Oklahoma City – Bones, Banjos and Beef

One of the more unusual museums I have visited is the Museum of Osteology with over 300 actual skeletons on display.   Many museums of natural science have some displays of skeletons but this museum is unique as it is only about skeletons.   There is only one other museum like this one in the U.S. and it opened in Florida in 2015.   It is run by the same company.

When I first got to the museum I was surprised that the building looked smaller outside than I expected, but inside it was packed with many exhibits on two floors.   The museum is quite detailed with skeletons of many animals seen around the world from large to small.   Although not an exhaustive list, here you can find displays from the families of whale, giraffe, hippo, rhino, elephant, horse, dog, cat, pig, camel, sheep, goat, primate, alligator, turtle, amphibian, snake, lizard, dolphin, fish and bird.  I found it to be a fascinating, informative and different way to look at the animal world.   There are also 400 human and animal skulls.

Upon entry I learned how the museum cleans the skeletons they get.   They use dermestid beetles which are nature’s decomposers.  They clean the bones and skulls by eating the soft tissue (muscle and skin) in all the hard to reach places, doing it quickly.   After the beetles are done the specimen is soaked in different chemicals to remove oils, whiten and sanitize the bones.    Although rather fascinating, I won’t be posting a photo of these beetles doing their work as some readers might find it a little much.

The museum came to be due to the efforts of one man named Jay Villemarette.   As a boy he became interested in collecting skulls and after graduating high school began selling skulls in his spare time.   In 1986 his hobby became a business in Oklahoma City called “Skulls Unlimited” which sold bones and skulls to interested clients.   That business continues today on the same property next door to the museum.   In 2010, the museum was opened.   This is a hobby and business I had not been exposed to before, certainly a unique venture!   Mark is a hobbyist and luckily this is one hobby he has not shown an interest in, at least not yet!   For those that are interested, the small gift shop sells some skeletons and skulls or others can be purchased through the business.

The American Banjo Museum has the largest collection of banjos on public display in the world. Located on two floors, I was amazed at the number of banjos that can be seen here, more than 400.  One room contained row after row, much more than one can take in.

Exhibits show the long history of the banjo and how the instrument evolved through the years. Starting with primitive banjos made by African slaves in the 1600’s, it moved from the plantation to the stage in the 1840’s with minstrel shows.   During the “classic era” of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, banjos became a popular instrument to perform in the concert halls by classically trained musicians.   In the jazz age of the 20’s and 30’s the best banjos were made with ornately decorated backs like the ones pictured below.

It was after World War II that the banjo found a new popularity with bluegrass music.   Mark and I have enjoyed a number of bluegrass shows featuring the banjo.   In fact, Mark and I met because of the banjo, but that is a story for another day.   Then in the 1950’s and 60’s the banjo was a favored instrument in traditional folk music.   The museum features exhibits of well known and famous bluegrass and folk musicians and their instruments.   The most fun exhibit is on Jim Henson and his Muppets creation, with a focus on Kermit the Frog.   Kermit was a banjo player and best known for playing and singing the “Rainbow Connection” at the beginning of the Muppet Movie.   It had been a long time since I had heard that song or seen the movie, so I was glad the museum was showing a film clip of it.

In the Muppet area is the Muppet Banjo, one of the most famous banjos originally owned and played by British musician Martin Kershaw.   Martin was part of the studio band for the Muppet Show.   Julie Andrews who was a guest of the show first signed the head of the banjo in 1977 and a tradition began.   During subsequent tapings of the Muppet Show guest stars including Gene Kelley, Roy Rogers, Johnny Cash, Elton John, Diana Ross, Peter Sellers and many more signed it until space could no longer be found.

For those that want to give banjo playing a try, there is the Learning Lounge with educational videos on how to play.   Visitors can also select a banjo hanging on the wall and follow one of the instructional videos.   Mark had been wanting to get a banjo for awhile and he was able to purchase one here, the exact one he had been looking into and it was on sale.    The museum staff were friendly and personable which made the visit even nicer.   One staff member named Lucas came down from his office to chat and brought his banjo to play for us.   At certain times Lucas plays in the special event room here which looks similar to the old Shakey’s Pizza Parlors that were popular back in the 70’s and 80’s.   Do you notice how his banjo has a honeycomb pattern on the head?   It was custom made for him because his family is the largest honey producer in Oklahoma.

After looking at bones and banjos it was time to get some beef for dinner!   The place that I had read about previously and people recommended to us could be found next to the National Stockyards in Stockyards City, a part of Oklahoma City.   Stockyards City was founded in 1910, built to serve the nation as a primary source for meat processing and packing.   Cattle, hogs and sheep were transported here first by cattle drive and later by railroad and truck.   The packing plants closed by 1961, but the Stockyards still operate with cattle trading and related businesses.   Stockyards City is the place that cowboys, cattlemen, ranchers and horsemen come to shop for clothing, equipment and supplies.   They also come to get a good meal like the one they can find at Cattlemen’s Cafe, one of the most famous restaurants in Oklahoma.

Cattlemen’s Cafe has also been around since 1910 and is known for their excellent steaks.   It had been a long time since we had eaten at a steak restaurant, perhaps the second time during this trip.   I am not a big steak person but I loved the steak I ordered here, it was so good!   It reminded me how great a perfectly cooked steak can be.    The atmosphere felt small town with the locals catching up with each other in the old fashioned dining room.

Thanks for reading!   In the next blog my favorite museum visit in Oklahoma City!

One thought on “Oklahoma City – Bones, Banjos and Beef”

  1. Two very unique museums! Very cool to see as we missed them. I’m not a steak guy either but that looks like the perfect place to have one! Oklahoma City impressed me as a fun city, would love to go back and would definitely visit these spots

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