BOISE CITY, Okla. – Main Street is as American as baseball and apple pie. Classic Main Streets are a snapshot of traditional values, and they've kept communities across the United States alive, housing small businesses and institutions like schools, police stations, city halls, parks and newspaper offices.
But as the population of the United States continues to move from rural to urban settings, Main Streets in many small towns are dwindling. And in some places, the people and businesses that call Main Street home are struggling to survive.
Nowhere is the allure of Main Street and its history coupled with its quest to remain relevant more prevalent than in Oklahoma, right in the heart of middle America. I'm an Oklahoma native, and I've been chronicling the state's Main Streets for a blog and a book. Here are some of the unique stories told by Oklahoma's Main Streets, from a World War II bombing to an annual Sucker Day.
Boise City (rhymes with voice) is located in the westernmost county in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Like several of the county seats in the western part of the state, Boise City's Main Street features a courthouse square. A roundabout helps drivers maneuver around the Cimarron County courthouse since the city — and entire county — has no stoplight. At one edge of the roundabout sits a plaque and replica bomb representing one of the oddest events in the city's history: During World War II the city was bombed by accident in the middle of the night by a U.S. crew. No one was killed in the July 5, 1943, incident, but the community still notes the event.
Clearview's Main Street is lined with abandoned buildings, but its history is fascinating. Its original inhabitants were former slaves owned by Native American tribes. Clearview is one of 13 such all-black communities remaining in Oklahoma; others have disappeared. But efforts are underway to renew interest in the towns. Regular tours of Clearview, its empty Main Street and other communities founded by freed slaves take place each year. Clearview is located in Oklahoma's Okfuskee County in the east-central part of the state,
Wakita's Main Street may be familiar to movie buffs or extreme weather fans: It was depicted in the 1996 movie "Twister" about a team of tornado researchers. In the fictional movie starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton, a tornado decimates the town. Nearly 20 years later, the town still draws fans of the movie to the Twister Museum on Main Street, located in the film's former location office. The museum includes photos, original home video of the movie's filming, autographs, a pinball machine donated by Paxton and the movie prop for Dorothy I, which was a tornado research device.
Once a year, the residents in this city of about 1,300 gather along Main Street to remember how foolish they once were. Back in the 1950s, a man named F. Bam Morrison arrived in Wetumka with the exciting news that a circus would be coming to town. For it to occur, he told the residents, they needed to help him prepare by selling tickets, reserving hotel and performance space, and buying advertising. But it turned out it was all a hoax. There was no circus, and the community's residents were had by a con artist. Rather than become bitter, though, they held their own celebration, which has become known as the Sucker Day. The yearly event held each September now features a parade, arts and crafts, gooey snacks and more.
Unlike some Main Streets in smaller places, Tulsa's Main Street is vibrant and home to a number of restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, including The Tavern, The Soundpony and The Hunt Club, along with one of the city's most significant landmarks, Cain's Ballroom. Located in a building that dates to 1924, Cain's has featured everyone from Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys to Hank Williams and Dwight Yoakam.