Big Doings in Medford
December 17, 2003
Big doings in Medford this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.
Hello, I'm Steven Knoche Kite.
Medford, Oklahoma lies in northern Grant County. It sits out on the plains with a sense of isolation
and solitude. Even today as you drive through the town seems to carry the feeling with it that it is on
the outpost of the state, the first to feel the heat of summer, or as the case may be this week, the first
icy blast of winter. If Medford holds these qualities today, one can only wonder what the town was like
in the early days of its existence.
For the early day residents of these prairie outposts, like Medford, almost any new event or happening
must have seemed like big news and the events of December 17, 1901 must have made ripples far outside
of Medford itself. It was in this week of 1901 that Thomas J. Palmer opened for business the Medford Opera
House, the first building of its kind in that town. The design was said to have been modern, and even
though the building, according to Palmer, wasn't quite finished the public flooded into the open house
and the facility was immediately put to use. Two days after the open house a traveling theater company
rented the hall out for three nights and played to standing room audiences at every show. The town now
had a venue for civic groups, political debates, pageants and the like. The hall was given to the city
for free use on holidays and every year the school district used it for the annual Christmas programs.
How exciting it must have been for the citizens of Medford to now have this made available for them when
just a few years earlier any entertainment would have been held in tents or tepees. The Medford Opera
House became the center of activity for the area.
Territorial governors stopped by on a regular basis to stump for their causes as did national political
figures. Democrat William Jennings Bryans spoke at the house in 1902 filling up the venue for two crowded
nights. Bryans, according to a disgruntled Republican newspaper editor, turned what was supposed to be
an innocent lecture into an outright political address. For Medford, their opera house was the method
by which the town celebrated momentous occasions. On the day of statehood it was the opera house that
held the party, and when the first ever motion picture show traveled through town it was the Opera House
that provided and appropriate venue. For small towns in early day Oklahoma the opera house was the center
of entertainment and it became so for Medford in this week of 1901.
The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of Oklahoma's Public Radio
and the Oklahoma State University Library.