25 Things You Should Know About Tulsa

Dave5957/iStock
Dave5957/iStock

In Tulsa, Oklahoma's second-largest city, you can enjoy Prohibition-themed theater and visit a former speakeasy that looks like it was made in Barney Rubble's backyard. Plus, some say the very center of our universe is located at a downtown intersection. Here's your tipsheet for all things Tulsan.

1) Gordon Matthews, a native Oklahoman and University of Tulsa graduate, invented what he called a "voice message exchange" in the late 1970s. Today, we call it voicemail.

2) Woodward Park is home to the Anne Hathaway Herb Garden—named after Shakespeare's wife, not the Oscar-winning actress. Tulsa resident Jewell Huffman designed the plot in 1939 after she visited Hathaway's cottage near Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Arranged in the style of a formal English garden, it includes medicinal and culinary herbs like rosemary and catmint.

3) Fred Flintstone may not live in Tulsa, but he'd probably feel right at home inside the famous Cave House on Charles Page Boulevard. Resembling a shack made of cartoonish boulders and built in the 1920s, it functioned as a novelty restaurant by day and a Prohibition-era speakeasy by night. Patrons could enjoy an illegal beverage in a bunker accessible by a secret passageway behind the fireplace. It's now a private residence, but tours are available on weekends.

4) Tulsa's establishment predates Oklahoma's statehood. In the late 1820s, the federal government evicted Muscogee (Creek) people from their ancestral lands in the southeastern U.S. and forced them to march west to present-day eastern Oklahoma, then called Indian Territory. There, they joined the similarly relocated Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole peoples. A Muscogee band settled the area that would become Tulsa in the mid-1830s, while Oklahoma didn't become a state until 1907.

5) January 18, 1998 marked the 100th anniversary of Tulsa's incorporation. To celebrate the occasion, a city officials buried a '98 Plymouth Prowler in a custom-designed concrete vault at Centennial Park. Future Tulsans will dig up this huge time capsule on January 18, 2048, at which point the car will be given back to the Chrysler corporation.

6) On the surface, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Tallahassee, Florida, don't appear to have much in common. But both city names are derived from "tulasi" or "tallasi," meaning "the old town" in the Muscogee language.

7) Tulsa businessman Cyrus Avery was known as the "Father of Route 66." Frustrated by the region's poor roads, he started pushing for improved transportation and was named Oklahoma's Highway Commissioner in 1924. When the federal government started planning an interstate highway from Chicago to Los Angeles, Avery lobbied for the route to run southwest rather than west over the Rocky Mountains. The road that would become Route 66 was laid through Arizona, New Mexico, the Texas panhandle, and (conveniently) Tulsa.

8) Garth Brooks, born in Tulsa on February 7, 1962, is the music industry's best-selling solo artist. Brooks has racked up 148 million albums and singles sold in the United States, 12 million more than second-place finisher Elvis Presley.

9) Tulsa has been called the buckle of the bible belt. To illustrate that claim, a sculpture of two 60-foot-tall praying hands marks the entrance to the campus of Oral Roberts University, an ultra-conservative Christian institution. The hands were cast in 1980 of roughly 30 tons of bronze.

10) Tulsa's Gilcrease Museum houses the world's largest collection of art and artifacts from the American West. The collection of more than 350,000 objects, including a handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence, was amassed by oilman and philanthropist Thomas Gilcrease. Allegedly, his ghost haunts the halls of the museum.

11) The U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show has been wowing crowds at Tulsa's Expo Square since 2008. One of the most illustrious equestrian events in America, it features more than 1800 exhibitors and 1700 horses each year.

12) Tulsan racing enthusiast and industrialist Jack Zink sponsored race cars in the Indianapolis 500 every year from 1952 to 1967, and won twice, in 1955 and 1956. He also drove his own cars in a variety of racing competitions and was inducted into the Indianapolis 500 Hall of Fame.

13) Tulsa spent more than six decades as the "oil capital of the world." The boom began in 1901, when black gold was struck in Red Fork, now a neighborhood in southwest Tulsa. Then, in 1905, prospectors discovered the Glenn Pool oil field, which has yielded 340 million barrels and counting. By the time Oklahoma became a state in 1907, nearly 100 oil companies had set up shop around Glenn Pool alone.

14) Tulsa's tallest structure is the 52-story Bank of Oklahoma (BOK) Tower, which looks a lot like a single, short version of the World Trade Center's twin towers. Both were designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki beginning in the 1960s.

15) With more than 2.2 million tons of cargo passing through it annually, the Tulsa Port of Catoosa on the Verdigris and Arkansas rivers ranks among America's busiest inland river ports.

16) Pop superstars and Tulsa natives Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson formed their eponymous band in 1992. Hanson's very first appearance was at the city's annual Mayfest when the brothers were just 12, 9, and 7 years old.

17) The "yield" road sign was invented by Clinton Riggs, a Tulsa police officer. In 1950, Riggs tested his creation by posting a sign at the corner of First Street and Columbia Avenue. Collisions decreased, and the signs spread throughout Tulsa, America, and the world. When Riggs died in 1997, a yield sign was engraved onto his tombstone.

18) When the Sex Pistols played at Cain's Ballroom in 1978, Sid Vicious punched a hole into one of the walls. Instead of filling it in, the management framed the hole. Touring musicians often take selfies with it.

19) A sacred tree is rooted near downtown Tulsa. The Muscogee carried a pot of burning coals with them on their forced march to Indian Territory, and after choosing a settlement site near a massive oak tree, they scattered the ashes to establish their new home. The Council Oak Tree at 18th Street South and Cheyenne Avenue still marks the historic spot.

20) The Drunkard, a charming 1844 dramedy about alcoholism, and Olio, a brief musical skit following the play, opened on November 23, 1953 at Tulsa's Spotlight Theatre. It's been running there ever since, making it the longest continually-running stage play in America. Performed on a weekly basis, The Drunkard & Olio can be caught every Saturday night at 7:30. Four separate casts perform the show on a rotating basis.

21) In the Great Plains and southwestern U.S., you'll never be too far from a QuikTrip. This wildly successful chain of gas and convenience stores was established in 1958 by Tulsans Burt Holmes and Chester Cadieux. The original store opened on Peoria Street in September 25 of that year. The company, still based in Tulsa, now has more than 700 locations.

22) UHF, Weird Al Yankovic's 1989 cult comedy flick, was filmed mainly in the Tulsa area. Parts of 1983's The Outsiders were shot here as well—in fact, the drive-in movie theater that Rob Lowe and company snuck into during one scene is still in operation.

23) Tulsa's answer to the iconic Citgo sign in Boston is its famous neon Meadow Gold sign, a landmark on Route 66. Built during the Great Depression to promote the Beatrice Food Company, which went out of business in the 1990s, the sign outlived the establishment it advertised. Today, it sits at the intersection of 11th Street and Quaker Avenue.

24) Before they made it to the big leagues, pro baseball players Matt Holliday, Sammy Sosa, R.A. Dickey, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira suited up for the Tulsa Drillers, now a Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

25) On a railroad overpass in the city's downtown, a mysterious brick circle laid into the ground is dubbed "the center of the universe." When people stand in the center and shout, they hear an extremely loud echo that is barely audible outside the circle. Scientists aren't sure why. Who knew the portal to parallel worlds ran through Tulsa?

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

10 Surprising Facts About Wham!’s 'Last Christmas'

Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael's pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name. That’s just one interesting part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.

1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.

“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were sitting around watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern Xmas classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts."

2. “Last Christmas” isn’t really a Christmas song.

There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”

3. George Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.

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By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.

4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach #1 on the UK charts.

As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas #1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor. It stalled at #2, and to this day it has the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.

5. George Michael sang on the song that kept “Last Christmas” at #2.

“Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.

6. George Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”

In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued George Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.

7. "Last Christmas" has been covered by a lot of other artists.

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Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached #16 on the UK charts.

8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing “Last Christmas.”

While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game called Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”

9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in America following George Michael’s death in 2016.

Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. In December 2018, it reentered the charts and peaked at #25.

10. George Michael was involved in 2019's Last Christmas movie.

November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig's Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones's Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while George Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that actress and author Emma Thompson write the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even wound up playing a supporting role.