The Olympics for Tulsa?

TulsaAn article on the front page of today’s New York Times sounds eerily familiar. Appearing under the headline “London. Tokyo. Athens. Tulsa?”, the story by Mary Pilon reports on the unlikely but ambitious dream to bring the Olympic Games to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Clearly the booster ambitions of Oklahoma are as alive today as they were in 1945, when three towns from the Sooner State were put forward as host locations for the United Nations. The contender nearest to Tulsa, Claremore, was so determined that boosters with brochures once showed up at the Tulsa airport at 2 a.m. to ambush a team of UN diplomats as their plane refueled. A second Oklahoma hopeful, Tuskahoma, resonated locally as the former capital of the Choctaw Nation. To put the United Nations there would be a statement of social justice, proponents argued. Stillwater also stepped up for the honor of becoming the Capital of the World, although the initial newspaper editorial about the idea was mostly egged on by letters from bored servicemen stationed nearby.

Thanks to Eric Banks, the incoming director of the New York Institute for the Humanities, and Alex Gallafent of Public Radio International for calling the Olympics story to my attention. New Yorkers who would like to talk more about the race to create a Capital of the World at the end of World War II are invited to join me this Wednesday at the Mid-Manhattan Library for an illustrated talk and conversation. (If anyone wants to accompany us with the soundtrack of Oklahoma!, it will be perfectly appropriate for the history as well as the current events.)


Indian Country to Host 2024 Olympics? (Indian Country Today)

Memo: Demonstration Sports for the 2020 Olympiad (The Lost Ogle)

Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations (Alex Gallafent for PRI’s The World – with great music!)


Stillwater vs. “The Flighty East”

On December 17, 1945, the Daily News-Press of Stillwater, Oklahoma, published an editorial proposing, “Stillwater Should Be the World Capital.”

Within days, letters to the editor agreed. Stillwater should be the Capital of the World—that is, the headquarters site for the newly-chartered United Nations. Granted, the letters included some that were penned purely for amusement by servicemen stationed nearby at the U.S. Navy Japanese Language School. But the newspaper was not joking when it advised its readers, “Some spot within the United States will become the capital for the United Nations and Stillwater should get busy and do a good selling job to get that capital located here.”

If Stillwater had been alone in this far-fetched idea, it would be no more than a footnote to local history. But Stillwater was not alone. During 1944-46, Americans in at least 248 cities and towns vied for the attention of the world’s leading diplomats as the UN sought a site for its headquarters. New York City, the ultimate choice, was far from the favored option and in fact was ruled out initially because the diplomats desired a place with its own identity apart from a major city. The model they had in mind was Canberra, the new capital city of Australia.

Even as the UN’s search narrowed to the northeastern United States, boosters in the rest of the nation remained convinced that the diplomats were overlooking obvious, more suitable opportunities. “In this section, delegates could work in peace and quiet free from the nervous and flighty east,” the Daily News-Press in Stillwater noted when the diplomats eliminated the American West because of its distance from Europe. In the spirit of boosterism, others concluded brightly that they had succeeded in gaining a welcome flash of publicity, if not the ultimate prize.