@story MARLA CANTRELL
@image OKLAHOMA RENAISSANCE FESTIVAL
It was about twenty years ago when Matt Hiller’s eccentric father looked across a sprawling piece of land in Oklahoma and thought: castle.
His neighbors scratched their heads at this history teacher who envisioned a 16th century, 32,000 square foot English castle rising from the town country star Merle Haggard immortalized in his song “Okie from Muskogee.”
But that didn’t slow down the Hillers. In 1995, the castle took form on thirteen acres. Not long after, the crowds arrived. The first year they opened, the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival ran for just one weekend in August. Last year, 73,000 people showed up for what is now a five-weekend event that runs until the end of May.
There are 600 performers, along with food and crafts vendors, from as far away as New Hampshire. The actors arrive five weeks early to study history, etiquette, and the parts they’ll play on fifteen stages. Merchants set up booths, jousters prepare to take the arena, puppeteers practice, and players work on the moves they’ll make when they portray living chess pieces.
When visitors arrive, they’re welcomed back to 1539. The villagers are getting ready to welcome King Henry, who’s due to arrive at any moment. Children are asked if they can help find the queen’s ribbons that she lost on the fairgrounds. They’re given clues, and the search begins. At 4:15 they’re brought into the Great Hall where they’re knighted for their valiant efforts.
Children are also asked to sign a contract that states they’ll be chivalrous, or that they’ll hug their parents every day. In exchange, they play games for free, dig for buried treasure, or make their own marbles, paper or crowns.
All this activity will make you hungry. That’s okay. There’s everything from the traditional turkey legs, to Mediterranean and Israeli food, to deep-fried chicken wrapped with bacon.
Going without the kids? There’s one area, away from the crowds, where you can drink spirits and be entertained by a little bawdy humor.
So get your traveling shoes on. There’s a castle, just over an hour from Fort Smith, calling your name. It would be a crying shame to ignore it.
For ticket prices and additional information, visit okcastle.com.
1. Wear sunscreen
2. Study the website and decide what you want to do. There’s no way to see everything in one day.
3. Sundays are less crowded than Saturdays