This Week in Sapulpa History: Sapulpa’s Pageant of Progress

Rachel Whitney,
Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum

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This week in Sapulpa history, many visitors from across the state were attracted to the entertainment presented by Sapulpans. “Reports indicated the largest out-of-town crowd that has ever visited the city for an attraction such as the big Pageant.” The “Pageant of Progress” stage production entertained a large crowd the week of Armistice Day, November 11, 1921.

From July 30 to August 14, 1921, Chicago introduced at the World’s Fair the “Pageant of Progress.” The two-week-long pageant held “the greatest collection of business and industrial exhibits this city has seen since the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Hundreds of thousands of visitors who were wowed by such disparate entertainment as mock pirate attacks, sky-diving stunts, speedboat races, the advance of firefighting equipment through time, a typing contest (126-words-per-minute was good enough to win)” and the evolution of lights. It was also said to have been “three-fourths education, and one-fourth confetti.”

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It is unknown if someone from Sapulpa was able to visit Chicago during this time, and brought back an idea to entertain Sapulpans, or someone read about the Chicago event that struck up the idea to have a Sapulpa version. But the same week as the Chicago’s pageant ended it was announced that Sapulpa would put on the Oklahoman version of “Pageant of Progress.”

Sapulpa’s “first community sing” through participants from Community Service Inc. was at the bandstand on August 10, 1921. The community gathered to sing songs like “Battle Hymn,” “Till We Meet Again,” “Star Spangled Banner,” etc. A representative from the organization stated he believed “the work of the community council will continue,” referring to Sapulpa citizens participating in event productions.

When the idea was pitched, it was presented as a production of Oklahoma progress, but it also held a large portion of the pageant to Sapulpa history. “He told of the ‘Pageant of Sapulpa’ which the community council plans to give in November. It will be the biggest thing of its kind ever held in Oklahoma, and will give Sapulpa more national advertising than anything it has ever done.”

At the time, it was estimated it would include over a thousand Sapulpans to be in the cast. Sapulpans gathered to participate in being the writers of the big event. “The history of the community, a typical one of Oklahoma, will be portrayed from the misty days when only the [American] Indians held sway over the land” until the modern age of 1921. The production included “period when the territory was emerging into statehood,” “wild west days of the state when the land was covered with ranches and the old time bandits of the [Belle] Starr type were having their heyday,” “the oil development and other signs of modern progress will be shown,” leading up to close with “World War scenes.”

Many local participants were included in the writing and casting. The Community Service, Inc. sent word that a “pageant expert” would come from New York to handle “the technical phases of the big show,” or directing.

In order to pull off the historical pageant, swarms of people began collecting data. “Special committees are writing the historical material which will be turned into dramatic form by a special pageant director, a “Miss Edna Keith.*”

*Note: the newspapers never said if she was the one from New York, but over the months, the newspapers referred to her as the director or one of the directors.

 Many organizations like the American Legion, Kiwanis, YWCA, and nearly fifty other groups participated as cast members. Students from Washington and Jefferson entered the poster and sticker contest. Since August, hundreds of people have volunteered to take on many roles of cast members, set designers, helpers, and stagehands. For weeks, nearly every day, under the section in newspapers called “society” every club held a rehearsal for the upcoming pageant.

The town’s people were ready to put on a show for the many visitors coming into the area. An unexpected issue developed when townsfolk realized how they would accommodate the large influx of people in such a short time. A call went out to the “women of Sapulpa.” It was asked that many of the visitors would need to stay in the family’s home, making room for another family to stay during the small duration.

The last week of October was stressful as practices, substitutions, edits, and costumes were being perfected. Dress rehearsals were completed by November 6th. The final dress rehearsal went without a hitch, and the show was ready for their November 11th production. The prices for tickets were sold for .50 cents for adults and .25 cents for children*. It was said “the price alone would bring 

*Note: fifty cents in 1921 would be around $8 today; twenty-five cents would be about $4 today.

When it was all ready, up and running, it took 5,000 people to participate in the production of Sapulpa’s “Pageant of Progress.” The stage production took place on “several blocks at the end of Main Street.” The hillside was covered by a crowd of thousands of visitors. “It was the biggest crowd ever seen at Sapulpa. The Pageant itself was the largest spectacle ever given in Oklahoma.”

Local stores held special window displays for the Pageant and Armistice Day. Many held their own events surrounding the Pageant event, and others had discounted items or specialty items for the event for sale.

“For nearly three hours, graceful dancing girls, gaily costumes,” and characters showcased the history of Oklahoma. It was estimated that anywhere between 12,000 to 15,000 people were on the grounds.

The townsfolk experienced a “rush” and were “thrilled to all that made the Pageant happen.”

(Chicagology; Sapulpa Herald, August 16, September 3, 6, 13, 16, October 6, 28, November 2, 3, 7, 9, 11, 12, and 14, 1921; County Democrat News, August 19 and November 11, 1921)