The old Belle Isle train station was torn down in 1999 to make way for a shopping center. Prior to this, the spot served a wide number of purposes over the years but kept a consistent history of strange deaths.
As an amusement park in the 1920s, it saw its fair share of people suddenly falling to their deaths.
As Belle Isle Station, numerous people plummeted from the top of the building or died in machinery accidents.
People would often fall into the lake, and drown.
According to legend, Satanists put an alligator in the lake and would sacrifice people to it in dark rituals.
To this day, paranormal activity regularly occurs at the shopping center.
In fact, late in the night, security cameras have captured things in shops flying off of the shelves, even though no one is there.
Well, not many residents of today’s Oklahoma City remember Belle Isle Park, but the park, one of the city’s earliest recreational facilities, remains a part of its history.
Its story is inextricably linked with the Oklahoma Railway Company (ORC), which operated the city’s street and interurban rail systems.
Electric street cars sprang up in cities all over the industrializing United States at the turn of the Twentieth Century and Oklahoma City was no exception. The street car system here began in 1903 and, by 1908 it was necessary to build a coal-fired power plant to serve the growing energy needs of the fledgling enterprise.
However, the company soon faced a problem shared by similar systems around the country: what to do about excess electricity. The street cars were designed to transport the working and middle classes from their homes to their jobs or to retail shops and back home, and ridership dropped off heavily after 6:00 PM or so. And the power plant could not be simply turned off at night and turned on again in the morning, as it had to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It costed lot of money to run a plant this way and the ORC soon faced a financial crisis. Thus Anton Classen, its founder, set about building a something different for Oklahoma City.
Yes, the street cars would operate until late in the evening, but they would transport people to a recreational park on the site of the ORC power plant. A lake had already been developed to cool the plant and it would become the park’s centerpiece, and Classen saw it as a win-win situation, as the only way for people to get to the park would be to ride on his street cars, and the city would have a wonderful destination for relaxation and diversion.
Visitors to the park, named Belle Isle, had a wide variety of recreational opportunities. For example, they could swim and dive in the lake, rent paddleboats and canoes and paddle around the lake, could fish, as well as enjoy strolls in the woods or picnic in the shade. And in the evening they could dine outside at the boardwalk café and dance the night away on the smooth dance floor.
Not long after opening, the park also featured amusement rides which were very popular.
As might be imagined, Belle Isle was a huge success and visitors flocked to street car stops each weekend to visit it.
When it opened in 1908, it was located at the end of the street car line, far beyond the city’s developed area at what is now Northwest Expressway and Pennsylvania. It was the premiere entertainment facility in the city, and would remain so until 1928 when the ORC no longer needed its Belle Isle power plant and sold the plant and the surrounding park to Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company (OG&E).
OG&E built a new, larger power plant on the site in 1930. The attractive building featured state-of-the-art electric generators for its time, and the new plant became known as the Belle Isle Power Plant.
It would generate electricity for Oklahoma City into the 1960s, and as a standby plant until 1980.
Although OG&E demolished the original ORC plant in 1960, Belle Isle Park remained in limited use, as the company, realizing the importance of the area, allowed citizens to picnic and fish on the property also throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
The second power plant stood as an abandoned building for nearly 20 years, and became an attractive spot to two generations of Oklahoma City teenagers as the place to go for thrill seekers and urban explorers.
Rumors swirled around high school campuses of ghosts of teenagers drowned in the basement of the plant (the water table did flood the basement and part of the first floor) haunting those adventurous enough to go inside.
Moreover, after the third floor had collapsed, people reported seeing the ghost of a young girl moving past its windows, and not only.
Rumors also circulated that Satanists used the deserted power plant, but all it is lost now, as the plant fell victim to a demolition team in January, 1999.
Interestingly enough, Belle Isle Lake played an important role also in Hollywood’s history. According to a macebre legend, actor Lon Chaney, known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces”, lived in a small home near Belle Isle lake with his wife Cleva who, on a cold morning in February, 1906, gave birth to a lifeless baby boy.
As the doctor and midwife faltered, the actor grabbed the baby, ran outside and dunked it in the icy waters of Belle Isle Lake.
The baby, Lon Chaney Jr., came to life and would grow up to play the famous movie monster, “The Wolf Man” as well as Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster among others, in a flourishing career which included 150 films.
Today you can still find references to the area such as the Belle Isle Library and the neighborhood surrounding it known as Belle Isle subdivision.
The retail development now operating atop the filled-in lake is known as Belle Isle Station and you can also enjoy a meal at the nearby Belle Isle Brewery….
Images from web – Google Research