Small towns produce some amazing people.
Today we spent a little more time in Kansas, and stopped briefly in the town of Howard to find their post office. It’s Kansas, after all, so they jumped on the Oz theme for decorations. Cute, right? (Did you know Frank Baum never actually visited Kansas?) At any rate, the town is named for a favorite son who was a Civil War general and who founded Howard University in Washington D.C. Not too shabby!
And then we aimed for the town of Sedan KS, speaking of the Land of Oz. The city fathers at one time decided to pave their street with yellow bricks, or so say all the guidebooks. They were sure that would draw crowds. Well, we came and only accidentally found out that the “yellow” bricks were actually on a sidewalk, and not for a very long distance. But as we were looking around the town, two guys jumped out of a car, looked at the sidewalk for five minutes, and then left. Guess it is a magnet of sorts. We had actually stopped there primarily because Sedan is the home of Emmett Kelly, of clown fame. The Emmett Kelly museum decided to close today – gone fishing – but in looking around, we could only imagine what would lead an ambitious young man to jump on the first circus wagon coming through. No offense, Sedan.
And then it was on to another Laura Ingalls Wilder shrine – the actual site of the Little House on the Prairie. The house is someone else’s of the era, but the view is equally…well, plain. Not much in sight. However, based on the historical record, I suspect the road we drove on is the same path the Indians trod as they left their native land for the reservation. This was a dramatic scene in the book, as the Ingalls family stood on their front step and watched them walk and ride by in silent single file.
Next was Bartelsville OK, where not that many years later, another son of the prairies constructed a marvel of the time – a ‘skyscraper’ – and a real departure from his normal emphasis on the horizontal. We couldn’t see much inside, but we could admire the outside of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Building, which still dwarfs its neighbors. Striking and still identifiably FLW.
Then it was off to the birthplace of the indisputable favorite son of Oklahoma – Will Rogers. I was bit disconcerted when an ancient (aka older than I) docent asked me with great curiosity how I had heard of Will Rogers. I could only offer – “Because I am an American?” I mean, what kind of question was that? But it seems that many people stop in to the big museum clueless as to who was being lionized there. Sigh.
Oh well. We began at the birthplace, which we found after going through some not-too-impressive farms. I had rather expected to hear about Will’s’ humble beginnings and isolated childhood. But no. While he did live on a ranch, it was no small deal, as his grandfather had helped chart the founding of Kansas and was a respected state leader. The Rogers house was always full of people and discussions of the issues of the day, and young Will even went to boarding school in Missouri as a child. The Rogers family was Oklahoma royalty before there even was an Oklahoma, and certainly before Will was even born.
Yes, his mother and father were both part Cherokee, and the family was always very proud of their native American roots. A freed slave on the ranch once taught Will some very fancy rope tricks, which stood him well as he started on the rodeo circuit. He became quite popular as he started talking and quipping with the audiences, eventually becoming known as the “poet lariat.” A smart, funny and nice guy who became a movie star, radio star, journalist, and all-around all-American humorist.
Let’s start with the farm, which was quite impressive for its time.
In the nearby town of Claremore, there is the Will Rogers Museum. This town also happens to be the location for the setting of the musical Oklahoma! Not too bad, especially when you consider the theme song is now the state anthem. Oklahomans have a tendency to stand when it is being played in theatres.
This museum holds quite a collection of Rogers memorabilia, covering his entire career and even his untimely and unfortunate death in a small plane while vacationing in Alaska. You may not know the man, but his humor and style continue to endear him to millions.