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Oklahoma museum celebrates half a century by making history come to life

By Sondra Boykin

torical artifacts and memora- bilia or taking a


step back in time, the Museum of the Great Plains (MGP) offers something for everyone, both the young and the young at heart. Now, in their 50th year of operation, this Lawton, Okla. tourist attrac- tion is wrapping up a year of celebrating its half- century of success, commemorating notable indi- viduals and hosting anniversary events. Fifty years of monetary and collectible donations. Fifty years of history and research. Each of these ele- ments has contributed to the overall success of this Comanche County museum that features exhibits with a chronological timeline ranging from approxi- mately 11,500 B.C. to present day. A large exhibit has been on display for several months for the purpose of recognizing area residents who had an impact on the museum’s success, as well as those who have been infl uential within the Lawton community and the overall area. This exhibit includes items from each of the past 50 years.

With a meager start of collectibles, the Comanche County Historical Society began gathering items in the early 1950s in hopes of locating a site to show- case their historical collections from the area. Their endeavors would soon grow to cover the entire region – and be expanded into a facility to be called the Mu- seum of the Great Plains, opening in 1961. A build- ing was secured through the efforts of many, among which included the City of Lawton and the McMahon Foundation.

Now, the MGP has grown into a premier attrac- tion for the entire area. Visitors come not only from around the region and state, but also from across the country. Throughout its existence, the museum has continued to fl ourish as a result of numerous dona- tions. Within just a few years, the museum was over- fl owing with collectibles. In 1998, a new building was completed that about doubled the existing space. The addition, made possible through a substantial grant, was constructed with a unique architectural design, as a new facility was actually constructed around the existing site.

The main gallery of the museum is set up as a rep- lica of a small downtown, from years past, complete with memorabilia from various types of businesses. Interspersed within this setting are displays dealing with the land, farmers and ranchers, hunters and trad- ers and builders – all from the Great Plains area. One of the museum’s most signifi cant displays is the Tingley Indian Store collection of artifacts and heirlooms dating back to the late 1800s. Thirty In- dian tribes are represented within the collection. The display is particularly unique among collections of American Indian artifacts as they were gathered in one 32 OKLAHOMA LIVING

hether looking over his-

Tim Poteete, MGP’s “liv- ing history” interpreter (right) negotiates with Al Hobbs, a volunteer history interpreter, for a fur exchange at the Red River Trading Post, located on the museum grounds. A sign language was used between the mountain men and Native Americans to communicate during the early 1800s. History comes to life as interpreters, in time-appropriate attire, tell about living as early settlers. This reenactment and many other programs are available

at the Lawton museum. Photo by Sondra Boykin

store and by one family over a period of about 90 years. Deborah Baroff, head curator at MGP, noted that this collection of American Indian art objects holds special signifi cance for the people of the Southern Plains. The museum also has a large research library avail- able for the public, including historical docu- ments, photographs and books.

A particular milestone for the Lawton museum oc- curred when it was chosen to be a part of the Oklaho- ma Museum Network, representing the southern part of the state. This network is a statewide collaboration of fi ve partner museums, working together to provide hands-on discovery learning and science resources to families, students and educators across the state. Each partner museum features science exhibits that rotate twice a year, providing unique learning opportuni- ties and new experiences. In addition to the exhibits, the network also offers the Science Matters Mobile Museum, featuring an exhibit on wheels that involves students in captivating science adventures. “Being a part of this network enables these muse- ums to better support each other,” Baroff comment- ed. “It also allows us to have more rotation of exhibits – with something different every six months.” Educational and historical opportunities abound for area students at MGP. This year, a special offer is being extended to qualifying schools.

“Due to the generous support from community leaders, school groups will be admitted free of charge throughout the 2011-2012 school year or until funds are depleted,” explained Jana Brown, MGP curator of education.

Reservations are required and tours will be sched- uled on a fi rst-come, fi rst-served basis, she added. “We had more given than we could ever imagine,” Brown said, referring to a recent fundraising event. Due to the amount received, qualifying schools visit- ing the museum will also be given $35 to help offset travel expenses.

A popular annual event for MGP is their fall en- campment, hosted at the museum’s replica of the


Red River Trading Post of the 1840 era. “Liv- ing history” reenac- tors portray numerous types of frontiersmen for the public dur- ing this time. Based on the popularity of the reenactment, the museum has staff and

volunteers who can provide a historical view of the life of early settlers and the trading post atmosphere, upon request throughout the year. During a reenactment, Tim Poteete, MGP’s living history interpreter, explains the operation of the fur trading business, as well as elaborates on the products available from a trading post in the late 1800s. “The old trading post was similar to today’s Wal-Mart. If they don’t have it, you don’t need it,” Poteete com- mented.

Through his interesting historical interpretation and knowledgeable background, the history of the re- gion comes to life. He and volunteers, who are dressed in attire from the 1800s, enjoy bringing these days back for museum visitors.

In addition to the trading post replica, other out- door exhibits located on the grounds of the museum’s 2.5-acre compound include the original Blue Beaver schoolhouse, the Elgin train depot, a Frisco steam locomotive and various pieces of farm equipment. The Blue Beaver schoolhouse is utilized for another popular program, Christmas on the Prairie, which allows students to cut down Christmas trees for the one-room school, in addition to making turn-of-the- century decorations.

For more information on the museum, visit their website at html Based on MPG’s philosophy, the more one can know about their powerful and transforming past, the more a purpose and direction become clear, prompting new insight – both individually and col- lectively. OL

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