Oh, what a story. If only it were true.
The story was that Oklahoma's first post-territorial governor stole the state seal in the dead of night, drove from Guthrie to Oklahoma City, stashed the seal under his hotel bed and collapsed from exhaustion.
Legends surround the removal of the seal in 1910, and the truth - not nearly as colorful - has been washed by the passage of time.
So nobody really knows exactly how Oklahoma City became the state capital a bit earlier, shall we say, than expected.
Dirty laundry is how one source says it happened. Dirty tricks is how Guthrie partisans saw it.
W.B. Anthony, who was Gov. Charles Haskell's secretary in the days when men were secretaries and women did the wash, said he smuggled the seal out of Guthrie's interim capitol building in a bundle of clothing.
This was in the wee hours of June 12, 1910. Anthony later told an historian that he drove to Guthrie in a car rented for the purpose by the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.
Arriving at 3 a.m., Anthony told a guard he needed to retrieve some laundry in an office. The seal had earlier been concealed in the clothing. The drive back to the new capital city took three hours, owing as one history book puts it to "rutted, red dirt roads through the blackjacks. "
Stolen Seal Finds Home The trip north had actually taken longer because of a flat tire at Seward. Back in Oklahoma City by 7 a.m., Anthony met Gov. Haskell, who arrived that Sunday morning by train from his home in Muskogee.
Haskell declared the capital was now Oklahoma City, and the seat of government was planted in the Lee-Huckins Hotel pending erection of a capitol building.
The fight continued, though, between boosters for Oklahoma City and Guthrie even as the winning city had to referee a debate on where the Capitol should go.
"No incident in Oklahoma history," wrote historian Irvin Hurst, "is more befogged by legend and distortions than the removal of the capital ... When it reached a dramatic climax in the spectacular pre-dawn flight of W.B. Anthony with the great seal of the state, it was difficult to tell which was the more surprised, Guthrie, hurt and seething over the 'stolen' capital, or Oklahoma City, jubilant but unprepared for the sudden transfer. " The Oklahoman, whose young business manager, E.K. Gaylord, had been one of the strongest partisans for Oklahoma City as capital, seemed caught off guard by the sudden transfer. He put out an extra and later opined in an editorial that the newspaper "rather regrets that this situation has arisen. " Guthrie's newspaper editors expressed more than regrets. "Czar Charles Issues His Imperial Ukase at New State 'Capital,' " went a red-lettered headline in the Oklahoma State Capital, a suddenly misnamed newspaper.
For you youngsters under age 80, a "ukase" is an edict issued by an emperor.
Legislators Lead Capital Fight Removal of the seal capped a colorful era in Oklahoma politics as the young state's Legislature obsessed over which city got what state money. Sound familiar?
The controversy had begun as far back as May 1, 1890, with approval in Congress of legislation establishing a government for the Oklahoma Territory. The law simply said Guthrie would be the place the first territorial Legislature met.
That first Legislature spent 100 days debating the matter of what city would be the capital. Legislators spent 10 days on the rest of the public's business.
All told, this battle spanned 20 years - even before the courts got involved.
The forerunner of the Oklahoma State Senate voted 14 to 12 for the Oklahoma City plan, but angry Guthrie boosters swarmed the halls where the territorial solons were sitting. Reportedly, an Oklahoma County representative was forced to flee through a back window and hide in a nearby meat market.
Territorial Gov. George W. Steele vetoed the measure. Guthrie partisans were instrumental in getting Congress to block the capital change every two years from 1892-98, Hurst wrote in his 1957 book, "The 46th Star. " "Thus Congress maintained the status quo until 1906," Hurst wrote, "when Bird McGuire of Pawnee, then the delegate in Congress, again came to Guthrie's rescue with a proviso in the Enabling Act that the capital should remain in Guthrie until 1913. " The Enabling Act led to statehood in 1907. At the resultant constitutional convention, the capital question came up again but Haskell, one of the leaders, shut it down. Delegates turned down an invitation from Oklahoma City boosters to take a chartered train to the future capital for a banquet in their honor.
No record exists of a group of Oklahoma politicos ever again rejecting a junket.
The New Jerusalem Later, William H. "Alfalfa Bill" Murray proposed buying a township for the capital. He proposed selling lots around the capitol building and said the chosen place should have "good drainage and a picturesque grandeur. " This and similar plans became known as the "new Jerusalem" approach to the capital - creating an entirely new city on the prairie with construction of the Capitol funded by the platting and selling of lots.
On Nov. 3, 1908, an election was held on a state question calling for the acquisition of a capital site and the selling of lots to finance construction of the Capitol. Although more voters than not approved the measure, it did not pass by the necessary majority.
Over the next few months, the see-saw between Oklahoma City and Guthrie rocked both cities. Gaylord was appointed chairman of a Chamber of Commerce subcommittee on the capital project. Petitions calling for an election on two proposals were circulated. One proposed a choice between Oklahoma City, Guthrie and Shawnee.
Both petitions were presented to the secretary of state on July 21, 1909. Hurst, a long-time writer for the Oklahoma City Times, said there followed allegations of conspiracy involving suppression by Oklahoma City papers of the news that the petitions had been filed.
This could have prevented Guthrie partisans from protesting the legitimacy of the petitions within the normal protest period.
Lawsuits followed, but in the end Secretary of State Bill Cross certified the petition calling for the people's choice among Oklahoma City, Guthrie and Shawnee.
Guthrie boosters immediately claimed the action was unconstitutional and said it would permit "a commission of town lot boomers to select the site for the capital and erect the capitol building. " Oklahoma City partisans responded that the proposal was "fair in every particular. " Hurst, in a 1990 interview, said Haskell "pretended to be neutral" but his actual stance in today's bumper-sticker parlance could be stated as "ABG," or "Anywhere but Guthrie. " Haskell, said Hurst, "always implied that he had voted for Shawnee. " When he signed a proclamation calling for a special election on the matter, Haskell crossed out the original election date of June 14, a Tuesday, and changed it to the preceding Saturday.
That meant election results would not be available until the next day, a Sunday, when Guthrie partisans could not find a court open to file for an injunction to stop the transfer of government.
Despite his pretense of neutrality, Hurst said, Haskell, a Democrat, had been stung by barbed criticism in Guthrie's Republican newspaper. Sound familiar? Also, "drunken hoodlums" in the city's Elks Club had mutilated a picture of Haskell, and territorial Gov. Frank Frantz (a Republican) "acted the jackass" by refusing to participate in Haskell's inauguration ceremonies, a Guthrie paper reported.
Oklahoma City sent out trainloads of boosters to canvass the state on June 5. The following Saturday, 160,000 voters - all of them male - went to the polls. Oklahoma City won handily. Guthrie was second and Shawnee a distant third.
In 1910, Oklahoma City had 64,205 people, a 94 percent increase from its population just three years earlier at statehood. In the same years, Guthrie's population was virtually unchanged.
The election sealed more than the site of the capital. Oklahoma City went on to become a major metropolis while Guthrie's development was frozen in time. The latter city's charm resulted from its loss of the seat of the government, but by 1990 it was on the verge of becoming a bedroom community for Oklahoma City.
At 11 p.m. on June 11, 1910, Anthony set out for Guthrie to retrieve the state seal. Along for the ride was a young public relations man named Luther Harrison who had no idea what the purpose of the trip was. Harrison went on to write editorials for The Oklahoman during a 30-year career.
Accounts vary on how the seal was taken. One says it was daylight when the men arrived in Guthrie; another says it was 3 a.m. The laundry story may or not be true, as another account places the seal in a vault.
Whatever the story, there was subterfuge involved - there was nothing in the election petition about changing the capital until a capitol building was completed, and the Enabling Act had clearly named Guthrie the capital until at least 1913.
The Supreme Court remained in Guthrie for some time, and one historian says 50 armed guards were placed at the former seat of government to protect what was left.
The high court would later declare the election invalid, but it was too late. The capital had been moved, and it was now up the Legislature to make it official.
Selection of a capitol site began immediately. The area of Oklahoma City now known as Capitol Hill was a possibility but sentiment soon moved toward a site 2.5 miles northeast of downtown Oklahoma City.
The site at NE 22 and its juncture with a half-section line road now known as Lincoln Boulevard won over all other proposals. The Putnam site was deemed too far from the railroad station; besides, critics said, it was north of a new packing plant and the prevailing winds from the south would create a less than desirable odor.
Over the years, the aroma from the Capitol itself has reached to the four corners of the state from its central location. Oklahoma City agreed to put up $1 million to build a proper Capitol.
Original plans called for a mile-long approach to the Capitol from the south. It was to be an area of sunken gardens, fountains and benches - perhaps a remnant of the "new Jerusalem" plan.
When completed in 1917, the Capitol rose from the prairie without a dome and sans the garden plans. With the nation entering the automobile age, the south approach was later given over to parking lots and the oil derricks that make for good images on postcards.
Fitting, since it was a car that brought the capital designation to Oklahoma City in the first place and led to the development of one of the most sprawling cities in America.
Oh, what a story. BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 573263