Fly a helicopter in the Vietnam War. Sit at a desk of an Indian school and watch educational film on atomic bomb drills. Sing in the musical Oklahoma! You can do these things and more in the interactive and multimedia experiences at the Oklahoma History Center, which will have you feeling like you’ve really traveled back in time!
Did you know the Oklahoma History Center is affiliated with the Smithsonian? Through their affiliation, they have access to the Smithsonian collections, making this a top-rate museum! If you’re looking for things to do indoors on a cold weekend here in OKC, grab your friends and family and go visit!
Admission is cheap, just $7 for adults and $4 for kids. Kids under 5 are free and there’s a family rate of $18, especially helpful if you have a large family. Military and veterans are free and seniors (over 62) can get a discounted rate of $5.
My favorite aspect of this museum is that it is focused on Oklahomans telling their stories. Sometimes people associate history with boring dates and facts that they had to memorize in school, when history is really about the stories of people! That’s why I love that every exhibit is full of videos where Oklahomans share their experiences. Powerful!
Speaking of stories, I recently read Boomtown by Sam Anderson. Anderson is a New York Times critic at large who originally came to Oklahoma City to cover the OKC Thunder. He became so fascinated with OKC and its history that he wrote this book. If you’ve read the book, you can see much of it come to life in current exhibits, from the Land Run to Clara Luper to the Century Chest!
Throughout the museum, there are “Hands-on History” areas, where you can learn about history in a tactile manner. Kids will enjoy loading up miniature steamboats or creating dinner from plastic “vegetables” available to the Native Americans. Even adults will like using the helicopter simulator in the Vietnam War exhibit or singing along to the theme song of Oklahoma! on a makeshift stage!
Highlights from Current Exhibits:
Exhibits change regularly, as often as every 3 months within galleries to approximately every year for temporary exhibits. Here are some of my highlights from the current exhibits:
Crossroads of Commerce: A History of Free Enterprise (Inasmuch Foundation Gallery):
Learn about Oklahoma-based businesses like Sonic, B.C. Clark’s, and the OKC Thunder in this gallery.
- Take a virtual ride on a Braniff Airways plane from Wiley Post airport with footage viewing OKC and Tulsa.
- Check out the vintage Sonic outfits and menus! You can even sit at the drive-thru and learn more about its history.
Sam Noble Gallery:
The Sam Noble Gallery starts with the early history of Oklahoma (i.e. the Land Run) and continues on with its development. I have to admit this gallery was one of my favorites!
- You must check out the Century Chest! This time capsule was buried under First Lutheran Church in OKC in 1913 and uncovered again in 2013. The contents are displayed here, including letters predicting what 2013 would be like. I was amazed to read this excerpt from a bank president:
“Where I am wrong indulge in a friendly laugh, and where I am right tell the cashier that your predecessor was some guesser. You know all bank presidents even in your time are guessers and he who guesses best holds his job the longest. This letter will not interrupt the opening of your morning mail for the very good reason that you will not have morning mail, or not much. Your distant correspondence will be conducted instantaneously by electrical means all through business hours and only letters with document enclosures will come to you by the slower-moving mails.”President F.R. Johnson, American National Bank, Oklahoma City, 1913
- The Oklahoma! Musical exhibit is fantastic! I enjoyed watching video of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s grandchildren talking about how the musical was created. Plus this is where you can both sing and dance away with the musical.
- Walk through a home from the Dust Bowl era or see a recreation of a sod home. Sit at a desk in an Indian school and lift the desk cover to see books from that time period. We laughed at how catchy the “duck and cover” theme song was for the atomic bomb drill videos. Quite an experience!
We Are Who We are (ONEOK Gallery):
Explore the state’s Native American roots here! Learn about all 38 tribes represented in Oklahoma: their stories, culture, clothing, homes, and more!
- Find the different kinds of moccasins embedded in the floor.
- Listen to songs recorded from the different tribes in Oklahoma.
If I were to be a bit critical of anything in the Center, it would be that the Kerr-McGee gallery is rather random in its content. Nevertheless, it’s chock-full of interesting exhibits.
- You may remember that a steamboat was recovered from the Red River in 1999. It was found to be the Heroine, a steamboat that crashed in 1838. The boat has been recreated in small part from what was left of the original ship!
- Learn about civil rights activist Clara Luper, while exploring a reproduction of the drugstore where she led sit-ins or her living room.
This gallery also includes exhibits on the oil and gas industry and military history, including Civil War artillery!
Welcome Home: Oklahomans and the War in Vietnam (Gaylord Special Exhibit Gallery):
I was particularly interested in this gallery, because I recently learned more about the Vietnamese refugees who came to OKC when I was doing research for my Asian District post. It covers both the Oklahomans involved in fighting the war, as well as the refugees who came here and started businesses like Jimmy’s Egg after the war.
Other Special Exhibits:
The iconic item in the museum is the replica of the plane, Willie Mae, which Wiley Post flew around the world in 9 days. There is also currently a Huey helicopter from the Vietnam War era.
Currently the Center has the Kilgen pipe organ, a theatre organ from the 1930’s. You can even try it out!
When the weather gets better, check out the oilfield exhibit outside.
Tips for Your Visit:
- Plan to spend at least several hours. If you like trying to read/listen/watch most of the information in museums, you could easily spend a couple hours in one gallery! There’s a lot to see!
- There is a small café upstairs for snacks or lunch.
- Print a scavenger hunt ahead of time and take it with you for fun with a group!
- If you’re interested in family genealogy, a research center is located on campus, as well.
My friend and I spent the day there and didn’t have enough time; we’re just going to have to go back!