Editor’s Note: With Lucille’s in Mulhall now open, it’s time to go back revisit what was once a family restaurant-turned-now-biker-hangout. I’ve heard mixed reviews. I’m hoping that the place strengthens and grows, just like the original person (Lucille herself), and just like the restaurant that was there before it burned down a couple of years ago. We’d love to hear your take on how the new place is doing, and whether or not you would recommend it! Thanks.
(originally published June 18, 2010) When I was young, my brother collected comic books. He would purchase them in prime condition and wrap them in plastic bags made specifically for comics to keep them from being damaged. He filed them by issue number in white cardboard boxes and I’m sure he had a cataloging system of some sort. He collected X-Men, Superman, The Fabulous Four, a variety of DC and Marvel standards and all those other cool comics that are now worth a ton of money. Maybe two tons.
I, on the other hand, bought Archie and Peanuts comic books, carried them around with me wherever I was going, got them dirty, lost pages and dogeared where I left off reading. I also purchased Richie Rich, Daffy Duck, Uncle Scrooge, Mickey Mouse and Goofy editions. Every one of them was read several times and worn to tatters; eventually trashed or lost. If there are any left somewhere in my attic, I assure you they are not worth an “ounce” of money. Not even a quarter-ounce.
I did, however, purchase a couple of comic books back in the day that I kept in better condition than the others. I loved, Loved, LOVED Wonder Woman comics. When Linda Carter began starring in the 1980s TV “Wonder Woman” show, I was elated. It was so cool to see her invisible plane fly, watch intently as she removed and tossed her boomerang headband with dead-on accuracy and witness her powerful golden lasso in action.
However, TV shows eventually get canceled and the youngsters who watch them turn their attention toward other interests. My attention was turned toward college, boys and starting my independent life. Years later, I watched my own children grow up with various heroes of their own: Power Rangers, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a Shannon Miller Olympic Gymnast phase, and then in junior high they liked the boy bands. They may, however, be currently superhero-less as they are now 18 and 23 years old. I should ask them. I might be surprised by their answers.
They might also be surprised to find out that I have a new superhero...
I’m 46 years old and I think I want to be Lucille Mulhall. Mulhall was (summarizing from the Oklahoma historical society and other Wikis) a “petite and genuine woman with a demure demeanor who could out shoot most all the men in the wild west shows and competitions.” Well, I’d like to be petite! And demure!… And, she was an Okie. This blog entry is about how I learned about Lucille Mulhall, how I got attached to a restaurant and small rural town named for her family, how the restaurant burned down and how I said goodbye.
Here’s the true tale of a requiem for my superhero’s namesake…may she rest in peace and all that bears her illustrious name live long and prosper. (Oh, and I was a Star Trek fan too.)
If you take away the fact that I love Woody Guthrie music, that I work at OSU and both my husband and I are alumnas, and the fact that I’m a dyed-in-the-dirt red blooded Okie, I might never have come to learn about Lucille Mulhall. But I am all of those, and so I did.
“Lucille’s Restaurant” had become a local hang-out for many-an-alumnus and was operated by OSU alums as well. Only 20 miles west of the university, it began to serve a growing population of football fans after the games, groups of weekend bikers (you’re met with a “Bikers Welcome” sign as soon as you pull up to the parking lot), and even began to get write ups and reviews in the larger newspapers and blogs.
About three years ago, it moved to the top of the list as one of the Oklahoma’s “destination restaurants” and was listed in several publications as “One of the top 5.” Around this same time, I read about the owners in an OSU publicity piece and asked Mick to drive up and meet me there after work one day. He did, we enjoyed it, and it became one of our special places to go as well. (Pictured here: Lucille’s, before the fire, 2008).
Lucille’s restaurant was named after Lucille Mulhall, and was located in Mulhall, Oklahoma – named after her father’s family who owned a 75,000 acre ranch and worked with the cattle owners running their livestock from Texas to Kansas City. I suppose I should write “is” located there as the original portion of the building is still standing. I drove by there last night on my way home because I was having a hard time letting it go. The restaurant was struck by lightening in the fall of 2009 and the last video I could find online quotes the owner as saying, “We’re going to try and rebuild. We’ll just have to see what it will take.” And although the sign hanging on the window says, “Will open under new management Fall, 2010,” nothing has been done since the clean up after the fire to indicate progress. I know this because I personally inspected it – I looked for any sign of life or hope yesterday, and found only an empty building with covered windows and a secured front door.
At this point I think I’ll interject a series of “You know you’re in Rural Oklahoma when…” comments with pictures for back-up I took along my journey. I’m invoking the “I AM from rural Oklahoma so I CAN make this commentary” rule. Some aren’t funny, and some are (in my head anyway). Here we go….
The back roads taken to Mulhall have patches on their patches that were patched. I blame the recession.
When…the beautification committee members paint the well house at the end of town with a message reading, “U ALL come back” with an emphasis on the U, rather than the ” y’all.”
When…the front lawn hard scape (aka: yard art) for the locals consists of tractors and big rolls of hay. The arrow inserted is pointing to the front of the house.
When the parking lot of the local quick store on the corner is populated with cars, trucks, motorcyles AND tractors loading hay onto pallets for feeding.
When the city administration is kind enough to purchase both a stop sign and a railroad crossing sign for the ONE farmer who crosses these tracks en route to his property.
When the locals enhance their porch and flower beds with wagon wheels and plows. (Hey – we had those at my house when I was growing up!)
When the urban graffiti consists of matching his and hers happy faces on the water and fuel tanks for the tractors.
When the town school is in a cooperative agreement with the “Fair Barn” and is comprised a good percentage of livestock gates and trailers.
When you see fences built by farmers or ranchers that are stronger than the multi-ton red rock boulders that get washed down the hill and slam into them during last week’s flood. The arrows show the fence post still holding the boulder, and the basic trajectory of the boulder slide. That fence is Oklahoma tough!
Okay, back to the story.
I rolled into town early evening and pulled up to the restaurant. The town was quiet with little or no foot OR automobile traffic. I remember a conversation with the restaurant manager once that went something like this – –
Kelly: “So, what exactly IS the population of Mulhall, Oklahoma?”
Manager: “Well, are you counting all of them, including those who are usually drunk and the ones in jail?”
We later saw a sign in town that read Population – 239.
As I parked and got out of the restaurant, I started feeling really sad. All the square footage that had been added to the original building was gone. In its place was an empty gray slab. This slab was so different than how energized I felt when I walked in for the first time. Hanging on the walls were four and six feet wide photographs of Lucille in her Western Show glory days. Here are a couple of those photographs, and then a shot of the now closed business:
These photographs and others were in every dining room in the restaurant; larger than life, conjuring up images for the guests of Lucille competing against the men, roping and wrestling down calves, racing her horse and winning marksmanship (marks-woman-ship) competitions. But this visual is what sobered my mood…the wind was blowing, but that was the only sound I heard while thinking about the business that used to visit this place.
The shot is pixelated because I had my cell phone camera settings incorrectly adjusted. Sorry for the image, but it conveys my blurry mood a bit – so I’m okay with that.
I drove past the building and parked at the corner. Across the street was a vacated building with a banner hanging inside. The art on the banner included “Lucille’s Ice House,” “Lucille’s Restaurant,” and “Lucille’s…(something.)” There were three separate buildings in the town that had at some point had her namesake? I’m not sure. But I do know there are now none.
I was staring at this banner through the window trying to make out all the images and themes the town had wished to show the public when the local train blasted it’s horn as it passed through town. I was so deep in thought and the train whistle was so loud that both my feet moved while my body jolted in surprise. Then, of course, I looked around to see who might have gotten to witness that little comic moment.
The train whistle had all the energy that I had assigned to the image of Lucille Mulhall in my mind, and it jerked me out of my melancholic thoughts. I rounded the corner and watched the powerful train roll by, pulling car after car for a good three or four minutes. The ground shook and rumbled. I thought, “When Lucille was racing her horses against those cowboys, I’ll bet the ground shook and rumbled.” I felt like crying, and felt like riding a horse at full speed along side the train at the same time.
I went back to my car (my horse) and got in.
As I sat there, not yet quite ready to pull out of town, I came to a few conclusions. I think I’ve attached myself to Lucille Mulhall because she wouldn’t put up with “the glass ceiling.” Rather than waiting on Hillary Clinton to give her speech about the 18 million cracks the people’s votes made during the 2008 election, Lucille would have just pulled out her pistol and shot the damn glass.
I started my “horse,” and rode out of town. If Lucille can’t be remembered with her restaurant namesake any more that’s just fine. I’ll just be her. I AM Lucille Mulhall, by golly… hear me ROAR!
This is a picture of my horse, parked by Lucille’s in downtown Mulhall.
U all come back now, ya hear?