One could argue that relatively small Elk City is the museum capital of the world.
Yes, the District of Columbia has 80 facilities and Florence, Italy, 72. Those metropolises dwarf Elk City in population, but this Beckham County burg has more museums per capita than anyplace else.
The National Route 66, Transportation, Farm and Ranch, Blacksmith and Old Town museums give Elk City one such institution per 2,311 residents – far more dense than Washington’s 8,781 and Florence’s 9,830.
Office manager Maxine Jackson says about 23,000 people visit Elk City’s five museums each year.
“They’re all within walking distance of each other; they’re real close,” Jackson says. “The museums are appreciated and we’re proud of them.”
Julie Lenius, director of the convention and visitors bureau, and Jim Mason, director of economic and community development, say 60% of Elk City’s 130,000 annual visitors are internationals. Their financial impact on the city is between $20 million and $30 million, Lenius says.
Mason says Elk City is second only to Lawton in the amount of sales taxes collected in cities west of Interstate 35 and outside metropolitan Oklahoma City. He says a bulk of that $1.3 million is paid by tourists.
Jackson has favorite elements at each museum – machinery from the early 1900s at Farm and Ranch; anvils and workshops at Blacksmith; a perm machine (for a hairdo) and gun display at Old Town; a 1955 Cadillac (“It’s not Elvis’ but it’s pink,” she says) and 1917 REO firetruck at Transportation; and an old-time diner replica at National Route 66.
Fitting with these tributes to the past is Elk City’s reputation as a quilting haven. Twice a year, the Tumbleweed Quilt Retreat draws about 90 participants, organizer Darla Schmahl says. The 12th annual fall event is Oct. 25-26.
“The youngest is usually about 10 years old, the oldest in her 90s,” Schmahl says. “It’s a diverse group with diverse talents and we share those talents. Two ladies can take the same pattern and, using different materials, make completely different quilts.”
Conversation is often funny, but Schmahl says she can’t repeat any anecdotes because “what goes on at Quilt Retreat stays at Quilt Retreat. Let’s just say we have wicked senses of humor and enjoy each other’s company.”
Downtown features the retired Parker No. 114 – at 181 feet, one of the tallest oil rigs in the world. Drivers on Interstate 40, a half-mile away, can easily see the structure.
Jimmy Webb, songwriter deluxe in the 1960s and ‘70s, was born in Elk City in 1946. He penned such hits as “Up, Up and Away” (made famous by The 5th Dimension), “Galveston,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell) and “MacArthur Park” (Richard Harris, followed by Donna Summer).
Not by the Sea
Ackley Park’s Centennial Lighthouse, marking Oklahoma’s 100th birthday in 2007, is a 42-foot-tall symbol “shining a beacon of light on Elk City’s future,” economic official Jim Mason says.
Elk City’s Susan Powell was crowned Miss America 1981 primarily because of her singing talent. Her rendition of “The Telephone: Lucy’s Aria” captivated a nationwide TV audience.
Dr. Michael Shadid, using the successful model of farmers’ cooperatives, established the first cooperatively owned and operated hospital in the United States in 1931. It was initially funded with farmers’ annual co-op dues.
Caw of the Town
Around 1900, Crowe ditched its original name for Busch in hopes of persuading Adolphus Busch to put one of his breweries there. That didn’t work, so the town changed its name again, to Elk City, after nearby Elk Creek.