A strange thing happens when you take a road trip, especially one on Route 66. You begin to develop an attraction to old neon signs, cars half-buried in cow pastures, leaning water towers, and abandoned gas stations. Before you know it, this mania reaches its peak, and you find yourself standing in someone’s backyard, in rural Oklahoma, staring at an incredibly ugly, towering 90-foot hunk of concrete. And you’re impressed.
Totem Pole Park and the World’s Largest Totem Pole are located a few miles off Route 66, but I think they’re close enough, and quirky enough, to still be counted as a Route 66 attraction. To find the Totem Poles, take OK Rte. 28A east of Foyil. If you mistakenly turn onto Rte. 28 instead of 28A, don’t worry, the roads intersect, and a sign for Totem Pole Park will point you in the right direction.
Yes, I said it. You know you were thinking it. This is one ugly roadside attraction. But it’s also the life legacy of a man named Ed Galloway, who spent a quarter century here, crafting fiddles and totem poles (a logical combination, I suppose) at his modest home in the rolling countryside east of Foyil, Oklahoma. The largest of his creations is that aforementioned 9-story-tall column of concrete and steel — the world’s largest totem pole. Starting with a turtle at its base, the pole rises to display a jagged-toothed face in the middle, and finally, four Native Americans (including Geronimo and Sitting Bull) surround the top.
With a closer look, it’s actually not ugly at all. Ed carved 200 images into the concrete. The entire sculpture (and the surrounding totem poles) were meant as a tribute to Native Americans. The largest tower alone took Ed 11 years to complete, and according to a sign at the park, he worked from sun-up to sunset, 7 days a week on his creations.
Not all of that time was spent on concrete, though. Ed was also an accomplished fiddle maker, and he built an 11-sided workshop next to his home, to provide a place to work.
The fiddle house now houses a gift shop, with very limited hours. I arrived too late to buy some kind of fiddle- or totem-related souvenir.
I still had plenty of time, though, to wander around the park and enjoy all of Ed’s creations.
Ed Galloway worked on his fiddles and totems from the time he retired and moved here in 1937, until his death in 1962. The Galloway family donated the property to the Rogers County Historical Society in 1991. Around that same time, restoration began on the totem poles, which are still kept in great condition. The park is free, but there is a donation box — dropping in a dollar or two is a great idea.
Foyil, Oklahoma has one more claim to fame: it’s the home of Andy Payne, the winner of the 1928 “Bunion Derby”. The transcontinental foot race (a promotion to draw attention to the new Route 66) followed the entire length of the Mother Road. (You’ll find lots of info on the race on this website
.) A statue of Payne stands downtown in his honor. After some wrong turns, I gave up on finding it, however EZ-66
author Jerry McClanahan recommends you seek it out.
Note: This trip was first published in 2008.