Photos by Matt Choquette
For a phenomenon that didn’t have quite as devastating an effect on Sapulpa as it did in the Oklahoma panhandle, it’s surprising at just how riveting the new Dust Bowl exhibit at the Sapulpa Historical Society Museum, “Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry,” is when you actually see it.
The traveling exhibit, on loan from the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, is a fascinating combination of stories, photography, and audio, that tells about one of the darkest periods of time for the midwest—both literally and figuratively. During the 1930s, bad farming practices, along with sudden overcrowding in certain areas, gave way to a series of dust storms that sometimes blackened the sky. These choking billows of dust—named “black blizzards” or “black rollers”—traveled cross country, reaching as far as the East Coast and striking such cities as New York City and Washington, D.C. On the plains, they often reduced visibility to 3 feet (1 m) or less.
Collections Manager Rachel Whitney told Sapulpa Times on Thursday that getting the exhibit to Sapulpa took a lot of patience. “We’ve been on the waiting list for over a year,” she said. “We hope to be able to continue to get traveling exhibits like this, at least once or twice a year.”
When asked why they chose the Dust Bowl exhibit, Whitney said, “I spoke with the Display Committee for the museum and they requested this one, since we don’t really have anything in the museum currently about the Dust Bowl.” The Dust Bowl was a well-known situation across the United States, but not particularly disastrous for areas outside of the “bowl” shaped area where the storms were most prevalent. That doesn’t mean, however, that the effects weren’t felt elsewhere. The exhibit mentions inches of dust being found in Chicago, and even upon the decks of ships sitting in the Atlantic.
In addition to the photography and stories of survival, viewers can use their phone’s QR code reader to listen to oral stories given to those who lived through the Dust Bowl and what they’re experience was like.
“Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry” is available on the third floor of the Sapulpa Historical Society Museum at 100 E. Lee Ave in downtown Sapulpa. The exhibit will be available from now until May the 2nd during the museum’s normal hours of operation, from 10 am to 3 pm, Tuesday through Saturday.