Cool Stuff in the Oklahoma History Center

Oklahoman Published: November 20, 2005
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Oklahoma is a young state, and its history was made by our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Both the everyday and the unusual objects displayed at the Oklahoma History Center give us a glimpse into how they lived.


The world through Clara Luper's lenses
The glasses worn by civil rights activist Clara Luper during the 1950s
Gallery: Kerr-McGee

The Katz Drug Store counter where sit-ins led to desegregation of Oklahoma City's public accommodations is re-created, but diversity curator Bruce Fisher longed for a genuine artifact from the 1958 sit-ins by the NAACP Youth Council.

Enter Calvin Luper, son of Clara Luper, a civil rights activist who successfully sued to desegregate Oklahoma City Public Schools.

"He said, 'Man, I think I've got just what you need,' " Fisher recalled of a conversation last summer. "He disappears into a back room and comes out with this pair of glasses. I recognized them immediately."

The distinctive glasses, now resting on a pedestal in the museum, were the ones Clara Luper wore during the first sit-ins in 1958.

"You don't forget, you know?" said Calvin Luper, who was 12 when his mother organized the sit-ins that drew television and newspaper cameras. "I remember the shine on them. All the pictures, you'll see that shine," he said.

Clara Luper did not know her son had donated the glasses until a reporter called. Was she angry? She laughed.

"Basically, I'm a historian. And if that will kind of give information on that period in history, I don't mind. I'm honored."


Plowing the fields with a Case
1930s Case tractor.
Gallery: Noble Foundation Gallery.

It took William S. Donley four years to save enough to buy a Case tractor, while his family drove around in a Pontiac clunker long past its prime.

The year was 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression, and Donley's tractor was the first purchased within a 5-mile radius of his Custer County Farm.

"Dad wanted a Case because it was the best tractor around and not a 'Poppin' Johnny,' like a John Deere," said John Donley, William Donley's son.

The family farmed 320 acres of alfalfa hay, corn, cotton and wheat, and John Donley said the tractor allowed his family to put more land under cultivation than would be possible with horses. The family used the tractor through the 1950s.

Curator Mike Adkins said people came from miles around just to watch the Case at work.

The museum acquired the tractor almost five years ago and restored it for display.


Watch your head
A racing helmet worn in an accident by local businessman and Indy-car owner John Zink.
Gallery: Inasmuch and Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundations.

If it weren't for this white racing helmet, the United Way and Boy Scouts wouldn't be the same. John "Jack" Zink would have died 43 years early.

The helmet on display saved Zink, a businessman and Indy-car owner, who won the Indianapolis 500 in 1955 and 1956. The race car is displayed nearby. Zink was test driving a car on his ranch in 1962 when the throttle acted up, the car flew off the track at 100 mph, hit a ditch and flipped and tumbled.

Zink walked away, thanks to the helmet, said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society and Zink biographer.

"It's cracked open like somebody took a hammer to it," Blackburn said. "It's a symbol for his belief that too many young men were dying in race cars. In the '50s ... it wasn't considered macho."

Zink went on to become chairman of the United Way's campaign in 1988. He grew the Zink ranch into a central place for the Scouts and built plants in eight countries for The John Zink Co.

He was inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in May 2004. He died in February at 76.

"This is one of the giants in race car history," Blackburn said.

'Tonite! At the Capri Lounge, Loretta Haggers'
The outfit worn by Mary Kay Place on "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman."
Gallery: Inasmuch and Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundations.

Mary Kay Place, who was born in Tulsa and graduated from the University of Tulsa, won an Emmy for her comic role as country-and-western-star wannabe Loretta Haggers on the 1976-78 satirical soap opera, "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman."

The broad-brimmed western hat, fancy-tooled boots and red cowgirl vest and skirt Place wore are displayed.

Place wore the cowgirl outfit on the cover of the country-and-western musical album, "Tonite! At the Capri Lounge, Loretta Haggers," which she recorded in her TV character's persona.

The 1976 album was nominated for a Grammy.


Throw me a lifeline
Pilot's World War II life vest.
Gallery: Kerr-McGee.

The sketch of an American Indian decorates the life vest.

This exhibit shows the history center is about more than just famous people, said Jeff Briley, the center's assistant director.

The vest -- known as a Mae West because its curves evoke the image of the figure possessed by the film star -- was used by Oklahoma native Harry Hanna in 1945 to rescue a fellow Navy pilot shot down in the Pacific Ocean during World War II.

Hanna, a successful oil and gas engineer after the war, tossed his own vest to the downed pilot, allowing him to stay afloat until rescuers arrived.

Hanna, who wore the decorated vest because of his Cherokee heritage, also repelled Japanese attackers until help could get to the pilot, even though his own plane was low on fuel.


A barrel of supper
Pork barrel, provisioning the military circa 1838.

Gallery: Kerr-McGee.

The pork barrel shows a staple of the frontier diet in the 1830s.

Museum director Dan Provo said the barrel was recovered 166 years after the steamship Heroine sank in the Red River in 1838. The ship contained 242 barrels of pork -- each of which contained two pigs, packed in lard. About a half-dozen barrels have been recovered from the sunken wreckage.

Part of a barrel and the remains of a pig from inside are displayed alongside other artifacts and a video about the sinking. The discovery helped historians learn about military provisions, including what parts were not included, such as ears, snouts and hooves.


There she blows
The blown-out valve from the Wild Mary Sudik.
Gallery: Kerr-McGee.

The mangled remains of one of the state's most famous oil wells is a reminder both of Oklahoma's oil-field heritage and of the innovations it spawned.

In 1930, this valve was part of the No. 1 Mary Sudik oil well in south Oklahoma City that blew in March, spewing oil as far away as Norman for 12 days as crews worked frantically to cap the angry gusher.


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