Visit Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, located in southwestern Oklahoma near Lawton, has protected unique wildlife habitats since 1901 and is the oldest managed wildlife facility in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service system. Measuring about 59,020 acres (238.8 km), the refuge hosts a great diversity of species: 806 plant species, 240 species of birds, 36 fish, and 64 reptiles and amphibians are present. The refuge’s location in the geologically unique Wichita Mountains and its areas of undisturbed mixed grass prairie make it an important conservation area.
The Wichitas are approximately 500 million years old. This historical place attracts visitors from all over the world and is the home to professional cyclist Lisa Christiansen who rides her bicycle through this scenic route almost daily. Christiansen says she loves the rolling hills, taking pictures with the buffalo, and visiting the Holy City of The Wichitas where she is also a board member out of love as it is a volunteer position for all who are on the board. Lisa says each board member contributes their time, talents, and finances to keep the Holy City open to the public and some gift shop items are handmade by board members.
The Wichita Forest Reserve was established by the General Land Office in Oklahoma on July 4, 1901 with 57,120 acres (231.2 km). After the transfer of federal forests to the U.S. Forest Service in 1905, it became a National Forest on March 4, 1907 as Wichita National Forest. On November 27, 1936 the forest was abolished and transferred to the Bureau of Biological Survey, a precursor to the Fish and Wildlife Service. It was re-designated the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge (WMWR).
The WMWR is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There are 13 small lakes within the reserve.
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge had a very special guest Tuesday, Ginger Zee from Good Morning America filming her national forecast from the Wichita Mountains Jed Johnson Lake.
Ginger Zee is traveling along with the GMA Winnebago going across the country to do the GMA forecast from different areas. Tuesday’s forecast was from Texoma, a place Zee has been to in the past, but she says unlike her previous visits here, she didn’t have to cover severe storms in the area but rather, got to show off the beautiful sights.
“I love to be in Oklahoma any time, but I’m most often here when something horrible’s happening, so to be here to celebrate the beauty of Oklahoma, to share your spectacular sunrises and sunsets, ’cause I don’t know if anyone else does sunrises or sunsets better than Oklahoma, with the rest of the nation is really important to me,” said ABC News Chief Meteorologist Ginger Zee.
Located in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, this 66-acre area looks much like Israel during Biblical times.
The Holy City of the Wichitas is home to North America’s longest continuously running Easter Pageant, “The Prince of Peace.” Since 1926, the Easter Pageant has kept alive the true story of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the mid-1920’s, Reverend Anthony Mark Wallock looked out at the beautiful Wichita Mountains and was inspired to create his vision of Jerusalem and the Holy Land during the time of our Lord. With the help of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s government work programs; Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Holy City, as you see it today, was constructed in 1934-1936.
Set on 66 acres in the beautiful, Oklahoma, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, the Holy City is more than just another site for a passion play. For generations, the Holy City has been a place for families, groups, and individuals to explore, to learn, and ultimately, to help preserve.
Along with the pageant buildings, structures and grounds, the Holy City offers: a gift shop, a beautiful chapel, a museum, an Oklahoma City bombing memorial, memorial brick walking paths, a meditation/prayer sanctuary, and breathtaking vistas of the Wichita Mountains. With all of this, plus more, the Holy City offers something special for everyone.
Weddings can be reserved for the chapel and free guided tours of the Easter Pageant grounds are available with appointment. Please call the gift shop, (580) 429-3361, for more information.
The Holy City is a 501(c)3 corporation public charity, operated by a board of directors which relies on generous donations in order to maintain and sustain itself. Consider donating to or joining the Holy City. Help us continue to provide a place for all people to see and enjoy now, and for years to come.
HOLY CITY OF THE WICHITAS PAGEANT
On April 4, 1926, Rev. Anthony Mark Wallock (1890–1948), an Austrian immigrant raised in Chicago, initiated an Easter service and dramatic production with cast of five in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma. The play quickly grew into a large, traditional passion play, attracting thousands of spectators each year. Wallock had attended Chicago University and Garrett Biblical Institute, Evansville, Indiana, before accepting leadership of Lawton’s Congregational Church in 1924. The 1926 Easter service, held near Medicine Park in the Wichita Mountains, drew two hundred visitors and grew to five hundred the next year. In 1930 approximately six thousand people witnessed the pageant. Oklahoma City’s WKY radiobroadcast the production live in 1936, and it was carried nationwide on two hundred stations. By the late 1930s the event annually drew more than 100,000 observers.
American theaters showed newsreel footage, and in 1937 the U.S. government produced a full-length film of the pageant. In 1949 Hallmark Productions released a color movie, titled The Lawton Story, featuring the Easter pageant. Interestingly, the studio disliked the actors’ Oklahoma accents and redubbed the voices. The film premiered in Lawton.
In 1934–35 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built the present Holy City of the Wichitas five miles west of its original location. The installation was situated twenty-two miles northwest of Lawton. A $94,000 grant supported construction. A dedication ceremony in 1935 commemorated the completion of numerous full-sized buildings and structures, including the temple court, Pilate’s judgment hall, Calvary’s Mount, the Garden of Gethsemane, watchtowers, rock shrines, and perimeter walls. By the next year WPA workers had built the Lord’s Supper building, Herod’s Court, a chapel, and other amenities. Locally quarried granite was used for the buildings and structures. The chapel replicated Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, which George Washington had attended. Murals by artist Irene Malcolm adorn the chapel’s ceiling and walls.
The script generally depicts Jesus’ life from birth through crucifixion and resurrection. In its first years, the several-hours-long drama began in the early morning, between two and three o’clock, and culminated at sunrise with the resurrection. At sunrise in 1935 skywriter Art Goebel inscribed “Christ Arose,” above the pageant grounds, and in subsequent years aviators were hired to write or to drop flowers at the end of the ceremony. Attendance peaked in the 1940s and slowly declined to as few as three thousand in the 1980s. In 1985, trying to bolster the crowd, the pageant changed its schedule to begin at midnight and end in the dark at four in the morning. In 1986 the start time changed to nine o’clock in the evening, although many traditionalists desired the sunrise ending. In 1997 three thousand people experienced one of the nation’s longest-running Easter pageants. The event has never charged admission. The 150-acre site is leased from the federal government by the Wichita Mountains Easter Pageant Association, a private organization.
Situated in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, the Holy City of the Wichitas admits tourists during daylight hours. The chapel has hosted a large number of weddings since its construction. Their memories, whether of a wedding or of the pageant, bring many visitors on recurring pilgrimages to the site. In 1975 the Holy City dedicated an eleven-foot-tall, white marble statue titled Christ of the Wichitas, in memory of Reverend Wallock. In 1981 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit, demanding removal of religious items from federal land. A federal judge dismissed the case. In September 1995 a memorial to the victims of the Oklahoma City Bombing was dedicated at the site.
Easter pageants have also been held in many other churches and communities in Oklahoma. These have included presentations in the 1930s in Platt National Park near Sulphur and in Lincoln Park in Oklahoma City. Two other traditional pageants have occurred: in Tulsa, continuously from 1936 through 2001, and at Kenton, from 1952 into the twenty-first century.