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Oklahoma History Center program brings history to life on Oklahoma River

The Oklahoma History Center and Oklahoma River Cruises offer the History Comes Alive program, a ferry cruise along the Oklahoma River that showcases the state’s past through re-enactments and storytelling.
By Josh Wallace, Staff Writer Published: July 24, 2014
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On a hot July afternoon, a woman who called herself Mary Elizabeth Walker boarded a ferry that cruises the Oklahoma River, setting out on a voyage through time.

Wearing clothing last in style more than a century ago, she stood in stark contrast to the passengers around her. With the passengers seated and the boat ready to depart, she stood and began to tell of her life’s experiences.

Her tale of a 19th-century mail-order bride coming to the Oklahoma territory was part of the History Comes Alive Cruise series offered by the Oklahoma History Center and Oklahoma River Cruises.

The program brings history to the river cruise through the use of actors and their characters, giving passengers a glimpse into Oklahoma’s past.

Walker is one of six characters created by Barbara Byrd, a docent with the history center who has done re-enactments for nine years. Part history and part imagination, her characters bring to life accurate representations of different periods of the state’s history.

“The main thing is to have a generalized character that will be able to answer (questions),” she said. “Now, if I were to do a character everyone knew, then you’ve got all of this printed material that these people know more than you do, so you make it a composite of the different characters of that time.”

Each character comes complete with backstory and a custom-made period outfit that Byrd fashions herself.

“I make them, and you have to do the research and make sure the materials are time-appropriate. It may not be exactly what they had, but it needs to look like it.”

Walker’s mail-order bride outfit is made up of a blouse and skirt, lace gloves, an Edwardian hat and a parasol. Byrd said she’s able to create her costumes in about a week and also makes them for other actors.

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