MIDWEST CITY, OKLAHOMA -- He was having trouble selling houses in the new Ridgecrest Addition. Bill Atkinson owned and developed Midwest City during and after World War II. By the early 50's he was building bigger homes on the hill behind his own house near NE 10th and Midwest Blvd.
Big house, big lots, Atkinson had a big idea. He decided to throw in a free Shetland Pony with every Ridgecrest purchase. Atkinson historian Carolyn Cuskey, who opened the door to the old pony barn for us, opened another door on what turned out to be a big success for Atkinson. "It was a hopping place all through the 50's," she says while standing in the old stall area. "There were teenage boys who worked as wranglers. There was a pony in every stall."
Atkinson sold his big houses. Hundreds of kids got Shetland Ponies, so many that Bill had to build his pony barn for his growing herd. Kids from Ridgecrest could call up and have a stable boy saddler their pony for a ride in the country. "It was an idyllic childhood for these kids," says Cuskey. "They could ride all over the north part of the city. It was all countryside then."
Midwest City is all grown up now, but we found something one day that harkened back 60 years. City workers were busy on a Wednesday morning looking at the best possible place for a new kind of Shetland Pony to graze the grass on Southeast 29th Street. The pretty, fiberglass pony they put on the median is part of a public art initiative that could have as many as 20 of these sculptures places across town. "This was a process of celebrating the history of Midwest City," says artist Ken Owen.
He came along too late to get a pony for himself, but Ken is making up for that loss. The painting in his home studio is the second one to live with him in the past few months. He painted the first pony with an American flag motif. The one we watched him paint was headed for the MWC library. "I got involved because I love Midwest City," says Owen. "It's a good place to live."
More ponies appear to be on the way. They are the second part of a good marketing idea that started with the city's founder and continues with a free art installation for every kid in town.