July 26, 2010

The Golden Driller - Tulsa, OK

Back in my hometown of Tulsa, I decided to pay a visit to the very memorable roadside attraction of the Golden Driller. The Golden Driller commemorates the city’s standing as the oil capital of the world. At 76-feet tall and weighing nearly 22 tons, he is the third tallest free-standing statute in the United States. (Fun Facts: The Golden Driller is surpassed only by the Statute of Liberty and Our Lady of the Rockies. He is taller than Tribute to Courage, the large statute of Sam Houston in Huntsville, Texas. You can read about my visit to see Sam Houston here.)

The Golden Driller was originally built in 1953 by the Mid-Continent Supply Company for the International Petroleum Exposition and then erected again for the 1959 exposition. The statute was so popular that the company ultimately donated it to Tulsa. It was permanently installed at the Tulsa Expo Center in 1966. In 1979, it was named the state monument by the Oklahoma Legislature.

The sturdy iron and concrete man rests his hand on a real oil derrick that was moved from a depleted oil field in Seminole, Oklahoma; and an inscription at the base of the statue reads: "The Golden Driller, a symbol of the International Petroleum Exposition. Dedicated to the men of the petroleum industry who by their vision and daring have created from God's abundance a better life for mankind."

I do have to make one teeny, tiny observation about the Golden Driller. It is one of the gayest things I have ever seen. And I don’t mean “gay” as in stupid, I mean “gay” as in
blatantly homoerotic. It is a bare-chested man wearing a hard hat, jeans, and a large belt buckle – attire that would be quite suitable on stage with the Village People or at a leather bar. The oil derrick is one large phallic symbol and the whole display is not helped by the rainbow lights on the Expo Center behind the Golden Driller.

This is, of course, not disparaging the Golden Driller. Rather it is oddly fitting for a Tulsa landmark. While Oklahoma is not known for it’s tolerance of the LGBT community (just ask Sally Kern), there is a large gay population in Tulsa. Some have even claimed Tulsa has the third-largest gay population per capita in the United States (although I have yet to find any statistical proof). It is just very discrete. As soon as someone makes a public statement about homosexuality in Oklahoma, there tends to be consequences.

Keith Kimmel, a 28-year-old gay man from Norman, sued the Oklahoma Tax Commission to be allowed to have a vanity license plate that said, “IM GAY.” Later, Kimmel filed a complaint against Tulsa police. He alleged police officer had come to a local gay bar to break up a fight. He claims the officers then “beat him” and made “several derogatory remarks were made with regard to my sexual orientation and the entertainers and/or patrons of the bar.” We may never know whether it really happened though, two days later Kimmel died from a drug overdose.

I am not suggesting Oklahoma police officers beat anyone who is openly gay. I’m just saying it’s not too hard to believe that an openly gay person in Oklahoma would be beaten for his sexuality, even by someone wearing a uniform.

And yet here is the Golden Driller – the official statute of the state and yet so very…well…gay. It seems like the Golden Driller is a monument to the state’s pride and history as the oil capital of the world but it is also a symbol of Oklahoma’s sexual identity crisis. Oklahoma is willing to accept an allusion to homosexuality – even at 76 feet tall – so long as no one actually says anything about it.

Total Distance Traveled: 7.5 miles
Total Time Traveled: 20 minutes
Soundtrack: “Carnival Ride” Carrie Underwood



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  2. I wonder if his legs have to be that far apart for stability or if that too is an artistic and homoerotic statement? Either way, I love 'im!

  3. Is that an oil derrick next to you or are you just glad to see me?