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Oklahoma City: A Bucket List Must

Travel and Leisure Magazine recently named Oklahoma City one of their “The 50 Best Places to Travel in 2020.”  They are spot on. Oklahoma City is filled with interesting places to visit.

Lodging

21C Museum Hotel in Oklahoma City

Entertainment starts in your hotel if you stay at 21C Museum Hotel Oklahoma City. 21C Museum Hotel is a true contemporary art museum as well as a 135-room boutique hotel. Either incarnation could hold its own compared to any other art museum or hotel in the world.

Sleeping child on sofa in lobby

This was once a early 1900s Fred Jones Ford Motor Company assembly plant that crafted Model Ts and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel is a 5 star one. All of the guest rooms feature high ceilings and large steel windows creating a bright cheerful atmosphere. Naturally they have unique art in each room.

You have all the amenities here, a Spa with massage services, sauna and steam room, 24-hour fitness center, a business center, a laundry service if needed, and great free wifi. The hotel is pet-friendly. They offer complimentary shuttle service to downtown locations which can come in handy. Driving is not bad but parking can be a problem some places. Valet parking is paid but street parking is hard to find and usually have meters you need to feed.

For dining at the hotel, Mary Eddy’s Kitchen and Lounge, is presided over by executive chef Jason Campbell.

Art in hotel hall

The museum part of the hotel has some fantastic and original art. It is home to a flock of Purple Penguin sculptures by Italian artist collective Cracking Art Group. The colorful birds mysteriously move around the hotel. They are in front of one room one minute and next time you look they have flocked elsewhere.

The museum is on the first floor but actually it starts when you step into the lobby. One of the first things you see is a very realistic looking sofa with a pre-teen child snuggled in sound asleep.  The art ranges from sculptures like You Always Leave Me Wanting More,  a series of multiple large red enamel arrows banded with led lights and pointing helter-skelter every which way on the top three floors, to paintings like the one of President Obama. There are mixtures like the hall filled with black and white sketches as a background and hung with paintings of women in sunglasses. At the end of the hall there is a quartet of cutouts of flapper-era ladies in swimsuits cavort in front of a window. The art changes regularly so when you go you may see something different but equally interesting.

National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

End of the Trail by James Earle Fraser

Art and history was one of my favorites because it combines art with history.  If you are an art lover, you will love it. The galleries are filled with realistic paintings, sculptures and real items from the early days of the west. There are bronze statures of many old west characters as well as cavalry and rodeo figures.

Prosperity Junction

 If you are a history lover, you will love it. Favorite Prosperity Junction is a recreated frontier village. You can visit the schoolroom, banks and many other buildings that made a town in Oklahoma’s early years.

 Native American culture is not ignored either. An entire gallery is devoted to the culture of Native Americans.

Less serious history is also brought to life there. If your inner kid longs to go back to the thrilling days of yesterday with the cowboys of the big screen, you can ride the range with Roy and Gene. There are even displays about the old Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns. In short, it has something for everyone.

Centennial Land Run Monument

Centennial Land Run Monument

A do-not-miss outdoor art exhibit is The Centennial Land Run Monument.  The monument consists of 47 bronze statues, one-and-a-half life size, spanning a distance of 365 feet. It is the largest series of sculptures in the world. It commemorates the opening of the Unassigned Land in Oklahoma Territory with the Land Run of April 22, 1889. The detail is so realistic you feel it is actually happening before your eyes.

Cannon at Centennial Land Run Monument

It’s in a city park that’s open to the public year around. There is a beautiful walkway on both sides of the waterway paralleling the sculpture.   

The statures begin with the cannon and man who fired it to start the run.  Then there are the people, horses, three wagons, a cannon, a dog, and even a jackrabbit trying to scramble out of the way of the stampede.  The artist, Paul Moore’s, great-grandfather participated in the Land Run.

Murals

Mural on wall

Oklahoma City’s love of art flows onto its streets. Walls of buildings and even bridges are filled with murals. Many are in the Bricktown District where much of the dining and entertainment venues abound. Even the railroad bridge between Downtown and Bricktown is covered with colorful murals.

Oklahoma History Center

Cabin at museum

Oklahoma History Center moves you from the art world to history. It takes you through the state’s history from the Native Americans to present day.

Heroine exhibit

One of the most impressive exhibits is the Heroine Steamboat on the second floor.  It predates the romantic era of steamboats on the Mississippi. The Heroine was recovered from the Red River. It was built in 1832 and sank on May 6, 1838. Those days most steamboats didn’t last six years: the waters of the red River were too treacherous.

Another exhibit brings to life the native peoples of Oklahoma. It takes you through Native life from early days to contemporary American Indian cultures.

Other exhibits cover commerce, warfare, and even the musical Oklahoma represented here.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum

Entrance

The most moving museum in Oklahoma City deals with one of the most horrific acts committed in modern history, the Oklahoma City Bombing of April 19, 1995. This museum walks you through the event day by day and even minute by minute.

Rubble from bombing

In 2020 homegrown terrorists took the lives of 168 innocent people, 19 of which were children with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The Memorial Museum is in the former Journal Record Building located on the corner adjacent to the bombed building. It retells the story in vivid detail.

There are artifacts retrieved from the wreckage, photos, informational placards and interactive exhibits that tell the story of an event that should never be forgotten.

Exhibit depicting bombing

The museum takes the visitor all the way through the trials of the madmen who perpetrated this tragedy.

The spot where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and other buildings destroyed in the blast are now the Field of Empty Chairs, Reflecting Pool and Rescuer’s Orchard.

Banjo Museum

Moving on to a lighter subject, a visit to The American Banjo Museum is fun and educational. It portrays its humble beginnings in the cabins of the enslaved people playing homemade banjos on the plantations.

Earl Scruggs banjo

It traces the beginning of public banjo performances in minstrel shows of the 1840s. Irregardless of the politically incorrectness of white musicians performing in blackface today, at that time, it brought the banjo as a professional to white listeners for the first time. For each of the eras there are banjos on display. Some displayed in the Minstrel era exhibit include a banjo from the 1840s built by William Boucher, one of the main instrument makers of the time, and a Bullock Fretless from 1854.

As America moved into the 20th century, the banjo was now considered a classical instrument on par with violins. In the exhibit here, you can see the improved instruments being produced by manufacturers like Fairbanks, Cole, steward, and others.

With the rise of the Jazz age, the banjo came into it s own. The Banjo Museum has more than 300 jazz age banjos: the most in any one collection in the world.  These banjos not only became more refined they were more beautiful.

Les Paul was one of the musicians who modified banjo to fit their tasted. Les Paul, although better known for his guitar work, played a banjo under his hillbilly pseudonym, Rhubarb Red. One of his banjos, a Gibson PB 250 that he modified with an electric amplification system, is on display.

Other display in this exhibit are a costume worn by Eddie Peabody, known as “King of the Banjo.” He developed a unique type of plectrum banjo called the Vegavox. A special exhibit is of a Gipson bass Banjo from 1929. It’s a one of a kind instrument.

On to modern days from Earl Scruggs who along with his partner, Lester Flatt, played the iconic theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies, to folk singers who played the instrument. There’s a Vega “Earl Scruggs” Model from 1964 and one owned by Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio.

Kermit

There is an whole exhibit centered around the work of Jim Henson.  One really unique banjo was played by Kermit the Frog. It was originally owned by British musician Martin Kershaw.  It was the banjo Kershaw played for Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen Mother, Prince Charles, Princess Anne and Princess Margaret.  He later joined the studio band for The Muppet Show.  While a guest on the Muppet Show, Julie Andrews started a tradition. She signed the head of the banjo, and the tradition continued. It wa eventually autographed by other Muppet guests including Roy Rogers, Gene Kelly, Johnny Cash, Diana Ross, Elton John, Peter Sellers and others.

The museum also has a event center looking like it is straight out of the 1960s called “Your Father’s Mustache.” There’s also an interactive Learning Lounge with touch screen displays where you can learn to play the banjo. Music lover or not, this museum is calling to you

Oklahoma City Rattlesnake Museum

African viper at Rattlesnake Museum in Oklahoma city

If you want a cross of weird and nature, you can find it at the Oklahoma City Rattlesnake Museum. It’s not fancy but it is interesting if you want to learn about reptiles. This museum has many different kinds of snakes. Not just rattlers but cobras and the biggest python I ever saw.

Cobra

There are the usual snakes you would find in Oklahoma woods like the diamondback rattler. Then there are the ones you won’t find in Oklahoma. One of the more unusual ones is a West African Gabon Viper. It’s only found in Sub Saharan Africa and had the largest fangs of any snake, about two inches. It has second highest venom yield of any snake next to the Malaysian King Cobra. You definitely don’t want to reach into his cage.

There are some other animals here besides snakes like lizards and a giant tortoise. Another interesting creature is called the Goliath bird-eating spider.  They are members of the tarantula family and the largest spider in the world. In spite of its name, it rarely eats birds.

This is s donations only museum but remember the snakes, and their owners, need to eat so be generous. It’s not a place for the squeamish but very interesting.

Oklahoma City is a place to put on your bucket list.

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Written by Kathleen Walls

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