Eric Standridge is a freelance writer with an interest in history. His main focus is writing about Oklahoma.
Oklahoma's Jerusalem: The Holy City of the Wichitas
Located in the rugged terrain of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, The Holy City of the Wichitas is a recreation of the very streets that Jesus Christ walked. While it may not be the true holy site in Jerusalem, Oklahoma's Holy City still draws thousands of visitors a year.
This recreated Jerusalem would not have existed but for the inspiration and foresight of Reverend Anthony Mark Wallock. He fell in love with the grandeur of the wildlife refuge during his first visit. Shortly after, in 1926, Wallock took his Sunday school class up a mountain in the Wichitas and presented a recreation of the Resurrection. That short, early-morning service was the birth of the annual Easter pageant, The Prince of Peace.
The success of the service quickly grew, attracting six thousand spectators by 1930. By 1931, the congregation swelled to 15,000, including 150 cast members. By 1934, over 40,000 worshipers came.
This popularity helped Reverend Wallock get a grant of $94,000 from federal funds specifically to construct a full-scale replica of the Holy City in the Wichita Mountains. The first set of buildings were completed by the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) and included Calvary's Mount, the Temple Court, Pilate's Judgment Hall, Watch Towers, The Garden of Gethsemane, dressing rooms, and rock shrines, as well as the walls and gateway to Jerusalem.
The first set of buildings was completed in March 1935. A ceremony to dedicate the Holy City of the Wichitas was held that same year, which included an a Capella choir and Knights Templar from all over the state. The following Pageant in April drew an audience of 82,000. The following year, a telegram from President Franklin D. Roosevelt was read during a radio broadcast of the pageant. There were 2,000 cast members and 100,000 in attendance from 65 cities.
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In 1936, additions included the Lord's Supper Building, Herod's Court, a lodge, and a control room. Also constructed was the Chapel of the Holy City, built to resemble America's oldest church, Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia. The Chapel of the Holy City is very reminiscent of an old-world temple with wood carvings and biblical murals in the interior. That same year, a radio broadcast of the pageant took place, during which a telegram from President Franklin D. Roosevelt was read. That year 2,000 cast members came from all over the United States, and there was a congregation of over 100,000.
Wallock was elected Outstanding Citizen of 1938 by the citizens of Lawton. In 1930, the state of Oklahoma included Wallock in its Hall of Fame. He died in 1948. Following Wallock's last wishes, a white marble statue of Christ, 11 feet high, was erected in 1975.
The same year that Wallock died, the 1948 movie The Lawton Story - The Prince of Peace was filmed at the site.
In the early years, the pageant was a sunrise passion play and timed to end at dawn. By 1986, the time had changed twice and now the play begins at 9 p.m. on Easter Eve. Tourists from across the country and abroad visit Oklahoma's Jerusalem; the Holy City of the Wichitas in the Wichita Mountains.
Oklahoma's Jerusalem: The Holy City of the Wichitas in the Wichita Mountains
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Established in 1901, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is a 59,020-acre Refuge that hosts a rare piece of the past—a remnant mixed-grass prairie, an island where the natural grasslands escaped destruction because the rocks underfoot defeated the plow.
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for large native grazing animals such as American bison, Rocky Mountain elk, and white-tailed deer. In addition, Texas longhorn cattle also share the Refuge rangelands as a cultural and historical legacy species. More than 50 mammal, 240 bird, 64 reptile and amphibian, 36 fish, and 806 plant species thrive on the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
Visitor Information to the Holy City of the Wichitas in the Wichita Mountains
- General Info: Free Admission, Gift Shop, Handicap Accessible
- Tour Group Services: Guided Tours, Tour Bus Parking
- Days/Hours Open: Sun-Sat 8am-dusk; guided tours by appointment.
- Directions: Located in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, approximately 22 miles NW of Lawton, or 10 miles W of I-44.
© 2010 Eric Standridge