For nearly 70 years, the town of Wetumka, OK has held an annual festival called Sucker Day. It’s an odd name for a celebration, and it has a colorful story. It inspired me to take a little trip to Hughes County and explore a little more of the Sooner State.
Here’s the story of Sucker Day: In 1950, a man came to town claiming to be a scout for a traveling circus. The smooth-talking salesman convinced the citizens that a great event was on their doorstep, so the city prepared. A local hotel bought new mattresses, hay was shipped in to feed the animals, the grocery store stocked up on food, and many local merchants bought advertising. The day the circus was supposed to arrive, however, the man (who had also been enjoying free room and board) disappeared. The circus was a sham. Instead of succumbing to anger or self-pity, the town decided to use many of the goods they’d brought in and use them for a street festival; they named it Sucker Day to poke fun at how they’d been hoodwinked. It was a big success and has been an annual Wetumka tradition ever since. The festival was featured once in Time Magazine and Paul Harvey even included it as part of, “The Rest of the Story.”
When Samantha and I arrived at 10:30 AM, a good crowd was already milling about on Main Street. We joined them and checked out the booths that were set up on the sidewalks. A flatbed trailer had been set up in the middle as a makeshift stage. An old movie theater, which looked like it had been saved from a demilitarized zone, featured a welcoming banner over the marquee. The smells of barbecue and tamales were in the air. Kids were running around in capes and masks, as the 2018 theme revolved around superheroes. Everyone knew everyone else, it seemed.
At 11:00, the parade started. It was a lovely small-town parade with much good cheer. Drivers and float-riders tossed candy to the crowd and the pint-sized caped crusaders scrambled around to scoop up as much as they could carry. The parade consisted of about what you’d expect: emergency services, school/church floats, some classic cars, and a few political candidates. It was refreshingly simple.
Full parade photos at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cloudlesslens/albums/72157696029106150
Once the parade was over, Sam and I hit the road; we didn’t fancy staying around for the evening rodeo. However, a straight drive home is never my idea of a good time. I had a few bridges marked on my map, so I ventured north. One of the bridges had been demolished and replaced with a boring concrete slab (I was devastated) but the second one was still proudly spanning the North Canadian River…even if it was quite littered with graffiti.
The bridge was a beauty; built in 1951 by the Henryetta Construction Company and featuring a K-Parker truss, a type of bridge design that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation was quite fond of for many years, and multiple pony truss spans. It was lovely to walk the road with only the sound of the river and my camera shutter.
I was surprised to discover I’d picked up a hitchhiker: a small butterfly perched on my shoulder during my walk. Even though I shooed it away when I got back into the car, he circled around and snuck onto my hat as I got in. Sam helped me get him outdoors and we went on our way.
Our next stop was the Honey Springs Battlefield, a site marking the largest Civil War battle in Indian Territory. Several walking trails feature interpretive signs that tell about the 1863 battle in which white men were in the minority: Native Americans made up most of the troops on both sides and the Union force included African-American troops. The Union-won battle was also instrumental in the later Confederate defeat at Fort Smith, AR and the Union capture of the entire Arkansas River Valley. I had no idea such an important battle took place in Oklahoma.
The final stop of the day took us just south of Muskogee. A Muffler Man statue stands guard at an auto salvage yard on Oktaha Road. He’s a little worse for wear, but according to Muffler Man expert Joel Baker, this guy isn’t going anywhere for a long time…his legs are filled with concrete! A couple from Texas stopped at the junkyard to take photos during my short visit, too. These fiberglass giants do certainly attract attention. Speaking of: a new Route 66 business in Tulsa is raising funds to have their own Muffler Man built. You can read more about that here.