Growing up as a kid in Claremore, my childhood was full of “boring” field trips to all the lame museums for “old people,” like the gun museum and the Memorial.
As an adult, I know that here in Claremore, we have been given a couple of gifts, in the forms of the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum and the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. And now, the Claremore Museum of History and the Oklahoma Military Academy Museum.
Back in my elementary school days at First Baptist Christian School (now Legacy Christian School), we took what seemed like hundreds of trips to the gun museum. (I’m sure it was only three, or so.) As kids, and especially girls, we were more interested in playing hide-and-seek between the displays than admiring the amazing collection that is on display.
I visited the gun museum in 2014 for the first time in at least 10 years, on my first mission to donate blood. The blood drive was stationed in the Claremore Room. (Oh, beware…when you round the corner to enter the Claremore Room, there’s a huge statue of a horse that will scare the bejesus out of you if you’re not prepared.) The Claremore Room is full of….well, Claremore memorabilia. It’s pretty interesting, actually, and features plenty of photographs from “old school Claremore.” It’s impressive how long some of our current businesses have been in operation. Unfortunately, I was distracted by the whole “life juice being sucked out of my body,” so I didn’t stay and browse. But if you haven’t been to the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum in a while, you should. It’s incredible how many weapons are in that building. Museum director Wayne McCombs is a kind man who would be happy to show you around.
I have a contact at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum, assistant director Jake Krumwiede (now head boss at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch), who has helped me several times during my time at moreClaremore. He’s my go-to when I need a photo of a long-lost Will Rogers relative.
When I started working at moreClaremore nearly five years ago, it had been many moons since I’d been to the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. As a kid, it was always just “there.” I remember tagging along with my folks when they would cater events as It’s the Pits BBQ, and I remember knowing director Joe Carter, and his wife Michelle. On one occasion, an author who had written a book about Will came to eat at The Pits, and on my bookshelf I have an autographed copy of this book with a personal note to me. My big sister got married in the sunken garden while a bagpiper played on the hill. There are so many memories of the Memorial in my childhood…just “there.”
My favorite parts of the museum as a kid were the darkened room full of the dioramas depicting scenes from Will’s life, and the room modeled after his study, because it had a button you could push and hear his voice. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that the front room is no longer home to those dioramas and visitors can’t push the button to hear Will’s voice anymore.
What I did discover, on my first real trip to the Memorial as an adult, was that we have a world-class exhibit that is a testament to Oklahoma’s Favorite Son. Honestly, as a kid, I wasn’t interested in Will Rogers. Most kids aren’t. But now, I can truly appreciate what a great man he was, and it’s unfortunate that the world lost him so soon.
I was concerned about the lack of dioramas. Jake was quick to inform me that they weren’t gone, they had just moved. He directed me to a new part of the museum where they now live, and wow…it’s much more impressive than it used to be. The room that looks like Will’s California ranch study is still there, minus that button. (Former museum employee Bart told me a story involving Will’s globe that literally gave me chills. Ask me and I’ll tell you.) But now, across the hall, sits a new exhibit, which plays reels of Will’s radio shows, so visitors can still hear his voice. There is a small theatre room where Will’s movies play every day, all day.
The museum’s newest exhibit is morbidly interesting, called The Final Journey. It takes visitors through the timeline of that fateful Alaskan flight with aviator Wiley Post. There is a model of the plane, and photos of both men (did you know Wiley Post had an eye patch?!), but perhaps most haunting is the case full of Will’s belongings that were collected at the crash site. Newspaper clippings adorn the walls, pondering what exactly happened that cold stormy night near Point Barrow.
I ran short on time during that first visit, but I learned there is a children’s museum on the lower level. I have no idea how long it’s been there; you’d think as a child I would have seen it, but I never have. So maybe it’s not as old as I am. (Update: Under the leadership of new executive director Tad Jones, the children’s museum is getting some TLC. Also, it was NOT there when I was a child, so I wasn’t just wildly unobservant. Now, my 4-year-old loves it.)
I was also able to see what I jokingly referred to as the “inner sanctum”, where the employee offices are located, as well as a Will Rogers research library. There is also a really neat spiral staircase.
I’m sure it’s a normal reaction, but I’m ashamed at the fact that I have taken so much for granted involving Claremore’s culture. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to correct the error of my ways, and to take advantage of what our town has to offer.
The Claremore Museum of History is a spectacular little jewel of a museum, located in the former Will Rogers Library at Gazebo Park. It’s open on Saturdays from 11a – 3p and features a stunning exhibit on Lynn Riggs.
Folks, next time you catch yourself complaining about the lack of activities in Claremore, think about the last time you visited one of the museums. Or take a drive out to Oologah and visit the Will Rogers Birthplace. It’s not too late.
Keep it local, Claremore.