A fortnight ago, as my ladyfriend and I were traveling to Spencer to give the puppy I had recently adopted some vital vaccinations, driving down a barren NE 63rd, off to the side of the road we passed by a rather large red-bricked building that proclaimed it was the American Pigeon Museum. Like a bird that is easily spooked by its own shadow, I have to say that I was quite surprised.
Not only was I taken aback that this city is home to such a monument of avian ingenuity, but because, especially in backwoods Oklahoma, the word “museum” usually means an elderly gentleman showcasing his rusty junk around a typically dilapidated shack. But not here—this looked like a most professional museum to visit.
After a week of peckish wonder, last Saturday we decided to stop by the museum, located at 2300 NE 63rd. Seemingly well-funded, the admission was free which, if I’m being honest, was even more of a selling point; I mean, what if it wasn’t very good and I ended up wasting ten bucks on a couple of badly Xeroxed photos and dirty birdy skeletons found in the woods?
Of course, I was wrong, because the American Pigeon Museum is truly one of Oklahoma City’s hidden gems—very hidden—one that could reasonably gratify a family desperate for extracurricular entertainment with all the historical feats and modern wonders of our misbegotten feathered friends on display for all to learn and enjoy.
Often rudely referred to as a “rat with wings,” after spending a couple of hours in the museum, you’ll quickly learn just how inappropriate that name is; the pigeon is known in far more educated circles as the rock dove or bird of peace, with well over a thousand different species flying high on almost every continent—and it’s impossible not to fall in love with this resilient animal.
The “Library” portion of the museum’s name is due to their massive collection of books, magazine and educational papers about the famed bird, some dating back to the 1800s. As I went through a few collected tomes dedicated to the pigeon, a faux-sportsman’s respect began to outwardly emerge, especially when you learned about the long and lugubrious history of pigeon racing.
Started in 1973 by the American Homing Pigeon Institute in an effort to increase awareness of this sport, the Museum’s mission statement dutifully worked because I went in knowing nothing and left with a rudimentary knowledge of pigeon racing as, mostly through a film being shown in their small theater, I was educated and entertained about the gaming aspect of these birds, although I’ll probably never take it up myself.
But perhaps the most interesting story is how these valiant birds helped various military forces win different wars by delivering secret messages and other acts of winged espionage. The museum does a thorough job of exploring pigeon-based efforts in these battles, so the next time you see these typically pacifist pigeons in the park, stand up and salute or, even better, fire off some shots in the air to pay well-deserved tribute to these veterans.
We noticed that towards the back of the museum there were a pair of doors leading to a porch-like setting. In that area, out of the searing sun, were give-or-take twenty different varieties of pigeon, from the archetypical gray we all know and love to far more fanciful beasts, some with dazzling corkscrew plumage and some with fanciful leg-based accouterments, all looking like they were headed out for an evening of dinner and dancing in the parking lot of a local restaurant.
Almost out the door and on the way home, we were looking over the gift-shop—yes, there is a gift-shop—and on the counter was a large glass vase filled with monetary donations. For an afternoon that I won’t forget anytime soon, I reached into my pocket for a couple of dollar bills but, sadly, I had no cash like I thought I did. We quietly slinked out as some random birds started squawking at us in the parking lot.
Listen: the donation’s in the mail, I promise…just don’t send a crack team of militaristic pigeons to my house to rough me up.