The Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore is dedicated to sharing the historic life of cowboy and entertainer, Will Rogers.
FOX23 talked to Bart Taylor, the museum’s interpreter and creative curator, about what the museum is doing to spread the word about Rogers’ incredible life and the person he was.
“He’s called Oklahoma’s favorite son for a reason. He’s someone that we can teach kids about for future generations,” said Taylor. “He’s someone we can always look to for high character and high moral traits.”
Rogers was a proud Cherokee descendent born in Oologah in 1879. He was trained to rope and ride by a freed slave.
His life spanned five decades, and in that time he brought humor to the vaudeville circuit, wrote daily columns for newspapers and made over 71 movies. He was a humanitarian, an avid baseball fan and loved to fly in airplanes.
Taylor said Rogers had a mansion in Hollywood, but always intended to retire in Oklahoma.
“You tell people who moved to Claremore or that are visiting, this was gonna be Will’s retirement home,” said Taylor.
In 1911, Rogers bought 20 acres that the museum now sits on to be his retirement home. Rogers and his family are buried at the museum grounds.
“You get to see a lot of things that are attached to his life that meant so much to him. Things that he actually touched or he used on the vaudeville stage,” said Taylor.
Rogers’ first step into the spotlight was as a vaudeville performer where he told jokes while trick roping in Wild West shows across the U.S. and in Europe.
Taylor started working at the Will Rogers Museum in 2012 as an intern, while pursuing his master’s degree at Northeastern State University. He actually learned to trick rope, just like Will Rogers.
“That’s something that I wanted to learn because I feel like it’s impactful,” said Taylor. “[Kids] can understand right away that Will wasn’t just some normal comedian. He had a long pedigree of working his way up to that big top spot and it started with ropes. It started with being a cowboy entertainer.”
Part of Taylor’s mission is teaching kids about Will Rogers and what an interesting person he was.
“We’re trying to share his wit and his wisdom for generations to come,” Taylor said.
He even worked with the museum to write a children’s book about Will Rogers, titled “Will Rogers and the Great White House Sleepover”, based on the true event.
“He was actually invited by Calvin Coolidge to spend the night at the White House,” said Taylor.
He said the book demonstrates that people can find common ground despite their differences.
“They didn’t agree on things in the beginning, but you see in the book, they come together through those things that we love and hold dear about Will Rogers,” said Taylor.
Taylor said seeing Rogers in a children’s book is important because kids can better visualize Rogers as a real person.
“They always see Will Rogers in those old sepia tones,” said Taylor. “So we wanted to make it fresh for them.”
The museum and the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch in Oologah regularly plan events for kids and families.
The museum hosts movie nights on the last Friday of every month in its theater.
February’s movie night was postponed due to winter weather to Friday, March 4. The theater is playing “The Wizard of Oz” on the big screen at 7 p.m. Doors open at 5:45, and Horsing Around with Will goes from 6 to 7, which features kids crafts and games.
The museum is hosting a spring break event from March 14 through March 18 where kids can play 19th century games, learn rope making and go on behind the scenes tours to see special items not typically on display to the public.
“It’s just a great place to come and see and visit, and it’s perfect for kids and families,” said Taylor.
For a full list of events at the museum and ranch, click here.
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