Okay. I admit it. This should have been a requisite for my introduction to Tulsa some time ago. Tulsa Historical Society, located just south of Woodward Park, 2445 S. Peoria, serves as an adequate foundation for the story of this city. Like the museum's counterparts around town, the Tulsa Historical Society is small but worthwhile. But unlike many, it's free, although donations ($3-5 for adults) are appreciated.
My belated first visit to the museum occurred on Sat., Feb. 21. While I've picnicked at Woodward Park, bounded through the Municipal Rose Garden and taken a photo of myself with a replica of the father of Botany, Carl Linnaeus, my knowledge of the immediate area was previously incomplete. If you're planning on making a day of it, to enjoy even a modicum of information, dropping in to the Historical Society will prove advantageous.
Think of it this way: at your next party, you'll be able to share the wealth of facts you've collected. What party isn't desirous for a drunken know-it-all data machine? I know of none!
"Hey Franklin, while you're getting me another beer, consider the streets of downtown Tulsa lined with 100,000 people, like they had for the 1918 Armistice Day Parade."
You'll instantly be the life of the party!
Throughout my early years, I largely found the study of our past to be drab. As I aged, I learned that history provides crucial context to every issue. I've always gravitated to bigger issues, so my first curious glances into the past included topics like civil rights and the struggle for equality, as opposed to how attire from the turn of the century influenced present-day fashion.
That said, I still find the latter interesting, but before entering the Tulsa Historical Society I was prepared to gain further understanding of the Tulsa Race Riot than inaugural gowns of former Oklahoma first ladies. To be fair, I hadn't even considered the gowns, but I did appreciate them. And, my girlfriend's love of handy work has expanded my appreciation for the art form, so I wasn't disappointed.
The absence of a collection in the physical museum (there is a small online exhibit on the museum Web site) that gruesome day left me dissatisfied. Yes, as the Web site states, I could have made an appointment to view materials related to the loss of nearly 300 Tulsans (http://www.tulsahistory.org/learn/riot.htm). But, I was hoping to learn more about the tragic and deplorable events on June 1, 1921, without scheduling a visit. However, the Web site did provide me with some basic details about the origin of the deaths. According to the Web site, a young black man named Dick Rowland grabbed the arm of white operator Sarah Page in the Drexel Building (which no longer exists) elevator, an event that was quickly distorted and circulated throughout Tulsa.
Two days later, after an exaggerated Tulsa Tribune report, white rioters began burning and looting "Black Tulsa." That's the kind of information I desired before stepping foot in the museum but am relieved is available online.
On the other hand, one of my more vivid first memories of moving to Tulsa, after Peace Corps Belize, began about three weeks before my close of service in a Belmopan (capital of Belize) internet café. Cristi, my girlfriend, had sent me an article with several photos of a rusty 1957 Belvedere being unearthed in the very city to which I was moving. The article mentioned Schlitz beer and gasoline in the trunk of the car. I remember having what I can only describe as a combination of three thoughts: "What in the hell am I getting myself into with this move?" and "Yep, this is going to be vastly different from Belize," and a proud "Hey, that's really cool."
In many ways the article and the concept it represented prepared me for reverse culture shock, although I don't think I was fully aware of it at the time. No Belizean would consider burying a new car (or beer; or gasoline) to only dig it up some 50 years later. Not a chance! While I found comfort in the American essence of that idea, it intimidated me.
I think I can relate, I thought as I read.
I've thought often about that article and thus I was delighted to see an entire room devoted to Tulsarama!, the semi-centennial celebration of 1957, and the '57 Belvedere. Some of the entries for the Belvedere contest, where the individual who estimated the city of Tulsa's 2007 population won the car and a $100 savings bond and 50 years of interest, were telling.
While I am no expert on the people of the 1950's compared to today, I can say that because of the advances in technology and the forces of a connecting world, today's layperson may be better able to predict how 50 years from today will manifest itself than our parents and grandparents. But, that's much easier to say today than it is 50 years from now.
Now most contest estimations were reasonable, but there were some that appeared to have a childishly naïve view of their future. For instance, some of the population predictions for the contest were, well, unrealistic. More than one billion people in Tulsa in 2007? Yes, it may seem childish because a child submitted the prediction, but I am not sure. Nevertheless, I found the information fascinating and the community excitement/involvement surrounding the '57 and '07 centennial events to be intoxicating.
Other exhibits at the museum ranged from the history of Tulsa parades to the story of the USS Tulsa to "Skelly Oil to the Five Moons," or five famous "American Indian Ballerinas from Oklahoma" who changed the face of ballet.
I saw everything from Frank Keating's childhood lunchbox to historical cocktail accessories. I learned the three Art Deco stylistic time periods present in Tulsa architecture. And, I was educated on the history of the building that is now the museum. Once known as the Travis Manor, the house was home to families from 1919 until 1997.
The visit only added to my contextual understanding of Tulsa and Oklahoma. Thank you, Tulsa Historical Society.
For those looking to make a day of the Woodward Park area, the Linnaeus Teaching Gardens (several hundred yards northeast of the Historical Society) and Tulsa Garden Center (just north of the Historical Society) open March 3, and the indoor greenhouse between the museum and the Linnaeus Teaching Gardens is open Monday through Friday 7:30am to 2:30pm and Saturday and Sunday 8:30am to 3:30pm. Take a blanket, prepare a picnic, and later stop by the museum, which is open Tue.-Sat., 10am-4pm. For more information, visit tulsahistory.org.
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