A Four-City Trip through the Midwest–in a day

Day Two-Saturday, July 9, 2022

We started the day with a bit of a split, to maximize our short time this morning in OKC. That split involved Ashlyn and me visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and Yvette and Morgan visiting the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

By Yvette Mendoza

Morgan and I stopped by the best place to learn about Midwest culture and tradition: the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in OKC! Its variety of artists and different styles of artwork perfectly immortalizes the West from the 1800s-present. With a museum as unique as this one, we had the perfect opportunity to expand our learning on renowned, international, and local artists, while also being exposed to famous cowboys (and cowgirls) throughout history.

Throughout the space we found some magnificent sculptures by James Earl Fraser. At the heart and grand atrium of the museum, The End of The Trail displays a defeated Native American hanging his head while riding his horse.

We walked through the museum’s 50th annual “Prix de West” invitational art exhibition and sale. We saw not only the various aspects of life in the West, but also where the artists hail from and if they were cowboys or cowgirls themselves. “Hometowns” ranged from Iowa to New York, but they all showed their love for Western art and culture in their various media.

While most followed similar Western themes, some were vastly different in terms of color or composition. I loved a vibrant water-colored painting of a Native American mother and child painted by Sonya Terpening, titled Securely Bound. 

On the other hand, Professor Yawn found the cool colors of an impressionist painting (Grace by Daniel W. Pinkham) one of his favorites.

And Morgan was mysteriously intrigued by one of the sculptures, a roadrunner by Kent Ullberg titled BEEP-BEEP!

 The further we moved through the museum, the more artists we discovered or rediscovered: Frederic Remington, Albert Bierstadt, Charles Russell, Allan Houser, and Thomas Moran.

Collections of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell are truly the embodiment of Western heritage pride, and this museum has a lot of pride, with rooms dedicated to the works of these artists. We saw sculptures and paintings showing the thrill and action of a stampede and of working cowboys raising cattle to put food on the table. (Quite literally—one of Charles Russell’s paintings is called Meat’s Not Meat ‘Till It’s in the Pan (Hunters Luck).)

The painting of canyons and national parks especially reeled us in. Specifically, Ed Mell and his Canyon Flow collection were some of Stephanie’s favorites. Mell’s art-deco-ish treatment of canyons, big skies, and sunsets in his unique style made them truly stand out. 

Not only did we experience Western art come to life, but we also walked through an old western town with everything an old western town could—or should—have: saloon, chapel, law office…and, its very own jail that Morgan just might have been trapped in… 

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum was not what we were expecting.

It is a beautiful place to saddle up and take a trip to the Old West while getting to experience artwork that has a different take on the meaning of the wild, wild West.

Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum (Ashlyn Parker)

Meanwhile, Jessica and I started our day off at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, which captures the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. The museum is set up in chronological order from the beginning of that fateful day, April 19, 1995, through the conviction of Timothy McVeigh. 

“Just like communities everywhere, it is the start of a day like any other day.” The museum exhibits start off with an innocuous, yet ominous, greeting. We saw images of all the different “everyday” events going on throughout the city, with everyone walking through their normal, mundane lives, the usual hustle and bustle of a city’s downtown. 

We were led into an enclosed room that was dimly lit. We were unsure what to think until the recording began. We heard voices over the speakers, the starting of a meeting of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. Everything sounds completely normal, then… BOOM. Listeners hear the bomb exploding at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. We heard the building shake and people panicking. The lights in the room flickered, then the doors opened to the rest of the museum. That room, the recording, the lighting—it immortalizes 9:02 a.m. on that fateful day.

Next came artifacts from the destruction of the building—and so many lives and families. It’s overwhelming.

There are many visual and audio effects– and for some, many tears. The bombing killed (what is believed to be) 168 people, including 19 children. On display are keys, shoes, watches, and parts of the building recovered from the site, but what really hit home for me was a planner. The planner belonged to Terry Smith Rees, a HUD supervisor on the 7th floor. To me, it symbolized the horrific crime that took place, that took the future away from 168 people and their families. 

Several rooms are dedicated to the direct aftermath of the horrific scene: first responders from all over rushed to help; the many, dead and alive, who were stuck in the rubble of the building or parts that did not initially collapse;

…support letters written by children to survivors and families. Much space is dedicated to images of what you would have seen at the location, or on the news from around the world. One display includes all the different news stations playing at once, creating a movie-like moment where you can feel the impact of the event just by listening.

Along with the chaos and confusion of rescue efforts, police and other law enforcement had to shift focus to finding the cause of the bombing. The museum exhibits display this well, too, with many evidence artifacts: original police sketches of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols;

…various other relics from the case; and, even the yellow Mercury Marquis Timothy McVeigh was driving when he was pulled over and arrested just 90 minutes after the bombing (for not having a license plate and having a concealed gun). And we saw a more “local” connection: one of Timothy McVeigh’s defense attorneys interviewed was Chris Tritico, a good friend to the LEAP Ambassadors (and also a Sam Houston State University alum!).

The museum is not just an inside space though. It is truly a memorial. We saw some of the original rubble from the site behind a glass wall. There is a “chair” memorial to those who lost their lives, with one chair per person designating which floor they were on when the bomb went off. We walked along the shallow reflecting pool that glistens between the 9:01 and 9:03 walls, symbolizing two extremely different moments in time, just a moment apart, on either side of that fateful detonation.

And the memorial continues. Outside the memorial proper is a fence with some items from the families of the victims (flags, wreaths, pictures, and stuffed animals) in memoriam to their lost loved ones.

And across the street, a statue placed by the nearby Catholic church, Weeping Jesus, further memorializes the tragedy.

Overall, it was one of the best museums I have been to…

…with displays and a chronological order that allows visitors to understand what happened that day, creating in some spaces what it must have felt like had you been there.

And with those sobering thoughts, we resumed our trip of the Midwest, aware that tragedies occur all over, even in the country’s heartland.

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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