25 Things You Should Know About Tulsa
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?