to recall one piece about Five Corners, providing the historical background to the movie Gangs of New York.)

But there's one article that I've been looking for years, something Bryk wrote in 2002 about an obscure but fascinating figure in Oklahoma's history, a criminal defense attorney named Moman Pruiett. The story vanished during one of NYP's site redesigns, but it's up and available once again. Here's how it begins:

Next month, when a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! opens on Broadway, audiences will have a taste of how entertaining history can be. Set nearly a century ago, on the eve of the Sooner State’s admission to the Union, the musical’s vision of life before statehood is accurate, up to a point. But Oklahoma’s real history is far more entertaining. Whether as the Oklahoma and the Indian Territories or as a new state, Oklahoma was a gold mine for an unscrupulous lawyer, and it had many of them. Among the greatest was Moman Pruiett (1872-1945), "The Black Stud of the Washita," "the murderer’s messiah," himself a man "as liable to punctuate a point with a bullet as an epigram." "Brutal murder–single, triple, five at a time, with poison, axe and firearm," was his meat. "I ain’t no attorney," Moman said. "I’m a lawyer."

Yet he had no respect for the law, and took immense pride, as he put it, in putting the prong to the blind goddess. In half a century at the bar, he defended 342 murder cases. Of those, 304 were acquitted; 37 were convicted of lesser charges; the one sentenced to the rope received a presidential commutation. Perhaps the title of Howard K. Berry’s delightful biography, published last year by the Oklahoma Heritage Association, says it all: He Made It Safe to Murder.

It is a fascinating sketch of an utterly charismatic and unscrupulous man who embodies the wildness of Oklahoma's early days. Your centennial assignment this week: Go read the whole thing.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma History category from March 2007.

Oklahoma History: December 2006 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma History: April 2007 is the next archive.

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