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25 Things You Should Know About Tulsa

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In Tulsa, Oklahoma's second-largest city, you can enjoy Prohibition-themed theater and visit a former speakeasy that looks like it was made in Barney Rubble's backyard. Plus, some say the very center of our universe is located at a downtown intersection. Here's your tipsheet for all things Tulsan.

1) Gordon Matthews, a native Oklahoman and University of Tulsa graduate, invented what he called a "voice message exchange" in the late 1970s. Today, we call it voicemail.

2) Woodward Park is home to the Anne Hathaway Herb Garden—named after Shakespeare's wife, not the Oscar-winning actress. Tulsa resident Jewell Huffman designed the plot in 1939 after she visited Hathaway's cottage near Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Arranged in the style of a formal English garden, it includes medicinal and culinary herbs like rosemary and catmint.

3) Fred Flintstone may not live in Tulsa, but he'd probably feel right at home inside the famous Cave House on Charles Page Boulevard. Resembling a shack made of cartoonish boulders and built in the 1920s, it functioned as a novelty restaurant by day and a Prohibition-era speakeasy by night. Patrons could enjoy an illegal beverage in a bunker accessible by a secret passageway behind the fireplace. It's now a private residence, but tours are available on weekends.

4) Tulsa's establishment predates Oklahoma's statehood. In the late 1820s, the federal government evicted Muscogee (Creek) people from their ancestral lands in the southeastern U.S. and forced them to march west to present-day eastern Oklahoma, then called Indian Territory. There, they joined the similarly relocated Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole peoples. A Muscogee band settled the area that would become Tulsa in the mid-1830s, while Oklahoma didn't become a state until 1907.

5) January 18, 1998 marked the 100th anniversary of Tulsa's incorporation. To celebrate the occasion, a city officials buried a '98 Plymouth Prowler in a custom-designed concrete vault at Centennial Park. Future Tulsans will dig up this huge time capsule on January 18, 2048, at which point the car will be given back to the Chrysler corporation.

6) On the surface, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Tallahassee, Florida, don't appear to have much in common. But both city names are derived from "tulasi" or "tallasi," meaning "the old town" in the Muscogee language.

7) Tulsa businessman Cyrus Avery was known as the "Father of Route 66." Frustrated by the region's poor roads, he started pushing for improved transportation and was named Oklahoma's Highway Commissioner in 1924. When the federal government started planning an interstate highway from Chicago to Los Angeles, Avery lobbied for the route to run southwest rather than west over the Rocky Mountains. The road that would become Route 66 was laid through Arizona, New Mexico, the Texas panhandle, and (conveniently) Tulsa.

8) Garth Brooks, born in Tulsa on February 7, 1962, is the music industry's best-selling solo artist. Brooks has racked up 148 million albums and singles sold in the United States, 12 million more than second-place finisher Elvis Presley.

9) Tulsa has been called the buckle of the bible belt. To illustrate that claim, a sculpture of two 60-foot-tall praying hands marks the entrance to the campus of Oral Roberts University, an ultra-conservative Christian institution. The hands were cast in 1980 of roughly 30 tons of bronze.

10) Tulsa's Gilcrease Museum houses the world's largest collection of art and artifacts from the American West. The collection of more than 350,000 objects, including a handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence, was amassed by oilman and philanthropist Thomas Gilcrease. Allegedly, his ghost haunts the halls of the museum.

11) The U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show has been wowing crowds at Tulsa's Expo Square since 2008. One of the most illustrious equestrian events in America, it features more than 1800 exhibitors and 1700 horses each year.

12) Tulsan racing enthusiast and industrialist Jack Zink sponsored race cars in the Indianapolis 500 every year from 1952 to 1967, and won twice, in 1955 and 1956. He also drove his own cars in a variety of racing competitions and was inducted into the Indianapolis 500 Hall of Fame.

13) Tulsa spent more than six decades as the "oil capital of the world." The boom began in 1901, when black gold was struck in Red Fork, now a neighborhood in southwest Tulsa. Then, in 1905, prospectors discovered the Glenn Pool oil field, which has yielded 340 million barrels and counting. By the time Oklahoma became a state in 1907, nearly 100 oil companies had set up shop around Glenn Pool alone.

14) Tulsa's tallest structure is the 52-story Bank of Oklahoma (BOK) Tower, which looks a lot like a single, short version of the World Trade Center's twin towers. Both were designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki beginning in the 1960s.

15) With more than 2.2 million tons of cargo passing through it annually, the Tulsa Port of Catoosa on the Verdigris and Arkansas rivers ranks among America's busiest inland river ports.

16) Pop superstars and Tulsa natives Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson formed their eponymous band in 1992. Hanson's very first appearance was at the city's annual Mayfest when the brothers were just 12, 9, and 7 years old.

17) The "yield" road sign was invented by Clinton Riggs, a Tulsa police officer. In 1950, Riggs tested his creation by posting a sign at the corner of First Street and Columbia Avenue. Collisions decreased, and the signs spread throughout Tulsa, America, and the world. When Riggs died in 1997, a yield sign was engraved onto his tombstone.

18) When the Sex Pistols played at Cain's Ballroom in 1978, Sid Vicious punched a hole into one of the walls. Instead of filling it in, the management framed the hole. Touring musicians often take selfies with it.

19) A sacred tree is rooted near downtown Tulsa. The Muscogee carried a pot of burning coals with them on their forced march to Indian Territory, and after choosing a settlement site near a massive oak tree, they scattered the ashes to establish their new home. The Council Oak Tree at 18th Street South and Cheyenne Avenue still marks the historic spot.

20) The Drunkard, a charming 1844 dramedy about alcoholism, and Olio, a brief musical skit following the play, opened on November 23, 1953 at Tulsa's Spotlight Theatre. It's been running there ever since, making it the longest continually-running stage play in America. Performed on a weekly basis, The Drunkard & Olio can be caught every Saturday night at 7:30. Four separate casts perform the show on a rotating basis.

21) In the Great Plains and southwestern U.S., you'll never be too far from a QuikTrip. This wildly successful chain of gas and convenience stores was established in 1958 by Tulsans Burt Holmes and Chester Cadieux. The original store opened on Peoria Street in September 25 of that year. The company, still based in Tulsa, now has more than 700 locations.

22) UHF, Weird Al Yankovic's 1989 cult comedy flick, was filmed mainly in the Tulsa area. Parts of 1983's The Outsiders were shot here as well—in fact, the drive-in movie theater that Rob Lowe and company snuck into during one scene is still in operation.

23) Tulsa's answer to the iconic Citgo sign in Boston is its famous neon Meadow Gold sign, a landmark on Route 66. Built during the Great Depression to promote the Beatrice Food Company, which went out of business in the 1990s, the sign outlived the establishment it advertised. Today, it sits at the intersection of 11th Street and Quaker Avenue.

24) Before they made it to the big leagues, pro baseball players Matt Holliday, Sammy Sosa, R.A. Dickey, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira suited up for the Tulsa Drillers, now a Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

25) On a railroad overpass in the city's downtown, a mysterious brick circle laid into the ground is dubbed "the center of the universe." When people stand in the center and shout, they hear an extremely loud echo that is barely audible outside the circle. Scientists aren't sure why. Who knew the portal to parallel worlds ran through Tulsa?

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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15 Podcasts That Will Make You Feel Smarter
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iStock

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the podcast options out there, but narrowing down your choices to the titles that will teach you something while you listen is a good place to start. If you're interested in learning more about philosophy, science, linguistics, or history, here are podcasts to add to your queue.

1. THE HABITAT

The Habitat is the closest you can get to listening to a podcast recorded on Mars. At the start of the series, five strangers enter a dome in a remote part of Hawaii meant to simulate a future Mars habitat. Every part of their lives over the next year, from the food they eat to the spacesuits they wear when they step outside, is designed to mimic the conditions astronauts will face if they ever reach the red planet. The experiment was a way for NASA to test plans for a manned mission to Mars without leaving Earth. The podcast, which is produced by Gimlet media and hosted by science writer Lynn Levy, ends up unfolding like a season of the Real World with a science fiction twist.

2. STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW

Can’t pick a topic to educate yourself on? Stuff You Should Know from How Stuff Works is the podcast for you. In past episodes, hosts Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark (both writers at How Stuff Works) have discussed narwhals, Frida Kahlo, LSD, Pompeii, hoarding, and Ponzi schemes. And with three episodes released a week, you won’t go long without learning about a new subject.

3. THE ALLUSIONIST

Language nerds will find a kindred spirit in Helen Zaltzman. In each episode of her Radiotopia podcast The Allusionist, the former student of Latin, French, and Old English guides listeners through the exciting world of linguistics. Past topics include swearing, small talk, and the differences between British and American English.

4. PHILOSOPHIZE THIS!

Listening to all of Philosophize This! is cheaper than taking a philosophy class—and likely more entertaining. In each episode, host Stephen West covers different thinkers and ideas from philosophy history in an approachable and informative way. The show proceeds in chronological order, starting with the pre-Socratic era and leading up most recently to Jacques Derrida.

5. MORE PERFECT

In 2016, Radiolab, one of the most popular and well-established educational podcasts out there, launched a show called More Perfect. Led by Radiolab host Jad Abumrad, each episode visits a different Supreme Court case or event that helped shape the highest court in the land. Because of that, the podcast ends up being about a lot more than just the Supreme Court, exploring topics like police brutality, gender equality, and free speech online.

6. SLOW BURN

The Watergate scandal was such a important chapter in American history that it has its own suffix—but when asked to summarize the events, many people may draw a blank. Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate, gives listeners a refresher. In eight episodes, host Leon Neyfakh tells the story of the Nixon’s demise as it unfolded, all while asking whether or not citizens would be able to recognize a Watergate-sized scandal if it happened today.

7. LETTERS FROM WAR

Instead of using a broad scope to examine World War II, the Washington Post podcast Letters From War focuses on hundreds of letters exchanged by four brothers fighting in the Pacific during the period. Living U.S. military veterans tell the sibling's story while reflecting on their own experiences with war.

8. LEVAR BURTON READS

Just because you’re a grown-up doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the soothing sound of LeVar Burton’s voice reading to you. The former host of Reading Rainbow now hosts LeVar Burton Reads, a podcast from Stitcher aimed at adults. In each episode, he picks a different piece of short fiction to narrate: Just settle into a comfortable spot and listen to him tell stories by authors like Haruki Murakami, Octavia Butler, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

9. BRAINS ON!

Brains On! is an educational podcast for young audiences, but adults have something to gain from listening as well. Every week, host Molly Bloom is joined by a new kid co-host who helps her explore a different topic. Tune in for answers to questions like "What makes paint stick?" and "How do animals breathe underwater?"

10. SCIENCE VS

There’s a lot of misinformation out there—if you’re determined to sort out fact from fiction, it can be hard to know where to start. The team of “friendly fact checkers” at the Science Vs podcast from Gimlet is here to help. GMOs, meditation, birth control, Bigfoot—these are just a few of the topics that are touched upon in the weekly show. The goal of each episode is to replace any preconceived notions you have with hard science.

11. FLASH FORWARD

No one knows for sure what the future holds, but Flash Forward lays out the more interesting possibilities. Some of the potential futures that host and producer Rose Eveleth explores are more probable than others (a future where no one knows which news sources to trust isn’t hard to imagine; one where space pirates drag a second moon into orbit perhaps is), but each one is built on real science.

12. HIDDEN BRAIN

What motivates the everyday choices we make? That’s the question Shankar Vedantam tries to answer on the NPR podcast Hidden Brain. The show looks at how various unconscious patterns shape our lives, like what we wear and who we choose to spend time with.

13. PART-TIME GENIUS

The fact that it’s hosted by Mental Floss founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur isn’t the only reason we love Part-Time Genius. The podcast from How Stuff Works wades into topics you didn’t know you were curious about, like the origins of Nickelodeon and the hidden secrets at the Vatican. Each episode will leave you feeling educated and entertained at the same time.

14. ASTRONOMY CAST

It’s a big universe out there—if you want to learn as much about it as possible, start with Astronomy Cast. Fraser Cain, publisher of the popular site Universe Today, and Dr. Pamela L. Gay, director of the virtual research facility CosmoQuest, host the podcast. They cover a wide range of topics, from the animals we’ve sent to orbit to the color of the universe.

15. SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS

The Science of Happiness podcast from PRI is here to improve your life, one 20-minute episode at a time. Science has proven that adopting certain practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, can make us happier—as does letting go of less unhealthy patterns like grudges and stressful thinking. With award-winning professor Dacher Keltner as your host, you can learn how to incorporate these science-backed strategies for happiness into your own life.

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