You will know, if you read this blog, that my first novel is set in the Oklahoma Panhandle. I’ve never actually been there, but I won’t let a little thing like that get in my way. My second novel is set during WW2 in the Isle of Man and Berlin. I’ve been to both, lucky old me, but I haven’t lived through the war. That doesn’t stop me either but it just mean I hunt and peck facts on the internet. Sometimes, my two worlds collide, such as in this click, which led me to the Records of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service, INS. Or La Migra, as we called them back home. It was here I found a WW2 internment camp in Oklahoma, in Stringtown, Oklahoma.
Stringtown is a small place in the southeast of Oklahoma. In the 2000 census their population was 396. 166 households. I don’t suppose it will have gone up for 2010. In fact, the population is steadily going down now that Stringtown can no longer raise funds by being a speed trap. Its major employer, says Wikipedia, is the Mack Alford State Penitentiary, a spillover since 1933 to ease overcrowding at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. It also served as an internment camp for mostly German men, though it did hold some Italians and Japanese, during WW2 with the same system of racial profiling that created the network of Japanese-American internment camps across the US as well as the women’s internment camp on the Isle of Man that is at the centre of my book.
The nifty German American Internee Coalition provides information on internment camps. The photo comes from this site, as well as the information about how the camps were run. Apparently, the camp commander ran a tight ship. Attempted escapes were a cause for shooting. Internees were housed in the prison cells and sought to keep them “as clean as possible” as well as “engage in meaningful hobbies.” As with the women’s internment camp, “there was a small, vocal Nazi element at Stringtown, estimated to be less than 3% of the general population. This element had an unsettling effect on the atmosphere of the camp, especially for the few German Jews who were interned there.” Nazi women were about 10% of Rushen Camp at its opening, 29 May 1940, but as Jewish internees were released and more Nazi women moved to Rushen from Holloway Prison, the percentage was soon much higher. It is reported that two German internees died at the camp and are buried at Ft. Reno.
Springtown was an internment camp for little more than a year. Then, the men were transferred elsewhere and the site was reserved for German prisoners of war, captured all around the world. Previously, Bonnie & Clyde started their crime spree from a dance hall in Springtown and afterward a tornado set down in the middle of town, destroying a community centre. Springtown hasn’t had an easy ride of it. But I’m glad to know about it, nevertheless. And as the birthplace of Reba McIntyre, it’s not all bad news. Unless you don’t like Reba. And then there’s probably not a lot to recommend it to you.