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Unformatted text preview: Oil Derricks and Corinthian Columns: The Industrial Transformation of the Oklahoma State Capitol Grounds David S. Robertson Abstract. Nowhere is the petroleum industry's imprint on the Oklahoma landscape more striking than on the State Capitol Grounds in Oklahoma City, where the Capitol shares an unusual partnership in space with oil der- ricks. David Lowenthal suggests that the siting of oil wells on the State Capitol reflects American culture's tendency to value landscape function over form. Although Lowenthal's observations of the American landscape have proven informative, his brief discussion of Oklahoma's Capitol derricks fails to provide adequate insight into the cultural values this landscape reflects. Using historical information gathered from newspapers, literary accounts, and photographs, this study documents how Oklahoma's revered Capitol Grounds have been transformed by oil development, and the process by which this change occurred. Investigation shows that despite difficult economic times, many residents opposed oil development on the Capitol Grounds. Furthermore, it was not the mandate of a pragmatic public but rather the decision of a single individual that opened the Capitol to drilling. The persistence of the relic Capitol derricks can be attributed to their signifi- cance as symbols of an Oklahoma way of life. For many Oklahomans, the petroleum industry's imprint on the landscape is as indelible an image of "Oklahomaness" as the '89er, Native American culture, and college football. 1 The oil well, identi- fied at the surface by the presence of a derrick or pumping unit, is a symbol of the state's livelihood that is firmly entrenched in the Okla- homa imagination. Perhaps the best-known of any of the state's oil wells is the Capitol No. 1, which was drilled in 1942 on the State Capitol Grounds in Oklahoma City. Affectionately dubbed "Petunia No. 1" because it was sunk into a flower bed, the well is notable for its conspicuous location less than 100 meters (325 feet) from the Capi- tol's south entrance. The Capitol's imposing neoclassical facade as 17 Downloaded By: [University of Oklahoma] At: 13:21 14 August 2010 18 ■ Journal of Cultural Geography viewed through the latticework of Petunia's derrick is one of the state's most memorable images (Fig. 1.). "Thousands of postcards and tourist snapshots of wells with the Capitol in the background have made the scene the most familiar picture of Oklahoma," stated journalist Ed Montgomery (1969, 6), and the scene's reproduction in encyclopedic references and tourist brochures is evidence of its sig- nificance as a distinctive Oklahoma landmark. The sight of oil derricks on the Oklahoma State Capitol Grounds —there are nine preserved on the site—is memorable because a revered Capitol landscape is an unusual place to find the physical manifestations of the petroleum industry. In many ways, it is difficult to imagine a more striking juxtaposition of landscape features, yet little critical attention has been paid to the site. The question of how little critical attention has been paid to the site....
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This note was uploaded on 09/26/2011 for the course HON 2973 taught by Professor Staff during the Fall '11 term at The University of Oklahoma.
- Fall '11
- Democracy in America