In 2006, I went to work for the Sapulpa Daily Herald as an assistant editor. Having earned a journalism degree the year before, I was wet behind the ears and hungry for story ideas. One of the first tips I received was to visit the Sapulpa Historical Museum, a three-floor historical building filled with exhibits, artifacts and tiny dioramas depicting the past and present of Sapulpa, a suburb of Tulsa and the Creek County seat.
The museum was located across the street from the paper’s office, and one afternoon, free of interviews, I meandered through the alley, the old downtown buildings and across Lee Street to the door of the museum. I was greeted by Doris Yocham, director of the museum and the keeper of Sapulpa’s history.
Doris walked me through the museum, pointing out exhibits representing the city’s first jail, one-room schoolhouses and the Euchee Mission Boarding School, which stood where the present-day high school is. There are rooms dedicated to famous Sapulpans, to the area’s boom-and-bust oil fields and the city’s rich history in the railroad industry.
Doris was the one who told me about Chief Sapulpa, the city’s namesake, who likely wasn’t a chief at all, and pointed out where he was buried. She informed me of legendary cowboy Gene Autry’s short stay in Sapulpa. She educated me on Jimmie Wilson’s Catfish String Band, a Sapulpa group that broadcast its music live on KVOO “from the shores of the Polecat Creek,” which was actually his living room.
The large building’s three stories are dedicated to the history of this small city of 20,544 in Creek County. That’s a lot of history. Each city, town and village in Oklahoma has its own unique stories, legends and myths. When we speak of museums, we often think of the ones that house world-renowned art, sculpture, bones or other relics. But there are also countless, smaller museums that tell the stories of who we are, where we live, how we got to where we are today.
Last year, I had the opportunity to research the state’s museums and dig up objects that helped shape Oklahoma’s history, heritage and culture. During that research, I found some museums in the state that surprised me. A national museum dedicated to pigeons; an art museum in Idabel that boasts one of the largest Amazonian ethnographic collections in the world; a mobile weather museum; a museum dedicated to bones – all these and more exist within the state’s borders.
In “15 Museums You Have to See to Believe” (p.80), we introduce you – or re-introduce you – to some of the most unusual, unique and underrated museums in the state.
There are hundreds of museums in Oklahoma, and it is more than likely that there is at least one within a short drive’s distance from where you are now. Take advantage of these museums and those that help curate its exhibits and information. Learn about your city’s history and heritage. Enjoy these last wisps of summer, while learning a little.