Memo: Photos appear on my business Facebook page, because I haven’t learned how to insert them here yet. Just another good reason to like Mary Wernke, Writer. The page, not me.
For those who are counting, I’ve been traveling for seven days, but took Sunday off for family fun and yesterday to go camping/glamping off-the-grid, sorta. I spent last night at Ponca Lake, to stay in the Ponca groove — but Internet connections, failed power banks and total darkness being what they are, I wasn’t able to blog lakeside.
Back on the trail this morning, I decided to make another side trip to visit some of the more well-known haunts in the Ponca City area, outside the Standing Bear and White Eagle visits from Monday and Tuesday. I was pleasantly surprised by the Marland Estates, the grand home AND mansion of the former oil tycoon, governor and congressman E.W. Marland.
After two hours at the grand home, palatial by most standards, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Marland and his wife Mary Virginia. Raised by parents who knew the value of hard work, a dollar and a good employee, the Marlands were extremely philanthropic, providing “not just a living wage, but a saving wage” to Marland Oil Company employees.
Workers were granted low-interest loans, free medical, dental and life insurance and free meals at the company cafeteria each day. A corporate educational institute also provided free education for those who were interested.
The Grand Home property, completed in 1916, was estimated at $350,000 for 22 rooms, an indoor swimming pool, nine-hole golf course, open to the public at no charge and a polo field on the grounds. But, the Marlands were unable to have children and life seemed incomplete. So, they adopted two of Mary Virginia’s sister’s children, George and Lydie, that same year.
A newer, larger, grander house was built between 1924-26, the Marland Mansion. The cost of construction for the estate was $5.5 million, spread over 2,000 acres.
However, Mary Virginia died of cancer in 1925 and E.W. Marland lost his passion, for the home anyway. In 1927, the passion returned and Marland was able to annul Lydie’s adoption, so they were married.
They lived only two months in the mansion before a hostile takeover of Marland Oil and the crash of the stock market shortly after forced them out, to live in the artist’s studio on the grounds. Elected to Congress and then governor shortly after, the Marlands lived in D.C. and the governor’s mansion most of the next 12 years, selling the mansion to an order of monks in 1941. The Carmelite Fathers sold the property to the Felician Sisters seven years later, leaving the huge statues of Lydie and E.W. broken and lying in the weeds behind the garage.
E.W. Marland died in 1941 and his young bride, widely known as Princess Lydie, became a hermit. She lived in the chauffeur’s quarters for 12 years, before disappearing from Ponca City altogether. Journalists, friends and private investigators were unable to locate Lydie, who some claimed to be living on the streets of New York City. Others found savings accounts, with large deposits from the sale of expensive artwork every few years and $500 withdrawals on a monthly basis for Lydie’s support.
The drama continued with Lydie’s return to Ponca City in 1975, appearing poverty-stricken and even more withdrawn from life, family and friends. Her life-size statue, crushed by the Carmelite monks, was restored by an artist in the community and graces the foyer of the huge mansion today, alongside a statue of E.W.
The nuns sold the estate to the city the same year Lydie returned to the estate’s servant’s quarters, for $1.435 million. Friends and fundraisers paid to maintain the cottage, but Lydie died there in 1987, alone and near penniless.
E.W. lost his fortune just before his final donation for erection of the famous Pioneer Woman statue in Ponca City. I say “in Ponca City” to differentiate the statue from the perhaps-more-famous Pioneer Woman down the road in Pawhuska, Ree Drummond.
The latter Pioneer Woman is neither alone nor penniless. I’ve been told by Pawhuska locals, there’s a line around the block to eat at her restaurant, but shopping her mercantile store and upstairs bakery are more available and worth the trip.
I’m not a foodie, but I will likely make the Pawhuska side trip tomorrow, more to see the Osage Nation HQ than Drummond’s enterprises. For those who’ve been living under a rock, Drummond is a famous blogger, author, food writer, photographer and TV personality.
The Osage Nation are one of the oldest tribal nations in the “new world,” moving from the Ohio Valley (St. Louis area) to Oklahoma in the early 1870s, under similar circumstances to the Ponca’s forced migration.
The biggest difference between the Osage and the Ponca is the vast oil reserves discovered under the Osage reservation just after tribal members were each allotted individual tracts from within the reservation, at their own request. Perhaps you’ve read “Killers of the Flower Moon,” by David Grann.