Path Home Shows 2017 Show Archive May 2017 Show 1719 Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1719

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1719

This week on “Oklahoma Horizon,” we visit Ringling, Oklahoma, to see how oil, intrigue and John Ringling’s circus put this small town on the map.
Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1719

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1719

For more information visit these links:

Ringling Brothers Circus

Kelly Miller Circus

Oklahoma Historical Society

Will Roberts

Show Details

Show 1719: Oklahoma Horizon TV
Air Date: May 7, 2017

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: Here’s what’s coming up on your “Horizon.”

NATS: Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, Nicole Feld and all of Feld are proud to present Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey! Welcome to the Greatest Show On Earth!

Rob: Well, this month, an American tradition comes to an end as The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus plays its final show in May. But before that final curtain falls, we look at a unique connection Oklahoma has with the greatest show on earth.

If anybody asks about the town of Ringling, they say, “Ringling? I’ve never heard of Ringling.” I said, “You always say the circus.”

Rob: We will see how this small Oklahoma town got its start thanks to the circus and a whole lot of intrigue. We go under the big top at Oklahoma’s Kelly Miller Circus and visit a Ringling carrying on the family tradition.

I would always miss the circus, and I said, “Hey, I’m 66, it might be my last chance. So I bought it.”

Rob: The Oklahoma History Center’s Bob Blackburn takes us through the new exhibit “Smoke Over Oklahoma.”

Until the 1930s, railroads were the most important link with economic success, with population growth, with social history, whether it was a circus traveling by rail.

Rob: And we end our day at one of my favorite places with someone you just might remember. Stay with us for “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Female Announcer: “Oklahoma Horizon” is made possible by CareerTech – a job for every Oklahoman and a workforce for every company -- with additional support from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” I’m Rob McClendon. Well, few art forms have influenced American culture more than the circus. There was a time when the circus came to town, schools let out and businesses closed so everyone could go watch the spectacle. And at its prime, The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was considered the family-friendly outing. But circuses, they began to lose their appeal. And this month the circus billed as “The Greatest Show On Earth” closes for good. Certainly an interesting story unto itself, but one that also has a direct tie to Oklahoma. In the early days of the state, a railroad running through town could mean the difference between economic growth, or literally getting passed by. However, railroads are expensive to build. So when an Oklahoma wildcatter oilman by the name of Jake Hamon was told the well-dressed man sitting in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria was the John Ringling, Hamon approached him. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Rob McClendon: Well, whether a cleverly crafted plan or just fortuitous, what happened inside the Waldorf Astoria in 1912, we will never know. But what we do know is Jake and Clara Hamon left the New York city hotel in partnership with John Ringling of Ringling brothers fame. By this point in his career, John Ringling was just as interested in railroads as high wire acts. So Hamon and Ringling began buying land just west of Ardmore along a path they planned on building a railroad, all the way to the Pacific ocean. Construction began in 1913 with Oklahoma Gov. Lee Cruce driving the first spike. And the Oklahoma, New Mexico (and) Pacific Railroad became reality.

Mike Moore: And that is how the town of Ringling got formed.

Rob: Meet Mike Moore. Except for his time at pharmacy school, he’s called Ringling, Oklahoma, home.

Mike Moore: My understanding, that he came over here and wanted to winter the circus here in Ringling. Apparently what happened, the first winter that he was going to bring the circus out, because they traveled by the train, was the worst winter in Oklahoma history, I guess. They had blizzards and storms and snow and sleet and ice and everything else. So he did not bring the circus out here, and he never came back with the circus.

NATS: Spring is surely here when the circus comes to town.

Rob: So while John Ringling’s circus actually never came to the town of his namesake, something else did, oil. And thanks to Jake Hamon securing 8,000 acres of oil-rich land leases, John Ringling became one of the richest men on earth. And the town of Ringling, well, it became a boomtown. Today Ringling is a sleepy little place with a church bake sale the only excitement we could find.

NATS: When Ringling left from here all they left was their monkeys behind. So maybe that’s why we love each other so much.

Rob: But in its hey day estimates are up to half of the businesses John Ringling owned here were of the entertainment nature.

Rob: I’ve got to read this little passage here.

Mike Moore: All right.

Rob: The little town was alive and moving 24 hours a day. This is talking about early Ringling. She didn’t have time to settle down into the quiet community she is today. Instead numerous pool halls, honky-tonks with dime-a-dance girls, bootleggers and prostitutes filled the streets.

Mike Moore: That’s probably true. I was a little young for that, but I’m sure that’s very true.

Rob: Much night life here now?

Mike Moore: Uh, no! Very quiet. Very quiet night life.

NATS: Oilfield workers are called drillers, roughnecks, roustabouts, rope chokers.

Rob: With the oil flowing and money plentiful, John Ringling went on to travel the world buying all types of artwork to adorn his Sarasota, Florida, mansion, while Jake Hamon stayed put, bought more oil leases and became rich in his own right. But the good times were not to last for either man.

Rob McClendon: For Jake Hamon, his newfound fortune allowed him to attain the political prominence he had so long sought. Yet like so many, it was his greatest desires that led to his eventual undoing. This historical marker almost hidden by bushes is all that remains of what happened here in downtown Ardmore on Nov. 21, 1920. It was in a room in the posh Randol Hotel that Jake Hamon told Clara Hamon that he was to be newly elected President Warren G. Harding’s secretary of the interior. And while he was heading off to Washington to join the president’s cabinet, she wasn't. That's because Clara Hamon was not his wife, but his mistress and niece by marriage. Well, no one really knows what happened in that hotel room except that Jake Hamon was shot. Bleeding, he stumbled down the stairs into the lobby and was taken to the hospital two blocks away where he told authorities, “Clara didn't murder me even if she did fire the fatal shot.” But not everyone was so convinced. And Clara was whisked off to Mexico by a confidant of President-elect Harding. Within weeks Clara was extradited and stood trial at the Carter County Courthouse. And it only took the jury 39 minutes to come back with their verdict, not guilty. And so ended a love affair turned sour and Hamon’s dreams of political greatness.

Rob: Today Jake and Clara’s portraits still hang in a vacant downtown storefront in Ringling. And at the city limits, welcome signs that look like a circus tent.

Mike Moore: Over the years, we’ve had a connection, and if anybody asks about the town of Ringling, and they say, “Ringling? I’ve never heard of Ringling.” I said, “Well, you always say the circus.”

Rob: And while the circus actually never came to town, Ringling did go to the circus.

Mike Moore: I mean the whole town went. Of course there was probably 1,400 people at the time, 14, 1,500 people. You could have, that would have been a good day to rob Ringling, because there wasn’t anybody in town.

NATS: Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, Nicole Feld.

Rob: And as the greatest show on earth plays its final performance this month, townsfolk in Ringling say while they are sad to see it go, they have had some time to get over it, considering it has now been over a hundred years since the Ringling Brothers Circus never came to town.

Rob: Now, a postscript. While a bullet did cut Jake Hamon’s life short, his political wheelings and dealings lived on well after him. Estimates are the Oklahoma oilman spent close to a million dollars in bribes at the 1920 Republican Convention to get Ohio Sen. Warren Harding that nomination. And ironically, it was the secretary of the interior cabinet position that the conniving Hamon thought he had bought that led to the largest corruption investigation of that day. Called the Teapot Dome Scandal, it sent one member of Harding’s cabinet to prison and is believed to have been behind the stress that led to the president’s fatal heart attack while still in office. And while Jake Hamon never got to enjoy the political spotlight he sought so much, his son did. Jake Hamon Jr. became a successful Texas oilman and one of President Bush senior’s most trusted advisers. And as for Clara Hamon? Well, after acquittal on murder charges, she left the state for Hollywood, where she became the star of an autobiographical movie called “Fate,” which chronicled the two star-crossed lovers’ doomed relationship. And while she made no other films, she did marry the movie’s director. And then there is John Ringling. He sold his Oklahoma railroad in 1924, but did retain all his oil leases. By 1925, his assets were estimated to be over $100 million, which included not just the circus, but banks, real estate and hotels. In 1927, his circus did find its winter home, not in Oklahoma, but in Sarasota, Florida, not far from his mansion. And in 1929, he went on to buy the American Circus Corp., which after the stock market crash of that same year brought down his entire financial empire. Once one of the wealthiest men in the world, John Ringling died in 1936 with only $311 in the bank. And as for The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, well, it closes for good on May 21. Now, when we return, keeping a Ringling inside the big top.

Female Announcer: You are watching “Oklahoma Horizon” with Rob McClendon – weekly insight into your changing world.

Rob McClendon: Well, when John Ringling North II heard that The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus would close this May, he says he was distressed, but didn’t have time to dwell on the news because he had his own circus to produce, the Oklahoma-based Kelly Miller Circus. And I caught up with him as they were getting this year’s tour underway.

NATS: Good evening, Marietta, Oklahoma!

Rob McClendon: It’s been called America’s one-ring wonder. Founded in 1938, the Oklahoma based Kelly Miller circus has entertained millions of Americans. So when it went up for sale in 2006 --

John Ringling North II: I thought about it for 20 minutes, and I decided to buy it.

Rob: Born into the most famous of circus families, John Ringling North II’s great uncles were the famous Ringling brothers, his grandmother their only sister.

John Ringling North II: I had always missed the circus, and I said, “Hey, I am 66, it might be my last chance.” So I bought it.

Rob: Most nights you can find him near ringside enjoying some of the very same acts he grew up with.

John Ringling North II: They all have cell phones. They play games. But when you see a real elephant or somebody swinging up there with no net or anything in person, it’s a whole different ball game.

Rob: That in so many ways is a throwback to simpler times. Family fun, but with no shortage of excitement. And North isn’t the only one here with circus in his blood. Becky Ostroff started off studying modern dance in New York.

Becky Ostroff: And a friend asked me to dance in a circus in New Hampshire. I went kind of as a lark, and I saw these women doing my passion. So I said, “Modern dance, see ya, I’m running away and joining the circus.” And that was 1986.

Rob: And Ostroff isn’t alone. Many of these performers are second-, third-, one even a ninth-generation circus performer.

Becky Ostroff: There is about just under 70 of us. And we are one collective family. We are a family. One person has a joy in their lives, we all do. One person has a sadness, we all do. We’re a family, extended family, and we’re kind of like the pulse of the circus.

Rob: Day in and day out, this year the Kelly Miller circus will perform 420 different shows across 13 states. So a lot of traveling?

John Ringling North II: Oh, yeah, every day. But that’s, if you’re used to it, that is not a problem at all.

Rob: But still quite something to watch. As soon as the last fanfare is over, the tent starts to come down.

John Ringling North II: It takes about three hours to put it up and about an hour to take it down, unless there is a party after the show and in 45 minutes they have it down and go to the party.

Rob: Then on to the next town.

John Ringling North II: In, our 24-hour man will have it all marked out, where the tent goes, where you park, that’s all done in advance.

Rob: A pretty, grueling schedule, but one John Ringling North says is worth it every time he says goodbye to a crowd.

John Ringling North II: Standing outside that door where the people come out with smiles on their faces and saying how much they enjoyed live entertainment even though they’ve got, you know, 90 television channels and maybe more, their cell phones where they can play games, but they still like to see a live performance.

Rob McClendon: Now, when I asked John Ringling North what it was like being the last Ringling to be in the circus, he says he still holds out hope that between his two sons and daughter the family’s big top legacy just may live on.

Female Announcer: Still to come on “Oklahoma Horizon,” Will Roberts on Will Rogers. But first, smoke over Oklahoma.

Rob McClendon: Well, a new exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center chronicles the role early railroads played in our state through the eye of an Oklahoman and his camera. And I had the executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society Bob Blackburn show me around. Dr. Blackburn, how important were railroads in the development of Oklahoma?

Bob Blackburn: Well, from 1871 when the first rail line was built across Indian Territory --- that was the old Katy that connected Vinita, Muskogee, Atoka, Durant -- to the 1920s, railroads determined success or failure for communities. If you had a railroad, you had a chance to import goods cheaply, a way to get the commodities out, whether it was oil or wheat or cotton. And then if you were at the junction of two railroads you had an advantage that was doubled. So towns like Oklahoma City, Muskogee, Woodward, Enid grew because they had the railroad connections. Towns that did not have that did not. So you can drive through any Oklahoma community, and I can tell you when they were booming. And it was because they could get those commodities out to add value to what they were producing, to get things in at a lower value and attract population, development, commerce would grow. So until the 1930s, railroads were the most important link with economic success, with population growth, with social history, whether it was a circus traveling by rail or bringing movies in for the theater by rail or the Chautauqua people moving around the country. Socially, railroads were very significant.

Rob: And not only were there competition for the railroads, there was also competition among the railroads. Not all of them lasted.

Bob Blackburn: Absolutely, and there were so many short-line railroads. There was one railroad that’s depicted in this exhibit, The Oklahoma Central, that was funded with Dutch money on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange in 1907. These Dutchmen trying to get 6 percent return on their money invested in this little rail line that went from Pauls Valley to Chickasha connecting with Krebs. So the coal, the community of Pauls Valley, which was doing very well at the time, and Chickasha that was cotton culture. Well, they invested, and they built. Well, they didn’t survive because as the value of cotton and coal went down, it went away. And so we have a lot of abandoned rail lines in Oklahoma because there were so many built. From 1900 to 1910 more miles of track laid in Oklahoma than in all other decades combined, even the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s. That one decade, that was the golden age of railroads in Oklahoma. And this exhibit behind us captures the drama of those steam-powered locomotives going up an incline, either in western Oklahoma, eastern Oklahoma, southern, northern, under a full head of steam delivering those goods and passengers to these communities. These photographs were taken by Preston George, a graduate of A&M, an engineer who had this artistic side of taking one photograph of a steam locomotive belching out that smoke, but then the engineering side would collect the data. Where did that train start? Where did it end? What was the cargo? What’s the configuration of the locomotives? We have over a thousand of these negatives with all of this information that came in, in one collection. Now, we have a book, this exhibit called “Smoke Over Oklahoma,” to draw attention both to Preston’s accomplishment, but also the significance of railroads in our history.

Rob: All right. Thank you so much, Dr. Blackburn.

Bob Blackburn: Thank you.

Female Announcer: “Horizon” is at your fingertips – join us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to catch the segments you may have missed and our latest new content as it happens.

Rob McClendon: Well, if you are a longtime viewer of our show, you may remember our friend Will Roberts.

[NATS].

Rob: Since doing his weekly commentary here on “Horizon,” Will has been a bit busy. In addition to his rope tricks and fast draw gunplay, the humorist has been spending a lot of time on stage and screen. And when not shooting a movie or getting named the fastest gun in the west by the BBC, Roberts still likes to visit the museum of Oklahoma’s favorite son and his inspiration, Will Rogers.

Will Roberts: By far my favorite thing to do while in Oklahoma is to go to Claremore, Oklahoma, the birthplace of humorist Will Rogers. So today let’s do a tour of the Will Rogers Memorial here in Claremore, Oklahoma, and see what we can see about the man, the myth, the legend and a darn funny guy. Here we go. This memorial was built in 1938 and houses the most spectacular memorabilia of humorist Will Rogers from his vaudeville days to his days as a cowboy and his radio days and his amazing career as the world’s most beloved humorist and friend. So one of the things you have to do when you’re here at the memorial, you’ve got to take a look at this statue. It’s an amazing statue of Will Rogers. And hey, more importantly, you’ve got to rub the foot for good luck. Or maybe both for twice the good luck. In the 1920s and ’30s, Will was so popular that it was not an event if Will didn’t speak at it. All right, so now we’re in the radio room. One of Will’s biggest accomplishments was radio. I will tell you that if you go to willrogers.com, you can probably find some of the audios there.

Will Rogers: Don’t get scared and start turning off your radio now. I’m not advertising or trying to sell you anything. If the mouthwash you’re using is not the right kind, and it tastes sort of like sheep dip, why, you’ll just have to go right on using it. I can’t advise any other kind at all.

Will Roberts: One of the greatest displays at the memorial is the miniatures. Amazingly crafted and detailed scenes of Will Rogers’ life and his career. OK, so this is the movie theater. Well, it is one of the movie theaters. There’s another large one down at the end. We’ll check it out later. But this is a cool one. It’s a neat little sitting space to see some of Will Rogers’ movies, and Will Rogers did over 70 films in his lifetime. That’s a lot of them. But the one most notable film that every roper or cowfolk loves is “Roping Fool.” Check it out on Google or go to willrogers.com and see if they have reference to it. Amazing stuff that you can do with a rope, but amazing film, and it was really put together just to show Will’s roping foolness and what he can do with a rope and some of the most amazing things that have ever been done with a rope and still to this day have not been done. Check it out. So let’s go back to viewing some of the movies that Will Rogers did. You guys got popcorn? You’re going to need some.

[Music].

Will Roberts: This great theater is host to special events, movie viewings and memorial celebrations. You can go to the website to get more information. One of my favorite things is to come outside and into the courtyard or I should say the grounds. And this time of year, it is just a spectacular view. Of course when the snow is laying it is amazing as well, but a lot colder. But the good thing about right now is you’ve got that Oklahoma sun on your face, you’ve got a beautiful smell, and you have such a site. Traveling through Oklahoma is one of my favorite things to do, but sitting here in this area where Will and his family are laid to rest is probably one of the most peaceful things that I have ever done. The beauty is amazing, the history is amazing, and it is what makes Oklahoma amazing. And you’ll ask anybody that is very true Oklahoman what they think is the pride and joy of Oklahoma, and I bet you a lot of them will still say their favorite son, Will Rogers. Well, that’s it. Will Rogers Memorial here in Claremore, Oklahoma. If you want more information go to willrogers.com. So I brought my rope because coming to the Will Rogers Memorial and not bringing your rope and spinning it, if you spin, is a little bit like going to the Statue of Liberty and sitting at the bottom and waving and not going to the top. So on the way out here, I’m going to spin my rope. This is for you, Will, and, of course ,my dear friend Doris Kochmeyer. Here we go.

Female Announcer: Want to see more stories like this? All our segments are streaming on our YouTube channel at OklahomaHorizonTV.

Rob McClendon: Next time on “Oklahoma Horizon,” learning the humanity of medicine with some robotic help.

In SIM Lab, they are the nurse for that patient that day. They’re making the decisions. They’re the ones that have to go in, assess the situation, use clinical reasoning. So they’re the thinking brain when they’re in SIM. They’re the doer.

[SIM patient: I can’t breathe].

NATS: Student nurse administering CPR and counting chest compressions.

Plus, a Mother’s Day story to warm your heart, on Oklahoma’s show for the heartland, “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Rob McClendon: Thanks for including us as part of your day. I’m Rob McClendon. Hope to see you back here next week.