This article was written by Elaine Warner and originally published in Edmond Life and Leisure, and the original article can be viewed here.
People from Shawnee will tell you there are lots of reasons to visit the town.
For my family, there are two reasons: Hamburger King and the original Van’s Pig Stand. My husband grew up in Shawnee and these two spots were highlights in his history.
He remembers years when the family didn’t have a car. “We’d take a cab to church on Sundays. Our church was on East Main Street and after church we’d walk to Hamburger King.”
This little diner has a history longer than my husband’s. It’s been in business since 1927 and is now in the hands of the fourth generation of the Macsas family. Although the location has changed since Jack was a kid, the quality of the food still draws him back.
Almost everything is made from scratch, with a local lady bringing in fresh pies daily. The big thing here is the beef. If ever there was a reason to use the phrase “holy cow,” this is it.
The 100 percent Angus beef comes from cows raised by the monks at St. Gregory’s Abbey. Grass-fed, grain-finished, the animals are pasture raised without hormones or antibiotics, and processed locally. You can’t get fresher or healthier meat.
The outside of Hamburger King is totally unpretentious. The inside is original ‘60s retro. This is a long-time, home-town favorite that is easily overlooked by visitors. They’re missing a treat.
While Van’s history actually goes back a century, the Highland Street location dates back to the early ‘30s. Van’s is Oklahoma’s oldest barbecue restaurant continuously-owned and operated by the same family.
Their Pig Sandwich is the star of the sty. The recipe hasn’t changed since the Shawnee store opened. It features pulled pork shoulder and the original rub. Van’s also has its own barbecue relish and barbecue sauce.
While there is a newer location in Shawnee, one in Moore and one in Norman, it’s the Highland store that draws us back. Try it for a great sandwich with a side of nostalgia.
Shawnee’s Main Street has suffered through the years – and could use a good facelift. There are, however, some interesting spots that brighten the streetscape – and may lighten your wallet.
One of the most surprising is Oak, Ash, and Thorn. First off, the striking store front stands out. Secondly, it’s a metaphysical emporium carrying rocks, crystals, incense, herbs, teas, dream-catchers and more. Check out the locally made jewelry. And don’t miss the selection of interesting jigsaw puzzles.
Be careful if you go into Savvy Bites. This store carries so many items; you’re bound to find something you didn’t know you needed. Kitchen items, olive oils, vinegars, French truffles, baby items, décor, some unusual lights – the store is crowded with shelves and the shelves are packed with interesting things. I wasn’t shopping but walked out with a lemon zester and a clip-and-go cell phone strap that was a life-saver on my recent European trip.
Thanks to our lunch at Hamburger King, I discovered the Monks’ Marketplace at St. Gregory’s Abbey. Here you can buy a variety of beef cuts, honey from the monks; hives plus jellies, candy, and soap made in other convents and abbeys. There are also some religious items. This little store, under the clock tower on the St. Gregory’s Abbey campus is only open three days a week: Thursday and Friday from 1:30 to 4:00 and Saturday from 9:00 to 11:30 and 1:30 to 4:00.
Also on the St. Gregory (now owned by OBU) campus, you’ll find one of Oklahoma’s oldest museums – the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art. Founded in 1919 by Father Gregory Gerrer, it began with treasures Father Gerrer collected from all over the world.
The first thing visitors see is a Cabinet of Curiosities collected by Father Gerrer. This random assemblage includes such items as a 1605 volume of philosophy, foreign money, a sawfish bill, and some pieces of porcelain. The thing that always grabs students’ attention is a shrunken head.
In addition to being a world traveler and collector, Father Gerrer was a talented painter. One of the prize pieces in the museum is a portrait commissioned by Pope Pius X in 1904. A copy of this painting, also by Father Gerrer, hangs in the Vatican in Rome.
Museum collections range from ancient art to contemporary works. Each area gives just tidbits of the periods and styles. Only about four percent of the museum’s holdings are on display at any one time.
The museum’s Egyptian collection is one of the nation’s finest. School children are always fascinated with the mummies. The oldest mummy is about 2400 years old. Hieroglyphics on the mummy case tells us that her name was Tutu. Thanks to modern technology (X-rays and CT scans) we know that she was between 40 and 50 when she died. Her arms were folded over her chest, a common practice with high-status mummifications.
Other ancient civilizations including Sumerian, Greek and Roman cultures are represented in this area. Asian art from China and Southeast Asia and South America are also included.
From Medieval through the early Renaissance, much of the art created was religious or for the church – but not all. On display now is an ivory jewelry case, made in Italy around 1550. An earlier (1446) Venetian suit of armor stands in a corner nearby.
Other exhibits display later European and African art, portraiture, Native American art, and contemporary works. When I think of this museum, the word “bijou” comes to mind. The museum is small compared to many art museums. Individual pieces in the collections are carefully chosen and elegantly presented. Mabee-Gerrer is definitely a jewel in Oklahoma’s crown.
Shawnee’s a short drive away and the perfect destination for a day-trip but it offers enough for longer visits.
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