The Daily Ardmoreite
October 9, 1977
By Rusty Lang
Recluse Yields to Interview
Disavows Unrequited Love Tale
He could have lived at any place at any time and from the stories that go around about him you would believe he has. There are probably a multitude of stories hidden behind Coleman Jones’ gnarled white beard that he thinks is just easier to let grow than to shave off. Same goes for his old patched clothes and bicycle. Coleman says he doesn’t have any need to dress or act for society, though at one time he had.
Coleman Jones, Ardmore’s man-myth, isn’t really that different - more than likely every town has someone a little like him. An old man or woman people invent all kinds of stories about. He could be an eccentric hermit who keeps millions of dollars buried in cans in his backyard. Or an unkempt old lady who lives with cats or dogs and all of the children say is a witch. A storybook ogree or a benevolent Kris Kringle, depending only on how far one’s imagination can stretch. Coleman says those stories about him aren’t true, but his blue aged eyes, shining with life’s experiences, seem mischievously to contradict his denial of the rumors. “I hear stories all the time”, said Coleman, parking his bicycle by the broken-slatted front porch of the once stately house where he was born. The house now so overgrown with bushes it appears to be abandoned. “A youngster about 8 or 9 came by the other day and began telling me things about myself. It was right interesting”, he said, beginning a rare interview possibly meant to dispel the legends.
Probably the most widely told story is that the man, now 72, was a Harvard law student, who after being jilted by a beautiful woman, became a recluse. He supposedly walked every day to the post office and mailed a letter to his lover at precisely the same time. The woman never married him though, and Coleman himself has never married anyone. “I don’t know where they dug that one up - that I have a hermit lifestyle because of unrequited love. There is nothing to that but imagination”, said Coleman, shaking tobacco from a cotton pouch onto a slightly crumpled cigarette paper. The soft voice and wide vocabulary of the man, however, are echoes of his eastern schooling and he admits he did attend Dartmouth and study engineering.
Though born in Ardmore and reared as the step-son of Charles Carter, congressman and descendant of the county’s namesake, Coleman says he was bounced across the country as a child, beginning his widely-varied life. He was enlisted in the U.S. Air Force for 15 years in the weather services. He was also a pilot for several aircraft companies and flying services. He has held many technical positions he prefers to leave as vague memories. “I’ve done many forms of work in many parts of the country. I have never stayed in one place too long”, he said, sealing, then lighting his hand rolled cigarette. Coleman is still consistent in liking to be on the move.
Ardmoreites can see him almost anytime, solitarily riding his bicycle, pronounced bi-cycle across town even as the scorching southern Oklahoma sun bleaches his beard even whiter. His basket is full of rags or bottles. He won’t say exactly what he does all day, but admits he helps out friends and neighbors with errands, chores around the house or yard, or buying groceries. “I like to do anything I can to help people out”, he said, carefully dusting the ashes from his cigarette. His chambray shirt is worn, but carefully patched and his khaki pants held up by suspenders. This summer’s straw hat will soon be replaced by a wool stocking cap or maybe a bandana until its winter. “I know people think I’m a peculiar looking creature”, he said with a laugh.
But the old man still carries his tall frame with dignity and his scruffy appearance can’t hide a once-handsome face, now weathered and lined. The man, intelligent, educated, and from all accounts probably once very wealthy could have been anything he chose. Why then has he rejected the trappings of conventional society? A very practical answer lies behind all these seemingly strange things, according to the old man. He rides a bicycle to stay active. “Once upon a time I could walk from here to Main Street in 12 minutes. I can’t do that now so I ride this thing”, he says of his old Schwinn which has a special strap across the basket for his cane. “I think I need only the bare necessities”, he said. “I’ve never had any want or desires for anything you might call luxuries.” Re-lighting what is left of his cigarette with a Zippo lighter, Coleman makes one wonder how his whole beard keeps from going up in flames. “That has been a point of interest to many people,” he jokes. “They expect the whole conflagration to go up at any minute.”
Coleman says during his lifetime he has had a full beard three times. “I used to shave with an electric razor, but it was rather inconvenient. I thought confound it, I’m going to quit this, so I did.” Haircuts kept getting more and more expensive so Coleman eliminated those too from the military pension budget he says he lives on. “I’m old enough and contrary enough to know I don’t need to dress for business appearances, so escribe himself, Coleman says the image of him as a hermit is especially wrong. “I couldn’t be with as many people as I know. All the old bunch has passed away, but I still keep in touch with their families.” Since Coleman’s father died when he was only three, he says he learned of death early. Still he grows a little melancholy as a funeral procession passes his house and he mentions names many people have heard only in the obituary pages. “This hot spell nearly got me,” Coleman said, once again mounting his chrome-lated Schwinn. “I tried to get the doctor to tell him I’ve got a heart problem, but he wouldn’t do it.” True to his philosophy of living each day as it comes, Coleman reminds himself that he can’t just sit in a rocker and pat his foot. He’s got to be on the move. And with a kind parting word, the man peddles off for some unknown destination. The rumors denied, but the mystery still intact.
Coleman Jones with Cole Younger as a child
Coleman was a cousin to Cole Younger
Coleman Jones under the Christmas tree
The Daily Ardmoreite
Graveside services for Coleman Jones, 1222 Stanley, will be at 3:30pm Wednesday, January 28, 1981 in Rose Hill Cemetery. Dr. Edwin W. Parker will officiate. Born May 12, 1905 in Ardmore, Jones died January 27, 1981 in a local hospital. The son of Robert Jones and the former Cecile Whittington, he was former manager of the Whittington Hotel. During World War II he served as Staff Sergeant in the Air Force with the weather squadron. He was awarded the American Theater campaign ribbon, E.A.M.E. campaign ribbon, Victory medal and two Overseas service bars. He was the stepson of Charles D. Carter, Ardmore, the first Third District U.S. Congressman, and in later years became a familiar sight on Ardmore streets with his flowing beard and bicycle riding. He is survived by several cousins. Bettes Funeral Home will direct services.
COLEMAN JONES grave marker
From my March 25, 2000 newsletter:
"I received a lot of email this week about "the man with a beard who rode the bicycle". He was Coleman Jones and I remember him well. Years ago I had bought my first new car..... a 1971 Buick Skylark. Boy, I loved that car. It had a 350 V-8 engine and would do over a hundred miles an hour! Not like these wimpy cars of today. A couple years later I had been to a meeting one evening at the Convention Center in Oklahoma City, and while my car was parked there, someone stole the tag. I had to get another tag a couple days later. So, I decided to place it on the back window, inside, instead of on the back of the car, beneath the bumper. A few weeks later I had my car parked in front of my house, and Coleman Jones came by riding his bike. He look and thought I didn't have a car tag. So he stops, knocks on my front door, and says, "Sir, did you know you don't have a car tag?" I explained what happened and the tag was behind the back glass. He looked and said, "well I'll be, you do don't you?". That was one of my few experiences with Mr. Coleman Jones." -Butch Bridges
"Coleman Younger Jones was the bearded man on the bicycle. He and his mother lived across the street from me on Douglas Blvd. His mother was reportedly a member of the famous Younger family. Her second husband was named Charles Carter and he was the early U. S. Congressman from Oklahoma and member of the family for which Carter County was named. Coleman Jones' aunt owned the Whittington Hotel."
"This is in reference to the person who wrote about "a man with a long beard who rode a bike all over town". Sounds like that would have been Mr. Coleman Jones. He didn't' seem friendly by appearances, but he was very pleasant if you talked to him. Local rumors have it that he was Harvard educated and extremely wealthy. Someday I'd like to know the real story about him. Wasn't there something in the Ardmoreite about him many years ago?"
"I remember that man. Always saw him at least once when we were in Ardmore. He really got around on that bike. One time, I was with my Uncle in Ardmore when we saw him. My Uncle told me that he was Santa Claus and that is where he spent his time when he wasn't at the North Pole. I didn't say so but I didn't believe him... the guy just wasn't fat or jolly enough!"
"Well it just happens that I knew Coleman Jones practically all of my life. Mrs Jewel Whittington was his aunt, I believe, and & after her husband was deceased she became the sole operator of the "New Whittington Hotel" Before the explosion in 1915 the hotel was known as the "Whittington Hotel" but when it was rebuilt it was named the "New Whittington Hotel". The hotel was very elaborate in its early days & retained that air throughout its existence. Coleman Jones worked at the desk of the hotel - he was clean shaven & rather nice looking in his younger days. Reportedly he was a graduate of Dartmouth College and was very well educated. He was articulate and could hold your attention with his very interesting observations. He certainly was no kook, yet for some reason, perhaps know only to himself, he assumed the role or appearance of a very eccentric person. When I came back to Ardmore, I was amazed by his appearance and I speculated that he had taken on the roll of some character he had read about. To me, Coleman Jones was a gentleman not to be feared or made fun of."
"The man with the long white beard that used to ride a bicycle all over town was Coleman Jones. He was a nice fellow, but certainly a little eccentric. He lived in the old family home of his parents at Douglas Blvd and about 7th S.E. It was a white frame house. The house is gone now, and there is a red brick home in its place. I believe he was a member of St. Phillips Episcopal Church, but seldom went."
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