History Worth Exploring
Any stay in Oklahoma City can be enriched with a visit to one of its history museums. The offerings are quality and diverse, and each presents some aspect of the region, people and achievements.
A wonderful place to start exploring the state’s history is the Oklahoma History Center, celebrating 10 years in its architecturally dynamic building near the state Capitol. A new major exhibition, the “Crossroads of Commerce,” touts the state’s business history from the late 1600s up to current times. This colorful, immersive exhibit features an array of artifacts, including several original signs from commercial enterprises. Explore the permanent collection showcasing the state’s history and be sure to view the exhibit highlighting the 38 federally recognized American Indian tribes currently associated with Oklahoma. Native American history is one of the most requested subjects.
The Oklahoma Hall of Fame at the Gaylord-Pickens Museum tells the story of the state’s people. Learn how the heritage of Oklahoma sons and daughters like pilot Wiley Post, singer Reba McEntire and astronaut Shannon Lucid contributed to their accomplishments. Induction into the Hall of Fame is regarded as the state’s highest honor. Here Oklahomans past and present, famous and not-so-famous, paint a picture of the state’s history in their portrayal of the five characteristics of Oklahomans — perseverance, pioneer spirit, optimism, generosity and individualism. In this restored, stately 1920s building with a rich history of its own, find inspiration and pride in the nation’s 46th state. In addition to its annual Hall of Fame Induction Banquet, the museum hosts an annual Statehood Day Festival each November with family-friendly activities and free admission.
The 45th Infantry Division Museum features wide-ranging collections covering from the Revolutionary War era to today’s Oklahomans and their current involvement in the War on Terror. Highlights include one of the finest collections of American military weapons and original drawings by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin whose characters, Willie and Joe, chronicled the lives of infantrymen in World War II. The 45th Division Museum’s 15-acre park features tanks, artillery, personnel carriers, aircraft and the Thunderbird Monument. This tribute is to soldiers who served in World War II and Korea, as well as those who continue to serve in Oklahoma’s National Guard. Nearing a century in existence, the 45th Infantry has strong ties to Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum preserves and embodies the histories and cultures of the American West, part of the nation’s identity and heritage. Explore the vast, diverse history and artistry of the American West through fine art and artifacts, educational classes and demonstrations. The museum is large, making it possible to spend several hours or return for additional visits. Permanent and temporary exhibitions are boosted by a variety of events, including the annual Western Family Weekend and National Day of the American Cowboy. Each summer, visitors delight in a prestigious contemporary art exhibition and sale known as Prix de West.
In the shadow of the state Capitol, you will find a chance to step back in time at the Historic Harn Homestead Museum. With a stop at this scenic outdoor complex, learn about territorial life in Oklahoma on property claimed during one of the famed land runs that led to settlement. You are welcome any time during public hours, which vary by season. Check out the schedule for guided tours of the Queen-Anne style, Victorian home, which take 30 to 60 minutes. For true old-fashioned fun, pack a picnic for the beautiful outdoor setting.
A departure from a traditional museum, the Red Earth Art Center in downtown Oklahoma City represents the state’s Native American heritage, primarily through contemporary art. The center is located next to Oklahoma City’s historic Skirvin Hilton Hotel and within walking distance of the Cox Convention Center, where the nonprofit presents the annual Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival each June. The center offers original Native American artwork for purchase, including paintings, jewelry, pottery, beadwork and other items. Also on exhibit are some items from a permanent collection of fine art, pottery, basketry, textiles and beadwork. Red Earth Art Center enhances the cultural climate for residents and visitors alike.
Oklahoma City’s history museums are scattered in different locations, adding to their ease-of-access and appeal. Sampled in combination with the art, science, children’s and zoological offerings, they constitute well-rounded entertainment and educational attractions that make the city a wonderful destination for weekend getaways and extended stays.