Monday, August 25, 2014

Best Of The West

The last attraction I visited while in Oklahoma City was the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. It seemed to be completely removed from most of everything else in Oklahoma City...or at least the Bricktown area I spent a large portion of my OKC time in. When I entered the museum, I was warmly greeted by a gentleman dressed in a cowboy outfit who apparently took a liking to me right away because we chit-chatted for nearly 20 minutes. He gave me his "business card", and it names him as Mr. Jerry Lee Tyner, BRS. Old West Aficionado, Serendipity Songster. How cool is that?!

This really got you in the mood for the rest of the museum! Kudos!
Turns out he was a docent, and he told me all sorts of facts about the museum and artifacts in it. Most of the conversation focused on a giant white statue directly behind us that depicts a Native American atop a bronco. It's an item featured often in materials about the museum, and when you see it in person, you are going to be simply breathless at how huge it actually is. Turns out it's nearly 100 years old, and the man who posed for the sculptor also posed for the Native profile on the buffalo nickel. How the sculpture ended up in the museum was an interesting (and lengthy) tale about World's Fairs, far away little towns, bureaucratic battles, bronze replacements, and the struggle to preserve plaster that was taken apart for decades.

From here, it gets a little complicated. See, this museum is HUGE. A LOT bigger than it appears to be. The above pictured statue sits in the middle of the east and west wings. I'll talk about the east wing first since I spent the least amount of time there. That's where the cafeteria is, as well as a gallery of Western art the museum has purchased over the years. There's a giant statue of Abraham Lincoln, a smaller bronze one of John Wayne, and some newer artifacts that have recently been acquired by the museum. However, most of the gallery space lies behind Lincoln, and no photography is allowed there, so I didn't go in.

The west wing, however, was PACKED with information and things to see. Even at a slightly hurried pace I didn't get to see it all. It seemed every time I tried to backtrack I found myself in a new room with more artifacts, paintings, or exhibits that taught me about another aspect of Western American culture.

There were areas that showed various Native American clothing:

A section that talked about television westerns (I'm a Rawhide and Big Valley fan myself) where I learned about the first and only African American western star Herb Jeffries aka "The Bronze Buckaroo" (he recently passed this past May at the age of 100):

An area that talked about the history, sport, and evolution of the American rodeo:

A small section that seemed to depict hunting in the early days of the frontier:

A very well done section that discussed the military, including the contributions of African Americans, Native Americans, and women:

A very expansive section that talked about the "basics" of cowboy culture (like different types of hats, rope ties, horses, saddles, etc.) as well as the different kind of cowboys there were. This was an area I wish I would have spent more time in:

There was even an interactive "town" where you could walk in and out of different shops and listen to a shopkeeper tell you about what their average day is like. It was very similar to the McKinley Memorial and Museum I visited in Canton, Ohio except it was larger, newer, and didn't have creepy mannequins incorporated into the shop areas:

There was also a very large gallery full of smaller statues and gorgeous paintings depicting western scenes. One painting in particular had pinks and blues so vibrant and, almost neon looking that I was sure it was a modern piece....but was painted in 1916! No photos allowed in there, and as we know, I (usually) follow the rules. There are also outdoor gardens, but as I was running out of time, my camera battery was dying, and it was over 100 degrees outside, I didn't go and wander about.

This museum was beautiful, and very well put together. But what I loved most was how much I learned there. Did you know that there were cowboys in Hawaii and Canada? I sure didn't. I also learned a lot about the more obscure parts of American history, and about the cultural and economic impact this had on our developing nation. You can go over more than 200 years of history in about two hours, and I think that's pretty cool. I also appreciated that multiple cultures were featured, and that both men and women were portrayed throughout the museum. I also enjoyed that rather than having the material portrayed as a "cowboy versus Indian" theme, both topics were blended throughout without lessening their individual importance. If you have two or three hours to spare in OKC, do yourself a favor and visit this truly amazing and unique museum.

 Well, I thought I was done with Oklahoma but it turns out I have one last very brief entry to go- my first meal at Sonic! I'll try to get that out before this weekend- after all I'll be headed to a "new" state: Georgia! (I put those quotes there because I actually used to live in Atlanta for a very brief period of time...but never ever did any touristy stuff. Shame on me!)

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog. As always, you can check out my pictures on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and I'll see you on the next adventure!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My First American Tragedy

I was a freshman in college in Washington, DC on September 11, 2001. You could see the smoke from the Pentagon quite clearly from my dorm room window. As one of the few people from Southwestern PA on campus, everyone was freaked out because before the specific town of Shanksville was named, news reports kept mentioning Pittsburgh as another plane crash site. This was a time before everyone and the dog had a cell phone (smart phone wasn't in the lexicon yet!), so there was some concern on my part as to exactly how close all of this was going to directly affect me. It was the first major incident to occur in my adult life- but it was not the first American tragedy I could remember.

Dropping a lil' patriotism for ya...
Image from
The first major incident of American tragedy in my lifetime that I can actively remember was the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. I was in middle school, and it was my birthday. I'm the nerd that had a morning routine of watch the Today Show with Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric. The entire morning was coverage of the events that had happened the day before- pictures of the building nearly completely gone, people asking about where their lost loves ones could be, everyone asking how and why this event happened. (Note: it was the day after that I learned about it because I was already in school by the time the bombing occurred). As a kid, I knew that something bad had happened, and that the city looked a complete mess, but I couldn't fully grasp the magnitude of the events. My mom was glued to the TV- I watched and tried to understand, but the concepts of such devastation were a bit too much for me to comprehend. 

I mean...yikes!
Image from
Enter the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. When I knew I would be going to OKC, I told myself if NOTHING else, I wanted to go to this museum and learn about this event as an adult that can now fully appreciate what happened.

Walking into the Memorial
West Gate with the minute after the bombing marked.
The outdoor memorial was absolutely breathtaking. The first thing I thought about was the long stretch of memorials in DC. I later learned that the reflecting pool is the actual spot where the bombed Federal Building stood.The two large entryways represent the east and west ends of the building- one impressed with 9:01 the other with 9:03. These represent the minutes before and after the bombing that occurred at 9:02 am April 19, 1995. There are brass chairs to the side of the pool representing the 168 lives lost that day.

Art that was on display inside of the Murrah Building
Once you get inside the museum and get to the floor where your self led tour will start, you enter a room filled with art and everyday items that explain how ordinary that morning began. You learn about all the government agencies that had meetings and what the meetings were to discuss- all pretty mundane things. A guide is standing near a door with a timed entry. When you enter, you walk into a dimly lit room set up like a very boring office. I'll let you see what happens:

Let me first say I hope I'm not breaking any laws or major rules posting that- I thought it was very creative, moving, and special and really wanted to remember it always and share it with my readers.

From there another set of doors open and you enter a room with loud news reports declaring that the building has exploded, and above your head is an actual support beam from the former Federal Building. Display cases feature like items that were found in the aftermath- most of whose owners perished in the bombing. 

Simulated office with a clock that stopped at exactly 9:02am
Keys found after the bombing
The rest of the museum takes you through the initial shock- how loved ones and so many children were killed or injured. There are films, photos, clothing items- many smeared in dirt and tattered. It was all very emotional and powerful-- but most of all respectful. Even when they got to the areas that discussed how Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols carried this act out, the museum portrays just the facts and allows the visitor to develop and process their own emotions. Perhaps the most moving things I remember were seeing part of the actual vehicle used in the bombings, and then later a memorial room where all the victims were pictured with items their families selected to represent their loved ones. I thought it was a touching reminder that these were people that had personalities, quirks, and were still very much so missed by their families. 

License plate from the vehicle used to bomb the Murrah Building
At the end, they added some non-historical education with an exhibition dedicated to the science behind the crime scene investigation- I didn't spend too much time here as I needed to get moving to my next destination, but it seemed a lot more hands on and had more detailed information about the trial and convictions of the criminals who did this heinous act. 

Words cannot explain how moved I was by my experience here. This story, although I knew the bare bones details, seemed to truly grow and develop in front of me. I cried, felt a wide range of emotions, and actually felt a little pang of guilt that it took 19 years for me to truly "get" how serious this was. On top of that, the museum is BEAUTIFUL. I mean, the story is super well done, everything is clean and well maintained, the staff was friendly, and it was appropriately neutral. Yes, you are meant to feel emotions as you come through, but the museum doesn't tell you what those emotions should be, and I fully respect and appreciate that. 

American flags on display at the museum that survived the bombing

I encourage everyone to come and see this museum! 

(For the record, I do plan on going to see the 9/11 Museum in New York whenever I get there...but that's another day, another post!)

In the meantime, I still have a few Oklahoma posts to go, and as we know I'll be in a "new" state (Georgia!) for Labor Day weekend. Thank you so much for reading my blog, and as always I'll see you on the next adventure!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Beats N Burgers

So, the heart of the reason why I ended up in Oklahoma in the first place. If you remember last summer I went to Massachusetts and Rhode Island, states I was able to cover en route to the National Convention of Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity and Tau Beta Sigma National Honorary Band Sorority. I am a Life Member of Tau Beta Sigma, having joined at THE Eta Delta Chapter while playing clarinet in the marching, pep, and concert bands of Howard University.
That's me and my friend/ soror all first met her on my Illinois entries
I won't make this a post about the great feats and accomplishments of my organization, but I will say that sorority membership has allowed me to travel to many states and cities over the years. This time, my musical family brought me to the state of Oklahoma- where our National Headquarters is located. We gathered to dedicate a memorial garden in honor of our recently deceased founder Wava Banes Turner Henry.

That's Wava!
So, enough mushy mushy. Back to the reason you come to my blog! Stillwater is a city about an hour away from Oklahoma City. It's the home of Oklahoma State University, and again, the National Headquarters for our two organizations. I'll be honest, there wasn't a whole lot of ritzy glitzy stuff to do there- in fact it appeared most of the city was simply the campus of OSU, which is also THE largest campus of any school I've ever seen. Outside of the actual dedication ceremonies, most of my time spent in Stillwater was spent socializing with friends and fraternal family.


One place I did get to visit though was a spot called Eskimo Joe's. It was STUPID packed, and obviously owned by a super proud Republican- the owners have signed PERSONALIZED letters from both President Bushes and their wives hung in the gift shop. The letters mentioned their famous cheese fries- something that everyone said we should try. However, we weren't actually that hungry so my sorority sister and I ate very light meals.

Eskimo Joe's

I ordered an Oklahoma traditional food- an onion burger- although it wasn't called that on the menu. Onion burgers started decades ago as a way for restaurant owners to stretch their beef longer. Once beef prices dropped, many just kept it up because the burgers just tasted great that way. 

My onion burger
EJ's wasn't a disappointment. The food was good, and once we were seated we were served promptly by a super friendly waitress. We even got cute souvenir cups with our drink orders. In fact, minus the stupid long wait (which is not their fault) I have no complaints. I DO, however, have an observation. The logo for Eskimo Joe's (as a black woman who is very aware of race issues in my country) sorta bothered me. I mean- it's an Inuit person with huge teeth and squinty eyes. Granted, I am apparently the only person who noticed this. I mean, it would be the equivalent of having a Native American mascot with cherry red skin or an African American mascot with big pink lips and a watermelon slice in their hand. But. They've been around for 20+ years, and seemingly haven't needed to address this. More power to them. I don't think they are intending the image to be harmful or know. Kinda noticeable.

Also ironic they chose a cold weather mascot in a city that was 105 degrees the entire
time I was there lol
Well readers, I still have quite a few entries for Oklahoma, and God-and-finances willing I will be in Atlanta, Georgia in a few weeks. You KNOW I've already got my touristy plans brewing. Until then, thank you all so much for reading along for my journey, and as always, I'll see you on the next adventure!