Elaine Graybill is sure that the collections at Alva’s Cherokee Strip Museum – where she works as the business manager – make it a must-see among museums in northwest Oklahoma.
But whether the museum, located in the building that once served as Alva’s city hospital, includes late-night supernatural activities … well, she isn’t so sure about that.
Several paranormal teams have visited the privately-owned, nonprofit museum over the past few years, she says, setting up their specialized equipment at night and waiting for something extraordinary to happen.
“I’m not going to say we’re haunted, but there are just some … unexplained things,” she says.
“Most of the ‘activity’ occurs between midnight and 2 a.m.,” Graybill tells an inquisitor. “Some rooms are more active than others.”
The Cherokee Strip Museum (and its variety of exhibits) is just one of the attractions in Alva. The city sits at the intersection of U.S. Highways 281 and 64; Tulsa is 187 miles to the east, Oklahoma City some 150 miles to the southeast. With an estimated population of about 5,000, Alva is in the part of Indian Territory that was designated as the Cherokee Strip, and was established in 1893 as a land office for the Cherokee Strip land run.
The city is also the home of Northwestern Oklahoma State University. The Museum of Natural History at NOSU contains more than 8,000 artifacts, including birds, mammoth tusks and different types of fossils and artifacts – some acquired more than 100 years ago.
What became NOSU was first established in 1897 as a “normal” school to educate future teachers, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.
The first classes met in a local church on September 20, with three faculty members and 58 students. In 1996, the Oklahoma Legislature established branch campuses of NOSU in Enid and Woodward, with the university emerging as Alva’s largest employer in the 1990s.
It also has an arrangement with the two-year Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, whereby students can transfer their credits and complete their bachelor’s degrees at NOSU.
Alva is also surrounded by some of Oklahoma’s richest outdoor life. The Alva Chamber of Commerce points out that the city is within 30 miles of some of Oklahoma’s most diverse and inviting outdoor recreation, such as Great Salt Plains State Park and Wildlife Refuge in Jet, Alabaster Caverns State Park in Freedom, Little Sahara State Park in Waynoka and the famed Selman Bat Cave.
Jo Decker, director of the Graceful Arts Gallery and Studios located in Alva’s downtown square, says the arts community in Alva is burgeoning, thanks in large part to the recent addition of visual arts as an academic major at NOSU.
“We have several students [from NOSU who] come and help us,” says Decker. The gallery pulls artists from most of Oklahoma, southern Kansas and the Texas panhandle. “The art community here is growing every year.”
The Chamber of Commerce also touts Alva’s Western credentials, with rodeos and all things “cowboy and cowgirl” as a strong local influence.
The Cherokee Strip Museum, meanwhile, continues to attract a steady number of visitors, Graybill says, with the individual rooms allowing for several specialized exhibits. One section is dedicated to a World War II prisoner of war camp for German military officers that, for 28 months, was located just outside town.
“We were known as ‘Camp Alvaraz,’” says Graybill.
The former hospital’s surgical suite now is part of the museum’s medical display, and in the opinion of the paranormal investigating teams, might – or might not – harbor spirits from the underworld.
“We have been told that we have ‘friendly spirits’ running around,” Graybill says. “I’m not a believer – yet.”