Claremore Museum of History description

Claremore Museum of History is a history museum located in the former Will Rogers Library, inside of Lynn Riggs Park near downtown Claremore, Oklahoma. The Claremore Museum of History showcases multiple collections of artifacts from Claremore’s notable individuals, including Lynn Riggs, Andy Payne, Patti Page, Stuart Roosa, and Helen Robson Walton. The museum’s mission is to create engaging experiences that celebrate history, connect community, and inspire creativity.

History

In 2011, a group of local citizens identified a need for a museum that showed local history. Those citizens identified the old Will Rogers Library as the property that would be the best location for the museum. Judy Smith Eagleton was one of the citizens involved in picking out a location for the museum; she had been saving many pieces of Claremore history for most of her life. She wanted to have a museum that could display historical items and tell about the history of Claremore. The Will Rogers Library building was used as administration offices for the fire department for years until the group of citizens approached the City of Claremore. They agreed on a long-term lease of the building that was signed in May 2011.

Building

The Will Rogers Library Building was built by the W.P.A. (Works Project Administration) in 1936. W.S. Key was an administrator, and former co-owner of the Will Rogers Hotel, Morton Harrison, was a director. The dimensions of the building were 50’ by 60’ for an area of 3,000 sq. ft. The building was constructed of sandstone typical of many buildings of that era, such as the old Will Rogers Airport Building and the Armory Building.

In December 1965, the City Council allowed the Lynn Riggs Memorial Commission, headed by Paul Neely, to erect a 25’ by 25’ brick addition to the library building to house the Lynn Riggs Memorial memorabilia. The 525 sq. ft. addition was built totally by the donations, thanks to Paul Neely, John Denbo, Wayne Rowley, and the late Stan Thomas. The Will Rogers Library Board was not overly happy to be semi-responsible for a memorial catering to tourists, but the arrangement worked fine for ten years.

In 1975, the Lynn Riggs Memorial was moved to Thunderbird Hall at Claremore Junior College (now Rogers State University), Neely stated. It was thought that the museum would be more accessible to the public, but that was not necessarily the case. The Library Board was delighted to have the 252 sq. ft. building turned over to them as they needed space for expansion.

In 1995, the new Will Rogers Library was complete, and the Library was moved to their wonderful, new, modern facility. In the summer of 1995, the Lynn Riggs memorabilia was moved to the Library Building to be part of the Rogers County Hall of Fame Museum & the museum was placed under the control of the Rogers County Historical Society. That project failed due to a lack of funding, and a deal was struck with the City to allow the Lynn Riggs Memorial to re-occupy the original 525 sq. ft. that was built solely for that purpose with the donated funds. The original 3,000 sq. ft. was then remodeled by the City and used as offices for the Claremore Fire Department.

Leo Cundiff, nephew of Lynn Riggs, and his wife and family have spent more than six-months refurbishing the building and doing creative things to display the Lynn Riggs artifacts properly. Lynn Riggs is the famous playwright from Claremore that wrote: “Green Grow the Lilacs” from whence evolved Rodgers & Hammerstein’s stage play OKLAHOMA! And the film OKLAHOMA! The centerpiece of the museum is the “surrey with the fringe on top,” which was used in the film OKLAHOMA!

Exhibits 

The Andy Payne Family Collection is housed at the Claremore Museum of History. This collection consists of art, historical artifacts, letters, manuscripts, photographs relating to the life of Andy Payne, and the International Trans-Continental Footrace of 1928. On May 25, 2018, Norma Jean Roupe (daughter of Andy Payne) donated the Andy Payne Family Collection and the John Free Jr. and John Free Sr. sculpture of Andy Payne for Lynn Riggs Park to the Claremore Museum of History. On July 12, 2018, Ian Andrew Payne (son of Andy Payne) donated the family correspondence. The Bunion Derby exhibition opening and sculpture dedication took place on Saturday, November 17, 2018, at Lynn Riggs Park. For this event, Claremore Main Street and the Claremore Museum of History partnered for a walking history tour of Downtown Claremore. This tour ended at the Andy Payne sculpture dedication.

The museum is known for being the home of the Lynn Riggs Memorial. The Lynn Riggs Family Collection consists of art, historical artifacts, letters, manuscripts, photographs, financial and legal documents, and printed materials relating to the life and work of Lynn Riggs and his colleagues, family, and friends. The collection spans the years 1899-1954, and complement the Lynn Riggs Papers, in the Yale Collection of American Literature, at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven, Connecticut. On July 31, 2018, the museum opened Beyond Realism: The Cherokee Who Brought Oklahoma to the World. This exhibit was a renovation of the Lynn Riggs Memorial display. Two Todd-AO 70 mm projectors were on loan from Ben and Catherine Kehe. These projectors originally came from Hollywood, California, and were mandatory to show the film OKLAHOMA!. Also, on display is our originally 70mm film reel of OKLAHOMA! and artifacts from the Lynn Riggs Family Collection that include books from Lynn’s personal Library, correspondence, audio recordings, and photographs. The Department of Special Collections at the University of Tulsa loaned the museum several artifacts from the Lynn Riggs Papers. A digital interactive display was created and features items in the museum’s archive and material from the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma. The Groendyke Auto Collection of Enid, OK, also contributed to the exhibit.  

The School on the Hill exhibit was opened on June 26, 2018. This exhibit illustrates the history of Rogers State University in partnership with the Oklahoma Military Academy Museum. Dr. Larry Rice, the twelfth president of Rogers State University, co-curated this exhibit.

The Claremore Public Schools exhibit opened on May 17, 2017. Featured in this exhibit is a timeline with photographs and artifacts that illustrate all of Claremore Public Schools from 1893 to present day. Histories of the school’s superintendents, high school principals, band directors, and football coaches are on display. This exhibit recognizes students’ achievements in a kiosk that includes Claremore High School yearbooks, National Merit Scholars, and Oklahoma Academic All-State students.

The Early History of Claremore exhibit was opened on September 21, 2016. Featured in this exhibit is an extensive timeline of photographs and artifacts of the City of Claremore from early inhabitants until the end of the 1930s.

The Stuart A. Roosa Foundation has loaned the Claremore Museum of History historical artifacts that pertain to Col. Stuart A. Roosa and Apollo 14 for an exhibit. This exhibit was opened on March 5, 2016. This loan includes many artifacts, including a two-sided circular CSM PTC Star Chart and the Oklahoma State flag, which was flown onboard Apollo 14 during its mission to the moon on January 31, 1971, by Col. Stuart Roosa.

The Oklahoma History Center has loaned the Claremore Museum of History historical artifacts that pertain to Patti Page for an exhibit. This exhibit was opened on May 15, 2015. This loan includes several artifacts such as the 1957 Cashbox Trophy, the scrapbook from the Patti Page Show, and the Academy of Country Music Pioneer Award from 1979.

The Cadet Grill exhibit was opened on August 16, 2014. This exhibit celebrates Judy Smith Eagleton, an integral leader in the early development of the Claremore Museum of History. Judy’s collection of historical artifacts pertaining to the history of the City of Claremore resides in the museum.

Public Art

 Lynn Riggs by Yon Sim Pak is located in front of the museum in Lynn Riggs Park.

This sculpture of the Cherokee poet and playwright, Lynn Riggs, was created for the Lynn Riggs Memorial by Yon Sim Pak. In this sculpture depicting Lynn Riggs, he is holding a poetry book that is opened to the poem ‘Of Stone and Heart.’

 ‘Of Stone and Heart’ 

Envied and not known

Is the frosted stone

Waiting for its tall

Colossal fall

Who can say what vein or unequal strain

Bursts the ventricle already full

Capillary reach

Surely ought to teach

The stone the heart and me

A boundary

Yom Sim Pak was born in Korea. Pak built a reputation as a portrait painter and came to the United States as a young adult. Each statue he created is constructed with skeletal structures of steel, covered with a white masonry cement, and polished with a special polymer to give them the look and feel of granite. Pak used a special blend of cement, which was patented by his friend Paul Kellert of Mannford, OK. This medium was known locally as Kellstone. The Rogers State University campus is known for Yom Sim Pak’s large-scale sculptures of three U.S. presidents Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln.

Rogers State College president Dr. Richard Mosier became aware of Pak’s work at the Pepe Mendez Studios in Tulsa, where he created a statue representing Michelangelo’s Pieta for the grounds of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother convent in Broken Arrow, OK. Pak was commissioned to develop the Thomas Jefferson statue to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial. Mosier later invited Pak to serve as an Artist-in-Residence. He taught at Rogers State College in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Pak often described his art as “eternal-ism,” addressing God, the heavens, and nature. Threads of freedom and democracy also run throughout his work. He often cited Michelangelo as an inspiration for his art.

Andy Payne by John Free Jr. & John D. Free Sr. is located near the museum in Lynn Riggs Park

On May 25, 2018, Norma Jean Roupe (daughter of Andy Payne) donated the John Free Jr. and John D. Free Sr. sculpture of Andy Payne for Lynn Riggs Park to the Claremore Museum of History. The Bunion Derby exhibition opening and sculpture dedication took place on Saturday, November 17, 2018, at Lynn Riggs Park. This sculpture can be found at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, OK, along Route 66 at Andy Payne Park in Foyil, OK, and Lake Overholser at Route 66 Park in Oklahoma City. What makes this sculpture at the Claremore Museum of History unique is that John Free Jr. engraved Andy’s jersey from the International Trans-Continental Footrace of 1928 onto the statue. The original jersey from 1928 is on display inside the museum.

Management

The Claremore Museum of History is a nonprofit organization that relies solely on public support and contributions; the museum does not receive any state or federal funding. When the museum was founded in 2011, it was operated by a board and volunteers. In 2017, the museum hired Andy Couch to become the first Executive Director and Curator. The museum was rebranded as the MoH (Museum of History) and adopted a new mission statement. During this time, the museum emphasized developing relevant programming and public engagement through community collaboration. In 2018, the museum joined the OF/BY/FOR ALL Change Network led by Nina Simon. The museum is also a founding partner of the Claremore Museum Coalition, the Will Rogers Motion Picture Festival, and the Rogers County Farmers Market.