Venues celebrate Will Rogers’ life, career
A Will Rogers statue with the inscription “I never met a man I didn’t like” stands in the rotunda of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore. WILL ROGERS MEMORIAL MUSEUMS
A statue of Will Rogers sitting atop his horse, Soapsuds, can be seen outside the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore. WILL ROGERS MEMORIAL MUSEUMS
The “Mural Room” inside the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore is a popular site for special events and is available for rent. WILL ROGERS MEMORIAL MUSEUMS
The “Final Journey” exhibit houses a plane replica and Will Rogers’ personal items rescued from the site of the fatal plane crash where he and famed aviator Wiley Post died on Aug. 15, 1935. WILL ROGERS MEMORIAL MUSEUMS
Built in 1875, the “White House of the Verdigris” is the site where Will Rogers was born and raised near Oologah. There he learned to lasso while working as a cowboy on the ranch. WILL ROGERS MEMORIAL MUSEUMS
CLAREMORE – Humorist, newspaper columnist, social commentator and actor are a few words to describe William Penn Adair Rogers, better known as Will Rogers. Another is Cherokee.
Will was born Nov. 4, 1879, to Clement Vann and Mary America Schrimsher Rogers in Indian Territory near present-day Oologah. Built in 1875, the Birthplace Ranch where Will grew up was known as “the White House on the Verdigris River.”
Clement was a prominent Cherokee politician, and the home was used as a meeting place for commerce, government, social events and funerals, according to willrogers.com.
“His dad was very involved in the Cherokee Nation,” Tad Jones, Will Rogers Memorial Museum and Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch executive director, said. “He sat on the council and was a judge. He was very involved in Cherokee politics.”
According the website, the home was a “seat of power and site of culture” and a working ranch. Will worked as a cowboy on the 400-acre ranch, learning to lasso from a freed slave. He later used that skill on the Vaudeville stage and in movies.
Clement moved to nearby Claremore after Mary died in 1890. However, the family has always owned the home and acreage. Today, the home is conserved and used as homage to the family.
“We hope people that come to the ranch will see what it was like for the Rogers family in that time in history,” Jones said. “That’s why they come here.”
It hosts annual events such as Family Day, Frontier Days Kids Camp and the Will Rogers/Wiley Post Fly-In. It’s located at 9501 E. 380 Road and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.
As for Will’s life and career outside the Birthplace Ranch, the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore houses the largest collection of memorabilia and his entire writings collection. According to the website, the memorial has become “a world class museum of paintings sculptures and other artifacts” about the life and times of Will.
“Will has been gone since 1935 and the facility was built in 1938,” Jones said. “Our biggest thing now is we are kind of reintroducing Will Rogers to a new generation. There are very few people alive that remember Will. Most travelers coming through know just a little bit about Will Rogers. So our process now is how do we tell that story to a new generation of people that don’t know anything about him or very little. That’s one of our biggest challenges.”
Jones said he and his staff are working to design exhibits using better technology to share with the public. One project was slated to launch in mid-May.
“We are going to have a new audio tour…and that will be good for visitors.” Jones said. “The world-renowned voice of Michael Wallace of the Pixar movie ‘Cars’ fame is going to be doing the audio tour. We’ll have that audio tour at the Birthplace and Memorial Museum for visitors.”
Among the museums’ posters, statues, paintings and furnishings, guests can visit its movie theater to view one of Will’s 71 films. The museum also hosts annual lecture series, Halloween Night and pictures with Santa Claus.
Will died in a plane crash on Aug. 15, 1935, in Point Barrow, Alaska, along with famed aviator Wiley Post. He was buried in California but later interred on the museum’s grounds. According to the website, his wife, Betty, and three of their four children are also buried there.
The museum is at 1720 W. Will Rogers Blvd. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for seniors 62 and older and military personnel with ID. Children ages 6 to 17 are $3 and children under 5 are free. For more information, visit willrogers.com
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