Still "Doin' It" after all these years (breathing)
By Cathy Spaulding
Marjorie Barton can look at the waterfall or the old stone picnic tables at Honor Heights Park and recall her childhood.
“I lived on Arline, and after they built the pool, I remember walking out here,” she said. “Sometimes we’d walk out here and back. Sometimes someone would take us and we’d walk back. Sometimes we’d walk out here and someone would take us home.”
Looking back, the 80-year-old Barton says the waterfall with its boulders and stone steps, the rough-hewn picnic tables and foot bridges and other stone work from the park were more than just landmarks of her Depression-era childhood.
As projects of the Works Projects Administration, their construction helped provide jobs for men and women who otherwise could have starved, Barton said.
Barton documented the Honor Heights projects and scores of similar projects in her book “Leaning on a Legacy: The WPA in Oklahoma,” published by the Oklahoma Heritage Association. The book tells the story of scores of schools, armories, civic structures and other projects funded by the WPA, one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s relief agencies.
However, Barton has a more personal recollection of Depression-era Muskogee, which includes barefoot classmates and clothes made of feed bags as well as walks to the park.
“Most of what I remember is good,” she said. “Most people who were my age would remember good times. Parents did not emphasize that we were poor. We say we just lived day to day.”
Many fond memories of childhood
Marjorie Barton grew up near Rotary Park. She attended Irving and Longfellow Elementary Schools, then West High School.
“Before we came to Muskogee, Dad was out of work and he couldn’t find a job,” she said. “But, Mom was kind of a good cook, so Mom made sugar cookies and doughnuts and wrapped them up in wax paper. My brother and I would go out and peddle them in picnic-style baskets.”
The work helped the family get by until her father got a job selling insurance, she said.
The family almost starved to death, she said, because her father was making less money than the family made by selling the baked goods.
Barton recalled milk and ice fund drives the Muskogee Phoenix sponsored, “back when people had to buy ice.”
“My brother and a neighborhood kid and I would go out and try to raise a dollar for the drive,” she said.
That neighborhood kid was William Martin Gulager, who grew up to become actor Clu Gulager, of “The Virginian” fame.
“My brother and another boy and I used to play Monopoly on the front porch,” she said.
Her education led
to educating others
Barton recalled her family having a slight advantage over some other families in Muskogee.
“My Aunt Carrie had a farm near here,” she said. “My mom said we would have starved if it hadn’t have been for that. It probably was harder in the cities.”
In 1942, the family moved to Oklahoma City.
“Dad got a job there, which was probably the only reason we moved because we loved Muskogee,” she said.
Barton graduated from Northeast High School and stayed in Oklahoma City until she was about 30, when she and her husband moved to the Pacific Northwest.
She eventually got a divorce and had to raise five children on her own.
“I went back to school at 39 and had five kids, ages 2 to 15,” she said. “I had already had one year of college and did 85 semester hours in two years.”
Back to Muskogee
as a writer
Barton worked at newspapers in Washington state and began submitting story ideas to magazines. One story she wanted to do was WPA projects in Oklahoma.
However, she said that once she began her research, she had too much for a magazine. That’s where her book came in.
“These stone buildings are so fascinating,” she said about the WPA projects. “Not all are alike.”
She studied WPA stadiums, armories, the reconstruction of the Fort Gibson Stockade as well as the Honor Heights projects.
Her work brought her back to Muskogee, where she has gotten involved with the Muskogee Civitan Club and First Baptist Church. She currently is president of Muskogee Civitan, which raises money to help people with developmental disabilities.
Barton said she sets up Civitan candy boxes at about a dozen restaurants in Muskogee and Wagoner.
She also has helped with the “More than Buildings” segment of OETA’s Stateline Series. She said she was interviewed and she helped the production team.
She said her experience as a Depression-era child and a single mother taught her to be strong.
“Someone who grew up when I did has an entirely different attitude,” she said.