Category Archives: oklahoma

Oklahoma City’s Fairlawn Cemetery

Oklahoma doesn’t have any cemeteries that are quite as elegant and sprawling as New York’s Green-Wood or Woodlawn, but it does contain some that are  just as historically and visually interesting. Over my winter holiday in Oklahoma City, my friend Sara and I went exploring in Fairlawn Cemetery, which is the oldest cemetery in Oklahoma City. It was established in 1892, about fifteen years before Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907, in what was formerly a cornfield.

The most striking structure in the cemetery is the huge Fairlawn Mausoleum, built in 1924 to hold 500 crypts. The Classical Revival-style mausoleum cost $70,000 to build, no small price for any time period, and was designed by Chicago architect Cecil E. Bryan. The complex included a $10,000 crematorium, which at the time was the only crematorium between St. Louis and San Francisco. As you might guess, Oklahoma was doing well at the time with the oil boom.

Inside the mausoleum is a stained glass triptych of an Angel, created by the Tiffany Studios of the great stained glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, even bearing his signature. I would guess it’s worth more than the cost of the original marble mausoleum.

Another landmark in Fairlawn is this military memorial created in 1919, following the end of World War I. It is still flanked by the two bronze cannons that were installed for its dedication.

Although it doesn’t look big from the road, Fairlawn has around 40,000 graves, many over 100 years old and memorializing the iconic families and people of Oklahoma City. They are in various condition levels, but even a quick exploration will take you on some cemetery symbolism and style time travel.

Okies are apparently secret society people, and once you start to notice the symbols in Fairlawn you see them everyone. Especially prolific are the Masons, many of whom were probably affiliated with the Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie. The above star with the letters F.A.T.A.L. is not some morbid statement, but a symbol of the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic branch for both men and women.

The Woodmen of the World are also well-represented and easy to spot. Part of being a member of the society was that you got a tree trunk-shaped tombstone. The cut off branches are a symbol of the cutting of the tree of life.

Military graves have simple crosses over titles, and many individual tombstones have some interesting carvings. Above the gates of heaven have worn down, but you can still make out a star in the clouds.

Family mausoleums line the road that winds through the cemetery, and I peaked into one to see this Egyptian-style stained glass.

I feel like this dove might have been carved by the same artist who created the sheep shown at the top of this post. Both have an oddly whimsical style, innocent maybe. Which is fitting for these graves of people who died quite young. The West was not an easy place to live back in those days.

The oldest section of the cemetery is in a grove of trees, which I imagine is beautiful in spring. However, it wasn’t quite peaceful while we were there. A dog was sprinting around the cemetery road and howling its head off, paying us no mind. A little unsettling.

Hell hounds or no, I definitely recommend taking a stroll through Fairlawn on a sunny day and keeping your eye out for the names and images on graves for a glimpse into Oklahoma’s early history to today. I’m sure we will be back. I hear that the mausoleum is actually open on Memorial Day, and I would love to see that Tiffany window up close.

Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie

One of the most surprisingly opulent places is in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Over the winter holiday, I drove up to the town north of Oklahoma City to visit the Scottish Rite Temple, an ornate, over-the-top mammoth of a building highly decorated with lush furnishings and arcane Masonic symbols. As you can see from the image above, it’s quite imposing, even more so since it is surrounded by single level homes, the termination of a road jutting off from downtown.

The temple was built in 1919, but its history goes back to a little before that. The cornerstone for the first Masonic building in Guthrie was laid in 1899, but the Masons moved into the current location after the capital of the state itself moved. Guthrie was originally where the new Oklahoma, getting statehood in 1907, set up its government, at a time when the town was the second largest city in the state. However, in a move involving a rather notorious incident where the state seal may or may not have been stolen, the capital was changed to Oklahoma City. The capitol building that remained in Guthrie was acquired by the Masons and incorporated into their new structure. The original legislative hall still remains.

Our tour started in the atrium, a stunning central hall with high ceilings from which there is the soft glow from stained glass and chandeliers. Every room in the temple was built to meticulously mimic a historic period of architecture or culture, and the atrium is a tribute to the Roman Empire. At 190 feet long and 52 feet wide, it certainly gives an air of awe, and the sleek marble makes it feel like a cousin to the temples of Rome.

The staircases at the ends of the atrium reminded me of Grand Central or other historic train stations, especially with the old clock ticking above.

We then entered the huge theatre, where the Masons perform the different degrees. I’m not really sure what that entails, but there were several Biblical-looking sets around the stage. I will also probably never get to see it, because even if women get to attend, they have to sit in an above area where they can’t see the action. However, I did get to hear the pipe organ, which was programmed to play Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, which is really the only song an organ needs to play. Like the atrium, the theatre has a Roman style to it, and there are 1,760 seats, so it’s quite impressive. All 5,376 pipes of the Kimball organ are in an arch above the stage.

Upstairs we visited the Pompeiian Room, a tribute to that city drowned in ash. The columns and friezes all have detailed painted patterns and the benches and chairs are models of ones originally carved from ivory and onyx. The rugs are from Ireland, but perhaps the camel hair in the wool fits the theme. My camera turned them all into blurs of light, but in the center of each stained glass window was a Masonic symbol.

The Assyrian Room was also heavy on the ancient world-inspiration. The chandeliers were designed to resemble the fire pots the Assyrians used back around 700 BC to heat their homes, and the upper edges of the room’s walls were even painted to appear singed by smoke. There were horse heads on the top of the columns and Assyrian sphinxes by the dark fireplace.

The Crystal Room was a gorgeous interpretation of 18th century English design, with its name taken from the Czech crystal chandeliers hanging from the towering ceiling. Every room of the temple seemed to have a sprawling, finely woven rug, but this one was the largest and apparently weighs 1,000 pounds. The rug had to arrive by train and be carried in twice by workers (the first time it was facing the wrong direction). This is back when Oklahoma was still a mess of a state, with dirt, dust, and oil derricks sprouting up everywhere, even right in front of the capitol building. To think of all this fit-for-royalty design arriving by train from the coasts is just crazy. Even now, Oklahoma isn’t exactly known for having lavish homes (with the exception of certain oil barons), and the Scottish Rite Temple is like finding a Fabergé egg in the carton of eggs you got at the grocery store.

The Rose Room is sort of a companion space to the Crystal Room, also done in the 18th century English style, although on a less grand scale. The stained glass in its windows was originally in the first Masonic temple in Guthrie, and had more symbols. The temple was dense with symbols, with two-head eagles and rules and compasses everywhere. If the chandelier in this picture looks slightly askew, it was designed that way, for a reason I couldn’t quite understand. Apparently it was a popular thing to make your guests feel like the room was moving back in the 18th century.

The “social promenade” (I love that term) at the top had views to the atrium and was in an Italian Renaissance style.

I loved the Writing Room, in a 17th century English style. Some of the chairs were made extra long for taller men. Were the men especially tall in Oklahoma in the early 1900s? This is where the Masons would write letters home while they were at the temple, although the room doesn’t get much use now, sadly. At least they haven’t put in computer outlets!

If I loved the Writing Room, I was absolutely infatuated with the library. In a Gothic style, it looked like something you’d find in Oxford, except for the cowboys and Indians on the pillars (one of the few Western touches in the building). There were literary quotes on the wall and Masonic texts in the cabinets. Our guide said there was also a secret room above the library where the librarian would have once stayed.

More old world elegance was in store with the Blue Room, which is also where many of the Masonic ceremonies take place (which is why there is an altar in the middle of the room).

Back downstairs, we entered the Egyptian Room, which was actually a 300-seat theatre. All the painting was done with pigments blended with egg whites, as the Egyptians did in their temples. (Our guide said the theatre had a rather awful smell the summer it was painted.) The curtain is from 1899, another carryover from the first Guthrie temple.

It was strange to go back out into the world from the Scottish Rite Temple, as if I had been time traveling to other countries and places, with odd symbols following me like a slightly off dream. If you ever find yourself in Guthrie, definitely pay the temple a visit. You will not be disappointed!

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One Great City: OKC!

I haven’t been back in New York for two weeks, yet Oklahoma City and the wondrous long vacation of the winter holidays already feels far away. I suppose part of it is the quick shift from lazing around my parents’ house watching football and drinking scotch, to returning to the hectic life of subways and 9-5 work days in New York. It was great to have such a long visit to Oklahoma, and I did find time for some adventure, which will all be recapped soon. I thought I would start with some photos from wandering around Oklahoma City, beginning with this shot of the Devon Tower at night. It’s astonishingly tall for Oklahoma City, like some sort of alien ship that plummeted into the center of the city. It’s still not quite finished, but it’s at its final height, dwarfing the surrounding buildings.

Right across from the Devon Tower is the newly renovated Myriad Gardens with its Crystal Bridge. For the holidays, there were changing colored lights inside the greenhouse. Although it was quite cold (luckily no blizzards like in past Christmases), there were people out wandering among the lights and ice skating in a small rink in the gardens.

The best lights, of course, were at Chesapeake. The natural gas company meticulously covers all the trees on its campus with lights, creating a sharply illuminated forest.

Here is another view of the Chesapeake lights.

My parents and I visited the State Capitol building while I was in town (always a fun and free attraction), and explored its empty halls. Everyone, including visitors, it seemed, was on vacation. Here are some iPhone cheating photos I took with the Hipstamatic Disposable camera app:

Although the Oklahoma State Capitol was designed with a dome, it didn’t get a dome until 2002, over eight decades after the rest of the building was completed in 1919. The money that was originally going to fund the dome was diverted to WWI, and the dome that is now standing was finally funded with private donations. The colors are meant to mimic the blue skies of Oklahoma and the vibrant hues of the Indian Blanket, the official state wildflower.

The Oklahoma State Art Collection in the capitol building is pretty impressive, with works by Okies like Ed Ruscha, Woody Crumbo, Nan Sheets, and Doel Reed. The metal animal mask shown above is by Ken Little.

Here’s an exterior shot of the capitol, where you can just make out the American Indian sculpture that stands on top of the dome. It’s called “The Guardian,” and although he might look small from here, he is actually 17.5 feet tall. He also makes the Oklahoma Capitol five feet taller than the US Capitol.

In addition to “The Guardian,” there are a few other statues on the grounds of the capitol, including this dynamic cowboy sculpture.

I’ll end with a shot of Lake Hefner, which was built in 1947. Yes, this lake was built. Most lakes in Oklahoma are manmade, and Hefner was set up as a city reservoir. It’s popular with windsurfers and kite boarders because the wind on the plains just never stops in Oklahoma City.

More Oklahoma posts soon!