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Texas Traveler: Holy City

Traveling for the holidays? If you'll be near Wichita Falls you should consider crossing the border to the north to explore the village of extraordinary weirdness known as The Holy City, near Lawton, Oklahoma.

Nestled in the measly foothills of the Wichita Mountains, the Holy City began as the site for an Easter Passion play in 1926. Lawton-area Reverend Anthony Mark Wallock thought the Wichita Mountains looked like the hills and mountains of the Holy Land, so he took his Sunday shcool class to the natural auditorium to teach they the story of Christ's life.

The play became an annual event, and was so popular that by 1934, 40,000 people were attending each year. In 1936, the first buildings went up, thanks to a grant from the Federal Works Project Administration. Over the years more buildings were added, meant to resemble the city walls of Jerusalem, the Calvary, Herod's court, and the oldest chapel in America. The Easter Passion Play is the longest-running passion play in the U.S.

The village is located on some of the wildest land in Oklahoma -- the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, nearly 60,000 acres of prairie and mountains that since 1901 have been protected from development. The mountain range is also the site of the second-tallest peak in Oklahoma, Mount Scott. Much of that corner of Oklahoma is government land, and Fort Sill is close enough to the Holy City that gun fire can often be heard. (If you swing by Fort Sill you can see the burial site of Geronimo. There's even a prairie dog village. You'll probably also see longhorn cattle or buffalo on your drive through the reserve.

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If you drive to nearby Meers, Okla., a town that consisted of a post office, a store, a restaurant and a geological survey lab featuring a long-broken seismograph (all in the same building), you can have a delicious, delicious bison burger, probably the best burger in Oklahoma.

The years have not been kind to the Holy City. The buildings, made from local granite, have held up well, but many of the walls have become subject to juvenile graffiti, and most of the dioramas look sad and water-logged. The Chapel features wood carvings and paintings created over many years by a woman named Irene Malcolm and it's still probably the nicest building, having been protected from the element. It was designed to look like the oldest chapel in the world, Christ Church in Virginia, where George Washington worshipped. The chapel is regularly rented out for weddings.

A non-profit organization was created in 1935 to manage The Holy City. In 1948, Anthony Wallock died -- an 11-foot-tall statue of Christ was erected at the site in 1975 in Wallock's memory. Admission to The Holy City is free.

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