3/20/11

ANATOMY OF AN URBAN LEGEND: The Tale of Augusta

In the landscape of Oklahoma legends and myths one tale continues to rise to the top and be repeated periodically.  A scanning of websites with the story produces at least a dozen sites repeating the tale of the ghost of the house which now holds the Stone Lion Inn.

Sans any stories of hauntings prior to the early 1980's, the house had been a home and once a funeral home.  The charming and heartbreaking tale of a little girl who stayed to play in the halls and stairs of the old house were shared with the sadness of life cut short at such a young age.

The childish ghost was said to be Augusta Houghton, the 8 yr old daughter of Fred and Bernice Houghton.  She had died from an accidental overdose of cough medicine given by a nurse or maid.  The story assumed a life of its own, repeated despite local researchers indicating they could not find a record of such a death.  

Independently researchers from OKPRI and Cullan Hudson, author of Strange State came to the conclusion the specter, if there, could not be Augusta.   Owner, Beth Luker, would later admit to making a mistake in naming Augusta, but by then the story had assumed a life of its own. Repeated by writers and paranormal researchers without fact checking, the story became enmeshed in the folkloric weave of the state.

What was the truth?

Searching US Federal Census records revealed in 1900 in Guthrie, Logan Co., OK a family living at 702 Noble Avenue.   Fred E. Houghton (1854-1943), his wife Bertha (1872-1958), his children Grace (1885), Gladys (1896), Alma (1899), Augusta (b.1892, Sept), and Frank E. (1900) were enumerated on the census.

In 1910, the family is living at 1016 W. Warner Street (the location of the present inn).  There is no Augusta listed on the 1910 census, although children Grace, Gladys, Alma, Frank E., Adolphe (1903), Dorthy (1907), Russell (1908), and Irene (1910) are listed.   

In 1910, Augusta was no doubt the young  18 yr old woman listed in the Wichita, Ks census of students attending Mt. Caramel Academy.  

The family is found again on the 1920 Census for Logan County and is enumerated in 1930 in Enid, OK, where daughter Alma had married into the Suddeth family and is listed with son David at the West Main address.

Rootsweb, a genealogy website, indicated a family history record for a Coralee Augusta, daughter of Fred and Bertha Houghton, born Sept. 17, 1892 and who married in 1913 a William Houser.

The only child NOT carried over through the ever expanding family listed on the US Federal Census was daughter Irene, listed as newborn in the 1910 census when the family lived at 1016 W. Warner, Guthrie.

A death record has not been located for the Irene Houghton listed on that 1910 census and so caution should be exercised.   One website assumed she died the same year as the census because of the -0- listed by her age but that was often used for children/infants under the 1 year mark.  There are questions to be answered because an infant could not be the 'child' presence noted by so many 'research teams.' She is not listed on several genealogical websites, although they site the census record where she is listed. And strangely, Coralee Augusta is not listed on several such websites despite citations referring back to the census of 1900.

If Irene was the 7-8 yr old who died, then a death record or grave should exist for her from the 1917-1918 time period.  Since the family is enumerated on the 1920 census in Guthrie, then the likely place of death could be there.  However, she had older sisters who were already married and could have been living elsewhere with them during the census.  Assumptions cannot be made until verified by documentation.

The urban legend of "Augusta" is a classic example of the need for real, in-depth historical research to ferret out the truth from the tall tales and guesswork.


2 comments:

Kay Davis said...

I have been looking for the truth about Augusta for a long time. I am co-founder of a paranormal group in Oklahoma, and every time I heard the very fake story it made me so mad. They drag Augusta and the Houghton family through the mud. I believe in ghosts, but I also believe the full truth needs to be known behind it. I stayed in the house in Guthrie and believe 100% that it is haunted, and experienced amazing activity. But I have always known it was not the spirit of Augusta. The feel of the old house make you feel as though you step back in time, and anything outside does not exist.

Anonymous said...

I am the current researcher for OKPRI and I have made some corrections to what our prior researcher had claimed about the history of the Stone Lion Inn. First, this blog is correct about Augusta and our group makes no claim that she was poisoned. The records clearly list her in Wichita boarding with other students at Mt Carmel Academy (no longer exists) in 1910. This article doesn't mention that Augusta returned to the home by 1915 and was listed as a student at Methodist University in the city directory. The mystery surrounding the story has shifted to another daughter that was listed as an infant on the 1910 census that has disappeared from all other records. There are servants also listed on the same census. This may be where the story picks up yet the child is now called "Irene." OKPRI does not state that this story is fact and is careful to make any claims as such since there are no records of an infant death for a child of that name. It should also be made clear that Mr. Houghton was previously married and had 2 daughters before moving to Oklahoma and marrying Bertha in 1889. They lost an infant son (also named Frederick E. after his father) who was born in 1890 and died in 1891. His youngest daughter from his first marriage, Grace (b. 1885)moved with him to Guthrie and lived there while his family expanded. It is unclear what happened to Irene. The family had a daughter named Marjorie Louise that is listed on the 1920 census. Her birthdate is 15 Apr 1910. The census that year was taken at the Houghton house on 26 Apr. Irene was listed as age 0. It is possible that the census taker had written the incorrect name or the family had changed Irene's name to Marjorie Louise at a later date. Records show all children of Frederick E. Houghton survived into adulthood except his first born son. Research on this case has been ongoing.