By Jimmie Tramel, Tulsa World
Foyil, OK (AP) A convoy of nine motorcycles roared down Oklahoma 28A in Rogers County.
The men aboard the bikes were doing the Route 66 thing from St. Louis to Oklahoma City, and they took a detour, slowing down to park their rides at a roadside attraction because Ed Galloway gave them a reason to do so.
Galloway, who died in 1962, is the answer to this question: Who in the heck built that thing?
Galloway crafted what is billed as the world’s largest totem pole.
Standing high above rural surroundings four miles east of Foyil, the 90-foot totem pole is so close to Highway 28A that travelers can see it without leaving their vehicles. Maybe you’ve driven by and didn’t think it was worth your time to stop.
What you see is what you get, right?
Actually, there’s more to see – and more to know.
The totem pole has a story.
It may make you like people.
And dislike people.
And like people all over again.
There’s a lot to like about: Galloway.
Born in 1880 near Springfield, Missouri, Galloway was armed with an eighth-grade education when he joined the military at 17. He served in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War.
Post-military, the gifted woodmaker spent 22 years as a role model and teacher at the Sand Springs Home. He built a retirement home near Foyil and, in 1937, started work on the totem pole, which was meant to serve as a monument to Native Americans. He wanted folks to know there was someone here before “us.’’
The Tulsa World (http://bit.ly/1Q4lYPB ) reports that Galloway built the totem pole one bucket of cement at a time.
“Dad would haul sand from the creek across the road in five-gallon buckets,’’ his son, Paul, once told the Tulsa Tribune.
Galloway carved approximately 200 pictures into the totem pole, including 9-foot-tall figures at the top that represented different tribes.
To this day, when people visit the totem pole, they ask, “Why?’’
“All my life I did the best I knew,’’ Galloway was quoted as saying. “I built these things by the side of the road to be a friend to you.’’
There’s a lot to dislike about: People who vandalized the totem pole park and helped themselves to Galloway’s artwork.
In addition to constructing the totem pole, Galloway created furniture and other works of art from wood. He carved wooden busts of U.S. presidents and made more than 300 fiddles, each from a different type of wood.
Galloway’s wife grew weary of visitors coming inside their home to check out the creations, so he built a “Fiddle House’’ next door to display his works. The Fiddle House doubles as a totem pole museum.
Galloway died in 1962. On Galloway’s deathbed, his son promised not to move any items away from the property.
“Dad, they’ll steal us blind,’’ Paul said.
Galloway’s response was, “Son, maybe those folks need these things more than we do.’’
Looters took advantage of the situation. Many of the fiddles were stolen and never recovered.
Galloway’s son died 20 years after his father. By then, the totem pole’s bright colors had vanished and graffiti had been left behind by visitors. Brush and weeds threatened to overrun the once-proud tourist stop.
“People just tear it apart,’’ Galloway’s daughter-in-law, Joy, told the Tulsa World in 1982.
“They throw rocks at the windows and throw trash on the property. We used to mow and have trash cans there, but we don’t get any support in trying to keep it up, and we are too old to do it anymore. It is a sad state of affairs.’’
There’s a lot to like about: People who refused to let the totem pole fade into obscurity.
Would you ride to the rescue of a tourist attraction in a different state?
Kansans were heroes in resuscitating the totem pole. The Kansas Grassroots Art Association took the lead in raising money for renovations to preserve the site. A major restoration was completed in 1992.
A more recent restoration included fresh applications of long-lasting paint. A California artist (Margo Hoover) and a New York artist (Erin Turner) picked up brushes last summer to start the process.
“They didn’t get the four chiefs on the very top, so Erin came back this year to finish it,’’ park caretaker Lorene Walkingstick said.
Hoover and Turner have local roots. They once were middle-school classmates in Oklahoma. There have been many other champions in keeping the totem pole alive, including David and Patsy Anderson. The Andersons are the volunteer directors of Totem Pole Park, which is owned and operated by the Rogers County Historical Society.
Thanks to restorations, Galloway’s Totem Pole still attracts tourists from all over the world. June visitors hailed from Finland, England, China, France and the Netherlands, according to the guest book.
“It is neat,’’ said Walkingstick, who lives nearby and staffs the Fiddle House museum. “We have so many foreigners. They just come in and say, `This is awesome.’ I love meeting them. Some of them I can talk to, some of them I can’t (because of a language barrier). But most of them are really friendly.’’
Twin sisters Ruth Seagraves of Granite Bay, California, and Deb Skinner of Lamoni, Iowa, visited the park Tuesday. Seagraves said her daughter chose to do a school report on Oklahoma a couple of years ago and learned about the totem pole. Finally, Maya got to see it.
The twin sisters had been there before. They lived in Stillwater and Norman when they were kids and made trips to the totem pole because family lived in Langley.
“I visited here in the ‘90s with my husband on our honeymoon,’’ Skinner said. “I wanted to show him this, and we came through and the Grass Roots Association was just starting to restore it. So they kind of cleaned up the property, and there was a young man there painting on it. I had never seen it with paint. I always thought it was very beautiful, even when it was bare concrete with just remnants of paint. I thought it was beautiful then. Are these bright colors going to look OK? I had gotten used to the way it had looked. Then, to see it fully restored and restored back to its original brilliance, was just amazing.’’
Skinner described the totem pole park as Oklahoma ingenuity at its best.
“You see Oklahoma ingenuity as you travel across Oklahoma – people doing what they can with what they have got, whether it’s rocks or whatever is native to this area, and they do really interesting, useful, practical things. There are other states where ingenuity, I think, is a cultural value, but I think Oklahoma’s is more unconventional. This is very unconventional. You won’t find anything like this anyplace else.’’
Photos: Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole; Fish on the back of chairs at the park; The Museum; The back of Galloway’s Totem Pole