1995 & The Summer of Paxton

Wakita, Oklahoma -

Population: 344
Founded: 1898

The population ticked up slightly for four months of 1995 when Hollywood film crew rolled into town.

While there, they built up homes and businesses, destroyed them and left a lifetime of memories for residents of the Grant County town.

We’re talking about Twister, of course. You don’t have to tell anyone in Wakita that, but it’s understandable that outsiders may have forgotten about the blockbuster film that introduced many people to the deadly storms that are a part of every Oklahoman’s life.

Twister was released in May 1996 and became the second highest grossing movie of the year. With over $241 million, it came only behind Independence Day in the year-end tally. It featured a cast including Bill Paxton, Helen Hunter, Cary Elwes and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

We decided to visit the town and see it for ourselves.

It’s not hard to miss Wakita. The entire town covers an entire area of less than half a mile. Lined up down main street you’ll find the town’s grocer, funeral home, antique shop and Twister museum all in the same strip.

Yes, there’s a museum and it’s as great as you might imagine.

You might actually not imagine much due to the building’s size. Make no mistake, there is no shortage of history and memorabilia housed inside.

Linda, the museum’s curator and our tour guide told us stories about everything from the Hollywood destruction of the town to how Bill Paxton stole everyone’s heart and was often seen tossing a football with locals.

It was the summer of Paxton.

She doesn’t hear from him often, but he’s been known to send a letter to the museum from time to time. He even donated a Twister pinball machine made specifically for him by SEGA.

Shortly after we arrived, in walked a pair of travelers who wanted to see the museum too. Yolanda and Leslie were more than just curious travelers though. They were in the United States from the Netherlands and made a special detour on their cross-country tour of Route 66 to check out the museum.

Leslie is such a big fan of Twister that he has the movie’s logo tattooed on his right arm. We spent some time talking to him and he was overjoyed to be in Wakita.

“I wonder how many visitors they get?” We asked while imagining a much smaller number.

Close to 24,000 from around the world. That’s more than 1,000 visitors a year.

September 19 is the museum’s 20th anniversary and they are pulling out all the stops. Storm chasers from the around the state will participate in a big parade. There will be food, music, giveaways and fun. Twister is literally engraved into the town so they take the celebration seriously.

This place is just one of many that make Oklahoma unique. If we could find a touch of Hollywood in a town of less than 350, what else can we find?

Learn more about the trip to Wakita here:

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