July 3, 2013Michael Dean
Oklahoma Historical Society405-412-7831
Oklahoma History Center to open Oklahoma Century Chest exhibit featuring 1889 Fourth of July poster
A rare full-color poster promoting the first Fourth of July celebration in Oklahoma City after the Land Run will be the featured artifact in a new exhibit opening at the Oklahoma History Center on Thursday, July 4, 2013.
According to Chad Williams, Director of Research at the History Center, this is the first of several exhibits inspired by objects from the Oklahoma Century Chest, a time capsule buried in the basement of the First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City on April 22, 1913.
“The Century Chest, opened with great fanfare on April 22, 2013, is a window into our shared past,” said Williams. “No one alive today knew this poster ever existed, and here we can share it 100 years after it was placed in the Century Chest.”
Of the many remarkable artifacts found in the time capsule, one of the most eye-catching was this color poster. The poster was donated for inclusion in the Century Chest by N. B. Woodson, with an inscription stating that he had helped organize the celebration. Despite being nearly 125 years old, the poster is in remarkable condition. The vibrant reds and yellows of the artist’s rendition of an Indian war dance, the bold black of the type face and the nearly unblemished nature of the poster make the preservation of the item itself significant. Even more noteworthy is that prior to the posters discover, very little was known about the first major event held in Oklahoma City after the April 22, 1889, land run.
Since the discovery of the poster in the Century Chest, OHS staff has set out to uncover the story of the Fourth of July Celebration of 1889. While often noted for the tragedy of the grandstand collapse, that killed one and injured hundreds, very little information had been uncovered about the event as a whole.
Research by OHS staff found that the Fourth of July celebration of 1889 was designed to be a large event, bringing in up to twenty thousand visitors to the fledgling town. In early June of 1889, a committee was formed to arrange the celebration, and the first order of business was to secure reduced railroad fares into Oklahoma City, the second, to secure land to the east of town (in what is now Bricktown) to build a baseball diamond and horse track. By June 26, 1889, the plans for the Fourth of July celebration were mostly complete. Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Caddo Indians had been recruited from Darlington, and permission from the Department of the Interior for the two hundred plus Indians to leave their reservations was granted. A parade route which would take participants down California, Reno, Harvey, Robinson, Grand, and Main Streets had been mapped. The list of activities over the course of the three-day celebration was decided upon and included the following: horse racing, feats of horsemanship, sack racing, Indian war dances, infantry drills, a baseball game, and a gun tournament.
The Oklahoma Gazette, a local Oklahoma City newspaper, followed the preparations daily and noted on June 7, 1889, “This will be the first grand excursion to Oklahoma, and will if properly managed be but a second April 22nd to the beautiful land.” However, by August 1889, the event would be known by the same paper as “the Fall of Babylon” due to the crash of the grandstand at the horse track on the first afternoon of the three-day event. The 4th of July celebration, which fell far short of its expected twenty thousand visitors, nevertheless was a triumph for a city that was feeling somewhat desperate after the initial excitement of the April 22, 1889, land run.
The July 4, 1889, poster is just one of many Oklahoma City treasures discovered in the one hundred year old Century Chest. The exhibit is located in the main atrium of the Oklahoma History Center and can be visited at no charge beginning on July 4, 2013. The exhibit will change every three months to focus on different aspects of the Century Chest which was excavated from the basement of the First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City on April 22, 2013. In October 2013 the exhibit will spotlight items placed in the chest by Oklahoma’s American Indian tribes, followed in January 2014 by Century Chest artifacts focusing on the state as a whole.
On April 22, 2014 the Oklahoma History Center will open a major exhibit revealing all of the Century Chest treasures in the Noble Foundation Gallery. The Oklahoma History Center is located at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive in the Oklahoma State Capitol Complex and is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information visit the Century Chest website at http://www.okhistory.org/centurychest/ or call 405-522.0765.