QUESTION: Back in the early 1960s, there was a nightclub of sorts about five miles north of Ottawa on old U.S. 59. Called Oak Lodge, it was constructed of logs and was a popular hangout for young adults. It caught fire and burned to the ground sometime around 1963. And there was a rumor that a young starlet, Elizabeth Taylor, visited one night. Is this true?
ANSWER: In “The midlands,” a column by James J. Fisher published in The Herald (provided to me by Deborah Barker, executive director of the Franklin County Historical Society), Fisher wrote about the memories of Wilda Wright, Ottawa, a waitress at Oak Lodge who said she served Taylor, her then-husband Nicky Hilton and the couple’s driver one fall night in 1950. Taylor reportedly had the chicken.
In another column about Wright’s encounter with Taylor, Fisher wrote that Wright had an Oak Lodge menu containing Taylor’s signature in a flowing script on the cover, with menu items like chicken, T-bone steak and cheese sandwiches on the inside.
Fisher’s column also quotes from a letter from Larry Kauffman, who said he was one of several college students at Oak Lodge at the same time as Taylor.
“And there she was. Absolutely beautiful with an open face and somewhat vulnerable look about her,” Fisher quoted from Kauffman’s letter. “All else seemed to fade into a dark, blurry haze as she became surrounded with a radiance that left us choking, snorting, gulping and spellbound.”
Kauffman’s memories include Taylor’s husband yelling into a pay phone and calling their location a “God-forsaken place in Kansas.” He also recalled Taylor playing “Harbor Lights” on the jukebox, while he and his group “sat there daring each other to ask her to dance…and chickening out.”
What a story.
As for Oak Lodge, I didn’t find much else about it in the Herald archives except for an old advertisement in a March 1968 Herald edition, promising a completely remodeled club with an “excellent dance floor,” sandwiches, beverages (no alcohol) and pool table.
Incidentally, that Oak Lodge ad was positioned next to an ad for a movie coming to Ottawa’s theater, “Reflections in a Golden Eye,” starring Marlon Brando…and Elizabeth Taylor.