Iconic Oklahoma:  Claremore and Catoosa boast world-renowned personalities, destinations

By Shel Wagner

There are places that allow us to feel most like ourselves…where the longitudes and latitudes lace effortlessly together, and the connection we feel to our home state becomes most apparent. 

Long about where Catoosa and Claremore straddle the Verdigris River is that spot for me.  The next time you’re in need of a total “Okie immersion,” see if this area doesn’t fulfill you, too. 

To prepare for the journey, you’ll need first to stock your road-trip pantry and The Nut House is your munchies headquarters.  Shouldering a grove of pecan trees west of Claremore on Route 66, this 30-year-old destination offers more than just our native nut.  There is crunchy, snacky, hot and spicy, alongside chocolate covered everything.  If you need something more substantial, The Nut House also features Hot Mama’s Deli, which serves up yummy lunch fare.  Finish with Gooey Butter Cake or Knock Ya Naked Brownies.

Once you have your glove-box supplied, swerve across the highway to catch up with the Blue Whale of Catoosa.  (If you want “Blue” to talk back, “friend” her on Facebook.  She’s hilarious!)  With more miles of Route 66 than any other state, and perhaps the most recognizable icon of the Mother Road, the Blue Whale should be a part of any sincere Okie soak-up.

Greeting travelers on the historic highway since the 1970’s, after Hugh Davis built her as an anniversary gift for his wife, the grinning whale graces every legitimate Route 66 guidebook, and is high on Time Magazine’s roster of Top 50 Roadside Attractions.

As you coast into Claremore, you’ll notice streets named for legendary folks who have called this town home, and meanwhile shaped our state’s persona:  Celebrities like singin’ rage Patti Page, whose outrageously successful musical career in the 1950’s is the subject of a new play: “Flipside: The Patti Page Story” making its Oklahoma premiere at the Robson Performing Arts Center early next month.

You may have heard of another stage production rooted in Claremore?  Lynn Riggs’ musical “Green Grow the Lilacs” was tweaked ever-so-slightly to become Rogers and Hammerstein’s production “Oklahoma!” which not only introduced our state to the world, but set new standards for American theatre, and broke box office records. 

At the Lynn Riggs Memorial you’ll feel your Okie-pride swell as you stand before the original “surrey with the fringe on top” from the 1955 movie, along with a dress Shirley Jones wore as Laurey.

Once you’re in that celebrity mind-set, you are primed to venture up the hill to absorb the personality that still defines our state.  The Will Rogers Memorial and Museum, built on the very swath of soil Will himself had chosen to be his eventual retirement venue, holds gems from his multi-faceted life:  from trick roper and Hollywood actor (He starred in 71 movies!), to newspaper columnist and political humorist.  His folksy observations were prized universally.  Will Rogers wore his home state like a badge of honor, and after a few hours here, you will too.

Once you’ve bid farewell to our favorite son, circle back around to Hammett House for some authentic Oklahoma cuisine.  Open since the 1960’s, this Claremore tradition is well known for its pampered fried chicken, hot mashed-potato-rolls and mile-high pie.

Yep, within a few geographic miles, in Catoosa and Claremore, you can bask in quintessential Okie-ness.  And perhaps the best time to venture here is during the 9-days-long Destination Claremore celebration that kicks off later this week, with special events happening throughout the city.  Click on www.visitclaremore.org to plan your loop, and to get reacquainted with your Oklahoma-self.

Shel Wagner is Executive Producer and segment host of AAA’s Discover Oklahoma television program.