Will Rogers Memorial Museum Celebrates 75 years
Last month I took a pleasant drive up Route 66 for an entertaining and educational jaunt to the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in nearby Claremore, Oklahoma, just outside of the Tulsa metro area. The museum marked its “Diamond Jubilee”‘ 75th anniversary in September. Executive Director Steve Gragert greeted me and introduced me to the amazing collection of memorabilia from the life and legacy of our state’s very own cowboy, Mr. William Penn Adair Rogers.
Rogers was born in 1879, one of eight children of Indian Territory (later Oklahoma) ranchers Clement Vann Rogers and Mary Schrimsher. Growing up on Rogers Ranch, Will developed many talents, especially roping, which took him around the world doing roping tricks in Wild West shows. Rogers eventually toured with vaudeville acts and by the 1920s had become one of the most popular and famous Americans of the time. Rogers was an award-winning Broadway actor and film star, a daily newspaper columnist, a radio announcer, an influential political figure and a philosopher.
Route 66 News put it best, writing, “It is difficult to explain how popular Rogers was. He was the No. 1 movie star, the No. 1 radio commentator and the No. 1 newspaper columnist.” The article went on to say, “There’s little doubt he could have run for governor or president and won in a landslide.” And, many folks felt that way during his prime.
Highly regarded for his memorable, meaningful and moralistic quotes, one of Roger’s most often repeated statements was, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” His honest, “everyman” humor and simple wisdom struck a chord with people. His thousands of quotes, many of which were political in nature, are still applicable today.
Upon Roger‘s unexpected death at age 55 in a plane crash in Alaska, his devoted wife, Betty, donated the expansive family-owned property in Claremore to the state of Oklahoma exclusively for the development of a memorial museum in his honor. The 16,000+ square-foot, limestone, ranch-style building houses 12 galleries and includes numerous statues and bronze sculptures, Western paintings, and an international saddle collection. It also has two movie theaters, which play documentaries and a complete schedule of Rogers’ 71 films. In addition, visitors can experience a diorama made of miniature figurines and an impressive interactive children’s section. Children enter the area by traveling through a time tunnel where colorful wall murals bring to light the evolution of Oklahoma history. The tunnel deposits them into a large room with a theater stage, props, costumes and child-friendly displays of various stages of Rogers’ life from childhood into adulthood.
Before I left, I made a point to admire the vistas from the beautifully manicured grounds. The museum sits on a hill overlooking historic Claremore. A striking life-size statue, “Riding into the Sunset” by Electra Waggoner, depicts the spirit of Rogers riding proudly on his horse. The property is also the burial site of Will and Betty Rogers and three of their four children.
As the holidays approach, now might just be the perfect time to celebrate Rogers’ 75th Anniversary and to learn about his great influence on Oklahoma and on our country. Take the children, relatives and friends who may be traveling in to see you during this season to visit the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. The experience is sure to leave y’all with a good warm and fuzzy feeling.
As Rogers once said, “What constitutes a life well spent, anyway? Love and adoration from your fellow men is all that anyone can ask.” Your family and friends will sure love you for bringing this opportunity to them. It is truly a remarkable place honoring a remarkable man.