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Oklahoma Memories

Hottest Day in OKC

2010-08-09

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"But it was very much frequented by especially the young people in Oklahoma City and the families on picnics. It was a very much appreciated spot in those days. "

That's the voice of Harvey Everest, and he's talking about Wheeler Park on what was then the southwest side of Oklahoma City. In August 1936, city parks were very popular places to be.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

July 1936 was the hottest month on record in the state of Oklahoma, but the next month, August 1936, that heat wave continued. On August 11, 1936, Oklahoma City's high hit a temperature that is still the record today. At 3 p.m. that day the U.S. Weather Bureau recorded a temperature of 113.1 degrees in Oklahoma City.

Wheeler Park on the banks of the North Canadian River was the place to be.

"Wheeler Park then had beautiful flower beds, beautifully manicured lawns, and great trees, and it was by far the prettiest park we've ever had in Oklahoma City or have to the present day. It's just too bad that it had to go and be neglected and never been reestablished to its former state. "

For residents of Oklahoma City escaping the heat was of paramount importance. Everest remembered the first major amusement park in Oklahoma City, Delmar Gardens

"At the same time that Wheeler Park was in its greatest year of beauty, the Delmar Gardens right north of there was a great attraction for entertainment. They had a baseball diamond there, a Ferris wheel, a figure eight, and the theatre - and streetcars run out there very, very frequently with kids hanging all over the sides, hitching rides. Delmar Gardens only lasted though about ten years, I believe, but it was a great...it was the only entertainment place in the state of Oklahoma, really. "

Following the demise of Delmar Gardens, the Belle Isle Park and Lake later became the center of attention. John Shartel, who ran the street car company, extended a line out to Belle Isle Lake for a couple of reasons; it was a popular run particularly on weekends, and he built an electric generating plant on the lake to power his street cars.

"And then when the Belle Isle Lake was put in out there, he sent it up to belle isle; that was quite a resort for many years, too. It was used by the electric company; I'm not sure if it was the Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company at that time, but I think it was. But there was a lot of boating and swimming at Belle Isle Park for years and years. "

Today, we simply turn up the air conditioning, but that wasn't possible in August 1936. On August 11, 1936, when that high temperature in Oklahoma City was 113 degrees, a 52-year old traveling salesman staying at the Saratoga Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City was found dead in his room, having died from the heat, and a 55-year old woman at the public market was overcome by the heat; she was taken to St. Anthony's Hospital where she later recovered. Statewide seven people died from the heat that day.

In Oklahoma City, as in other cities and towns around our state, Oklahomans were able to find some relief from the heat at local parks and swimming lakes.

You can learn more about the weather in our state by visiting the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd Street just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.