Fire affects more than Benson’s Warehouse

BY KATHY SWANJ-C CORRESPONDENT

Mary Kay Warren not only managed the popular ‘Osage Market’ which was housed in the now razed Benson Warehouse, she assisted Hank and Patti Benson in restoration efforts.

Warren has garnered quite a reputation for transforming junk into unique and functional furniture and accessories. Using her creative magic, she added touches of whimsy to the warehouse’s long-neglected rooms.

Although she lost her complete inventory to the fire, Warren said, “Pawhuska is the biggest loser. In addition to burning two historic buildings, this fire destroyed two businesses.”

Although not currently a flea market vendor, Carol Crews also worked alongside the Bensons when they undertook saving the 87-year old warehouse in 2005. She was responsible for setting up and managing the initial flea market in the north end.

“The warehouse had become the lumber yard’s dumping ground for outdated materials,” Crews said. “The flea market was a way to reduce inventory at bargain-basement prices. Some of our earlier customers eventually became vendors, such as Ron Silva and Gordon Johnston.”

After the Bensons converted the large concrete freezer on the northeast corner into six storage units, Crews became one of the first occupants. She is optimistic that the thick freezer walls and ceiling shielded her items from the fire.

Looking at the hump formed by the fallen ceiling, Crews remarked, “Judging from the size of that heap, I am confident many of my items were spared from the ravages of the fire.

Ron Silva, Gordon Johnston, and Geraldine Enyart were also “Osage Market” vendors who lost their inventory which included various art and collectibles.

“We are getting a little squeamish – this is the second fire we have experienced in the past seven months,” Silva said. “The first was at the Historical Society’s Museum.”

Open for less than a month was the antique store called “Comin’ Home” which was jointly owned by Ray Anne (Walker) Cocanower and Carrie Ann (Conley) Watters. Like the Benson’s, their loss included priceless family mementos.

The day of the fire, Ray Anne had set about to complete the inventory of their razed store. She is hopeful the metal box holding the list survived the fire.

“As the fire began to subside, flames were visible from my kitchen area of our store,” said Watters. “For a brief moment, it looked like someone was using one of our vintage cook stoves.”

Although the contents were not covered, Cocanower glibly remarked, “We will have one gigantic tax write-off.”

Both women were optimistic and felt that the few surviving items in the front of the building were a good omen. Spared from the flames were Doc Walker’s scale, a vintage hay rack, assorted plants, the Comin’ Home sign and the Osage Market sign.

“Two things that hurt me the most are losing Daddy’s ‘Dickie/4-H’ blanket and Mom’s quilt,” said Cocanower. “It took Mom three years to complete her cross-stitch quilt. I also bought a yo-yo quilt from Carrie Ann’s shop in Sedan that was being used as a coverlet for the antique bed we had on display. Anyone that knows about quilting knows how long it takes to make a yo-yo quilt (forever).”

Following the fire, Cocanower discovered her sister had more of her beloved Dad’s Dickies and 4-H ribbons. Excitedly, she announced, “I am going to sew another quilt with what she has and what I have left. I never throw away material so I think I can have our memories back.”

Watters was on her way to Pawhuska when her daughter, Shelley, sent her a picture of the fire when it started.

“I was driving and almost had a wreck,” said Watters. “I am hopeful a 1934 coffee tin was manufactured by Nash & Finch survived. Doesn’t sound like much, but we can hope.”

Cocanower interjected, “I was taking to my (sister) Judy home out by the Agency when I said, ‘What is all that smoke?’ That’s when we finally came down here. We just need to find another place. Seeing our sign survive is the epitome of strong women. Carrie Ann and I will reopen. We just need time to regroup, add to our inventory, and then we will be back.”

Both ladies expressed their appreciation that their short-lived business was featured in the July 3 edition of the Journal-Capital.

With true Pawhuska spirit and determination, everyone interviewed were of the same consensus: Items may be gone, but memories will last forever.