Henry Whitfield Jr.’s association with
the Hotel Vinita began in 1947 when his $20 a month payments from the Navy
ran out. His first, civilian job was bus boy in the hotel coffee shop.
"Back then, a waitress would carry
four plates on her arm and was happy to get a dime tip, noniktter the size
of the table," said Henry when asked about the predecessor to the new
Skylight Bakery and Cafe, still in progress on the newly renovated first
floor of the hotel.
"I carried dirty dishes stacked as
high as my eyes and I only broke one cup that I remember," he said.
"Mrs. Driskill, the manager, was a very stern employer, a real
taskmaster. But everyone respected and admired her. Her husband and her
son also ran the hotel but they were more lenient with me."
As Henry considered the renovations
currently underway at this historic landmark, he recalled when Vinita was
bustling with out-of-town businessmen and families traveling Route 66.
Henry had opportunities to meet folks from all over the country in his
second job at the hotel: bell hop. He carried guests’ luggage to their
rooms and delivered ice.
Only blocks away, passengers disembarked
from Pullman cars ‘and took taxis to the hotel for first class
accommodations. Traveling businessmen in suits and hats booked rooms
months in advance and looked forward to their first meal after a long day.
Under the demanding standards of Mrs. Driskill. Henry helped to make the
It was during his time as a bell hop
that he began his employment at a better paying job on the side:
bootlegging. As a headstrong, rebellious
young man, Henry handled many bootlegging trans actions when liquor was
illegal in Oklahoma.
"Mrs. Driskill, a good Christian
woman, would have fired me If she knew," said Henry. There was a
steady demand for good booze, especially when delivered by discreet young
"I would buy it from the cab stand
across the street for 4 dollars, sell it to the travelers for 5 dollars,
and they would give me a dollar tip. That was good money back then."
He went on, "Cigarettes were 18 cents a pack. You would pay with two
dimes and then inside the pack of cigarettes was 2 cents change."
Many years have passed and Henry
Whiffleld no longer skirts the law, having copied the Christian lifestyle
of the upright Mrs. Driskill rather than the boozing customers. His only
regret is that he made his metamorphosis late in life.
Whether he was working as a coffee shop
bus boy, as a bell hop, or his shady role as a booze runner, Henry
Whiffield knew all the ins and outs of the Hotel Vinita. Even after
leaving his jobs there, he returned frequently as a customer.
"When I drove a cab, I took my
breaks at the hotel cafe, they had the best coffee in town," Henry
remembers. "There were five cab stands in town. all of them busy. I
drove an old Hudson, with one of the
doors wired closed. The fare was 25 cents a head."
Although the old coffee shop can never
be replaced, Henry is looking forward to seeing the new Sky light Bakery
and Cafe. "It is good that a new business is coming in, it would be a
shame to see this great old building go the way of so many other buildings
Many other Vinitans who re member the
hotel and the coffee shop agree with Henry. And more than a few of the
younger residents, who have no memories of the coffee shop, also agree.
Many are wondering if it can possibly be true that soon we will have a
lovely downtown cafe with Starbucks, pastries, and other great food. Stay
By Kathleen Duchamp, Vinita Daily
Journal, June 6, 2002