POSTED ON NOVEMBER 14, 2007:
Centennial Separation Anxiety
Did everybody have a chance to enjoy the state's yearlong birthday party?
Mixed Reviews. While most agree that the unearthing of the Belvedere, which was buried on the grounds of what is now the county courthouse in 1957, drew lots of national attention, it was, ultimately, a let down.
It seems like 100, but it's only been one year that we've been celebrating Oklahoma's centennial. And as 2007 winds down and the state's Nov. 16th statehood day approaches, so have most of the 600-plus Centennial projects and 400-plus events that have come and gone.
As most are painfully aware, one of Tulsa's premiere Centennial events--the unearthing of the buried Belvedere and accompanying time capsule--was, after 50 years of expectation and several months of hype, an enormous letdown.
Even that half-a-century-in-the-making train wreck, though, wasn't a complete loss, according to J. Blake Wade, executive director of Oklahoma's Centennial Commission.
"There wasn't an event that was more publicized--that brought more attention for the Oklahoma Centennial--than the buried Belvedere," he said.
"Miss Belvedere absolutely took on a worldwide following--we're still receiving inquires from magazines all over the world," concurred Sharon King Davis, chair of "Tulsarama" and of the Tulsa Centennial Events committee.
Despite the attention surrounding a waterlogged, Belvedere-shaped mass of rust, embarrassment and disappointment, it still translated as tourist dollars for Tulsa and the state, and as an advertisement for other Centennial-related events.
Many of those events took place before they could benefit from the worldwide publicity created by Tulsa's famous buried car, but Tulsa was still at the center of the festivities from the get-go.
City dwellers likely recall the Centennial kick-off was held in Tulsa last year from Nov. 9 through 19, which included three days of fireworks (including an over-the-top laser, pyrotechnic, music and image-projected light show using the south side of the city's downtown skyline as a projection backdrop), a parade, a Centennial Film Festival, and performances by the Blue Man Group, Tony Bennett and Air Supply, among other amusements.
Davis said Tulsa was chosen for the kick-off events because "we had done our own (city) centennial in 1998 and did a pretty darn good job of it."
But the Guthrie/Oklahoma City area was chosen to finish off the celebration this weekend, for obvious reasons.
The state's "2nd City" has had its share of Centennial-related ups and downs, but how has the rest of the state fared so far in celebrating Oklahoma's 100th year?
"All Oklahomans should be very proud to have pulled off a better centennial than any other state," said Wade. "Quite honestly, we surpassed any other state."
As the state's head party-planner, Wade might be a little biased in his assessment of the performance of the Centennial party-machine, but Oklahoma's comparative youth gave it the benefit of learning from the wisdom of its elders. As the 46th state, Oklahoma's party-planners had plenty of others to look to for ideas, tips and examples of what to do and what not to do in advertising and commemorating its 100th year.
After researching the 45 states with centennials or bicentennials preceding ours, Wade said Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina and Nebraska each provided ideas that contributed major elements that made up our own Centennial celebrations.
As part of its bicentennial celebration in 1989, North Carolina "had a lot of things art-wise with children," Wade said.
Following suit in Oklahoma, Amy Weaver, the Commission's director of education and cultural affairs, said the Oklahoma Centennial Poster Contest drew 1,800 entries from across the state from students in grades 4 through 12, awarding 30 prizes in the form of scholarships ranging from $100 to $1,000.
"That really has been one of the nicest projects," said Wade.
As an historic hotspot for all things equestrian, one of Kentucky's high profile bicentennial projects in 1992 was numerous horse statues erected throughout the state.
Similarly, the "Spirit of the Buffalo" project--a cooperative effort between the Centennial Commission and the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma--had numerous buffalo statues displayed in downtown Oklahoma City and a few other points across the state.
Having already been taken over by another genus, though, Tulsa wasn't a suitable habitat for the Centennial buffaloes.
"We already did penguins, and we didn't want to do another dressed-up animal," said Davis.
Instead, Tulsa has various "Spirit Poles" constructed at various points about the city.
The 16-foot-tall aluminum pole with ribbons of different colors swirling from the top "symbolizes our colorful Native American heritage, the oil gushers that built our state, our reach for the skies through aerospace and our passion for the arts, all of which inspire our spirit of achievement and optimism," said Davis.
At $10,000 a pop, the monuments helped fund the various Centennial events.
In addition to raising awareness about the state's Centennial, because they're installed on the properties of purchasers, they also tell onlookers, "Hey! I helped pay for the Centennial events!"
Davis said 11 of the buffalo-alternatives have been purchased so far and can be seen on the properties of King Investments (King's Point Village and King's Landing), QuikTrip, Bama Companies and other big spenders about town.
The state of Ohio also provided some idea-fodder in the form of statues commemorating its bicentennial in 2003. In Oklahoma, the 27-foot-tall statue, "The Guardian," now stands atop the state Capitol dome.
Also, a bronze homage to Standing Bear stands in Ponca City, a statue of Jesse Chisholm stands in Kingfisher, and statues of Oklahoma's famed "Indian Ballerinas", Moscelyne Larkin, Yvonne Chouteau, Rosella Hightower and Maria Tallchief, will grace the grounds of the Tulsa Historical Society after they're dedicated on Nov. 14.
The "Show Me State" recognized its 100th year in 1921 with numerous barns scattered throughout Missouri bearing centennial logos. Likewise, the Sooner State took advantage of its prodigious number of barns by doing the same.
Much of Nebraska's centennial celebration in 1967 had to do with making sure many of its landmarks would be around for its bicentennial, which Wade and company thought was a good idea for Oklahoma.
"We learned they believed in a lot of historic preservation," he said, explaining that many of Nebraska's county courthouses have been on the National Register of Historic Places since before their centennial year. The state made a concerted effort to restore them and capitalize on their tourist value.
Numerous similar projects have been in the works in Oklahoma, Wade said, such as the restoration of the home of W.T. Foreman in Duncan.
Also, one of Tulsa's major Centennial projects is the Tulsa Historical Society's restoration of the Travis Mansion, 2445 S. Peoria, which will be the new home for the Society and the site of the Tulsa History Museum.
Wade said the Tulsa Historical Society project would run about $12 million, but only $2 million of that would be provided by the state.
The rest, he said, was from corporate and private donors, which was typical of most Centennial projects.
The total amount of state dollars for the Centennial events and projects that have or will take place this year amounts to $15 million, Wade said, which alone wouldn't have come close to funding even a fraction of the projects.
"Our generous supporters helped out a great deal. What we provided was seed money," he said.
Indeed, nothing Centennial-related happened without matching dollars from donations from the communities in which the projects took place.
"Communities have got to have involvement or it's not worth doing," he said.
Doin' Great, for a Baby State
If community involvement is the measurement of the worthiness of each project, it might also explain why Wade declared that Oklahoma put on the best centennial celebration ever.
He said the Centennial Commission generally got at least a two-to-one return in donations for whatever state dollars were provided for projects, and sometimes as much as a three-to-one return.
For instance, the dome on the state Capitol was one of the many "Centennial" projects to ensue in the past few years.
The project cost about $20 million in total, $5 million of which came from the state.
The Tulsa Botanical Garden, which is currently in the works, is also running about $12 million, but only $2 million came from state Centennial coffers.
Another major project that was significantly funded by private donations won't be found in any community in Oklahoma, though.
"We're the only state that has a ship (named after it) that sank at Pearl Harbor that doesn't have a memorial," Wade said. "That should have been done 50 years ago, and it's something we need to finish."
The U.S.S. Oklahoma Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii will cost $1 million, $650,000 of which came from private funds raised during the past two decades.
Wade said funds provided through the Centennial Commission provided the amount needed to make the project happen.
Not every community had deep-pocketed philanthropists to fill out the party budget, but that doesn't mean they were excluded from the fun.
"For towns and cities that didn't have a project, we went in and helped them," said Wade.
Numerous Centennial benches have been and will be placed in communities across the state at a cost of a few hundred dollars apiece, he said, which were constructed by prisoners within the Department of Corrections.
"We wanted to make sure everybody took part in the Centennial," said Wade.
By the end of the year, 100 Centennial clocks will have been put up in the state, the most recent--the 60th--was installed in a building on the campus of Oklahoma City University.
One of the most momentous Centennial projects is the American Indian Cultural Center, scheduled for completion by 2009. Wade said the entire project would have run between $80 million and $90 million by the time it was complete, only $2 million of which came through the Centennial Commission. Federal, city, local government and private interests provided the remaining costs.
While Wade declared the year's Centennial thus far to be a smashing success, that doesn't mean it went without its challenges. For the various building and art projects, he said raising the awareness needed to draw support didn't always come easily. "It's so difficult to get people to get involved with what your dreams are and making them aware of how significant the Centennial is," he said.
And for the various parades, concerts and other festivities, he said two factors in particular posed the greatest challenges, the first being the weather.
Wade pointed to the most recent event as an apt example of the challenges and successes that characterized the event planning and execution: the Centennial Parade in Oklahoma City on Oct. 14.
"We couldn't have waited any longer on Sunday for that parade," he said, alluding to the downpour that drenched Oklahoma City within an hour of the parade's conclusion.
And the other challenge?
"Football," said Wade.
"We knew five years ago that we need to know when football is going to happen--we knew Oklahomans weren't going to miss their football to celebrate the Centennial," he said.
While the majority of Centennial festivities are past, a few finished up this week and continue through this weekend.
For instance, Tulsa's Young Professionals and the Junior League have a Tulsarama-esque "Time Mausoleum" planted, in which a 2007 Harley Davidson Street Glide motorcycle was "buried," along with accompanying time capsules, in Veterans Park on Nov. 10. It is to be exhumed in 50 years (and hopefully, it will be in better shape than "Miss Belvedere").
Also, on "Statehood Day"-Eve (Thurs., Nov. 15), Gov. Brad Henry and the state Legislature will ceremoniously take a train ride from Oklahoma City to Guthrie, the original state capital.
There, a session meeting will ensue in the monolithic Masonic temple, which served as the original state Capitol building.
The next day, the actual anniversary of statehood, state leaders will re-enact the first inauguration, and then travel back to Oklahoma City in time for the "Oklahoma Centennial Spectacular" at 7pm at the Ford Center, which will feature a slew of musical performances, most notably Carrie Underwood, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Toby Keith and Reba McIntyre: "an unprecedented gathering of Oklahoma's most famous sons and daughters," according to the advertising flyer.
OETA will broadcast the event.
And for those who want to relive the fun of seeing the Belvedere exhumed, and learn about all that went into the project and all that came out of it, Sharon King Davis said a two-hour documentary was available for $25 at www.tulsaramastore.com.
If Wade is right in his assessment of Oklahoma's supremacy in celebrating its centennial, then New Mexico and Arizona might be looking to the Sooner State in planning their own 100th birthday parties in the year 2012.
We'll have to wait a little longer to see how much Alaska and Hawaii's centennial observances resemble ours, though, as theirs won't happen until 2059.
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