This 17-foot-tall statue representing Oklahoma's pioneer women stands in front of the Pioneer Woman Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma. The idea for the statue was conceived by E.W. Marland, an oilman, philanthropist, U.S. senator and governor of Oklahoma. Marland commissioned artists from all over the world to present their version of a statue to commemorate the pioneer experience and to honor his grandmother.
A dozen small models were submitted and then people all over the United States voted on their favorite. The winner by a landslide was the work of London-born Bryant Baker and the final work was unveiled in 1930.
About a mile from the museum and statue is the estate of E.W. Marland. The 55-room mansion is known as the Palace on the Prairie. The grounds were once the site of polo matches, fox hunts and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. From his office window, Marland could see the statue honoring his grandmother and the women who helped settle the land where he made -- and eventually lost -- a fortune.
The estate is beautiful and the mansion houses many beautiful works of art, including the original 12 statues that were commissioned for Marland's Pioneer Woman.
Marland was an interesting person in his own right, but the story of his second wife, Lydie, has the makings of a novel. Marland and his first wife, Virginia, had no children of their own. In 1916, they adopted Virginia's nephew, George, and niece, Lydie, then 19 and 16 years old. Ten years later, Virginia died. Two years after that, Marland had Lydie's adoption annulled and he then married her.
It was during this time that he built his Palace on the Plains, which was a wedding gift to his new bride. Unfortunately, they only lived in the 46,000-square-foot mansion a short time when his oil company was lost in a hostile takeover and, for the second time in his life, Marland lost most of his money.
The mystery surrounds yet another statue that Marland had commissioned. There were actually two statues, one of each of the siblings, George and Lydie. After Marland's death, Lydie instructed a worker on the grounds to destroy the statue that was of her likeness. It would be over 30 years later, after her death and the death of the worker, that a letter surfaced revealing the whereabouts of the broken pieces. It was then unearthed and put back together. The original statue is in the entrance of the mansion, reunited with George. A replica stands in the garden, keeping watch on the house.
There was much speculation about Lydie's life in the years following Marland's death. She disappeared from Ponca City for more than 20 years, leaving most to believe that she had died. It was only at the end of her life that she returned, living in seclusion in the carriage house that she and E.W. shared after they went broke, not far from the estate that was now in the hands of the Carmelite Fathers. During her absence, the only evidence that she was alive were the payments that arrived to cover taxes on the cottage. There was even an article that ran in the Saturday Evening Post titled, "Where is Lydie Marland?'
The mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks, is a work of art. Marland hired a master architect who commissioned artists to hand paint the decorative ceilings and sculpt intricate designs on the exterior of the building. One of my favorite things is on the portico on one side of the house. In each or the four corners an artist sculpted one of Marland's favorite hunting dogs.
In 2012, an academy award-winning film company purchased rights to a movie based on the lives of E.W. Marland and Lydie. I haven't been able to find anything about how that is progressing, but you can bet that if it eventually comes out, I'll buy a ticket to see it!