Monday, May 12, 2008

Will Rogers Memorial

We walked into the imposing Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, OK, knowing not much more about the actor / humorist / writer / philosopher than that he “never met a man he didn’t like.” For the next three hours, we read excerpts from his two million words as a newspaper columnist, wandered among hundreds of photos and artifacts, watched clips from several films – some of which illustrated Rogers’ remarkable athletic ability and skill as a roper – and listened to some of his radio broadcasts.

When we left the museum, which is truly worthy of a president, we felt we had known this amazing man personally.

A life-size bronze statue of Rogers on horseback stands atop a limestone base in front of the museum, and in front of the family crypt, where Rogers, his wife and others in the family are buried. Inside the 20,000 square foot museum (which was dedicated in 1938), hundreds of exhibits tell the story of his life and untimely death at age 55.

Born in Indian Territory – what would later become Oklahoma – on November 4, 1879, William Penn Adair Rogers had been the first youngster in the territory to own a bicycle. After his first plane ride in 1915, Rogers decided flying was his preferred mode of travel. One quote repeated in the museum has Rogers saying, “If your time is worth anything, fly. Otherwise, you might just as well walk.”

The memorial to Rogers in Claremore, a dozen miles south of the Dog Iron Ranch in Oologah, where he had been born, is exceptional. The impressive facility is perched atop a 20-acre hilltop originally purchased with the intent of building his retirement home there. Following his death, his wife, Betty, donated the land for the memorial.

In addition to hundreds of exhibits, photos and memorabilia, videos run continually in nine galleries. They show a zany Rogers having breakfast with his family; acting in several of his movies; giving a radio broadcast; and hopping a remarkable two-step through a pair of twirling ropes – one in each hand. He’s also seen in one of his Ziegfeld Follies routines, and tossing three spinning rope lassos at a horse and rider, snaring them in a figure-eight pattern (this is absolutely mesmerizing). The films bring the man vividly to life, and help make you feel you knew him well – or at least wish you had.

This little statue was a plaster copy of an original by cowboy artist Charlie Russell. The bronze sat next to it in the museum case. The special thing about this plaster copy is that Charlie Russell hand-painted it himself and gave it to the family. The family quietly kept it to themselves, then donated it to this memorial. It is invaluable.

What a fine day in ... Our Life on Wheels!

1 comment:

  1. Jerry & Suzy,
    I got your instructions to try over the weekend at home but I have the old timey, very, very slow dial up connection at home and I don't even try to access anything from there. I wait til I get to work and check things on my break. This is the first chance I've had to try what you asked me to do. So here goes.


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