Telling the History of Claremore…one story at a time
CLAREMORE MUSEUM OF HISTORY
PRESENTS THE LYNN RIGGS MEMORIAL
The Lynn Riggs Memorial exhibit, inside the museum, has been professionally designed and constructed.
So, who is Lynn Riggs and why is he so important? Lynn Riggs memorialized his hometown, Claremore, Oklahoma, making it known to the world. He had written a play, “Green Grow the Lilacs,” that was purchased by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II and adapted it to a musical renamed, “Oklahoma!” This Broadway play opened in New York in 1943 and set a record of 2,212 performances before closing 15 years later. Actress Joan Roberts, the original Laurey, gave her reaction to the title song, “Oklahoma!” on opening night. She said, “The applause was so deafening and it continued and continued…I didn’t think they would ever stop applauding.” This production was one of the first musicals that changed Broadway, and American musicals were never the same.
Riggs had written characters that added humor, so on the surface, it seemed light and delightful. Then he cleverly inserts underlying conflicts: good and evil, love and hate, the farmers needing to protect their crops with fences and the cowboys wanting free range for their cattle.
Many of the characters Riggs wrote in “Green Grow the Lilacs” were friends and relatives he knew growing up in Claremore. His mother died when he was two years old, and his father remarried six months later. The new wife fit the description of the evil stepmother, and Lynn received the brunt of her cruel punishment and was often confined to an outbuilding. The bunkhouse in his play that was inhabited by the evil “Jud Fry” was symbolic of the dark and evil place he remembered when he was punished. The personality of “Aunt Eller” was patterned after his Aunt Mary Brice that he so admired and loved, and the name was derived from his mother, Rose Ella. Two daughters of Mary Brice were also represented as “Laurey” and “Ado Annie.”
In 1955, “Oklahoma!” went from stage to screen, starring Gordon McRae and 19 years old, Shirley Jones. The movie was 2 ½ hours long, much longer than screen musicals of that time. The film won 2 Academy Awards. The soundtrack album topped the charts upon release and sold more than 2 million copies.
Riggs was a literary genius at recording the expressions of plain Oklahoma people with the dialect of early Claremore. He taught us about the trials of becoming a new state…from Indian Territory to the State of Oklahoma. After many years, Claremore is “still doing fine.” “We know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand.” How fortunate we are to live in a community that has been memorialized by a world-known playwright. Our family values, our diligence, our eccentric family members, our love of music, and our heritage are well represented by “Oklahoma!” Claremore has renamed Route “66” through the city “Lynn Riggs Boulevard.” When newcomers arrive, they usually ask, “Who is Lynn Riggs?” We are proud to inform them of Oklahoma’s premiere playwright.
The Claremore Museum of History also features a video of Governor George Nigh (ret) relating how the song “Oklahoma!” became our State son.