ThisÂ Holy CityÂ started as an Easter Passion Play in the Wichita mountains in 1926. The impetus behind both the pageant and city was the late Reverend Anthony Mark Wallock. He was born in 1890 in Austria. He immigrated to the United States with his parents at two years of age. After completing ministerial studies at the Garret Biblical Institute, Wallock served at several churches before coming to Lawton as pastor of the First Congregational Church. In 1926, he took his Sunday school class up a mountain where a tableau of the Resurrection was presented. The popularity of this service led it to become an annual event. In 1927, the service became nonsectarian, and was referred to by the Lawton Constitution as "Oklahoma's Oberammergau."
Each year the Passion Play expanded its cast and worshipers. In 1930, it attracted 6,000 people. By 1931, the congregation has swelled to 15,000 with 150 cast members, and by 1934, 40,000 worshipers came. Because of the event's popularity, it received a grant of $94,000 from "federal funds [that were] unconditionally set aside for the Wichita Mountains Easter Pageant." The first buildings were completed by the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA); they included walls and gateway to Jerusalem, Calvary's Mount, the Temple Court, Pilate's Judgment Hall, Watch Towers, Garden of Gethsemane, dressing rooms and rock shrines. A ceremony to dedicate the Holy City was held in 1935, when the cast for Easter Sunrise Service had grown to 1,200, which included anÂ a capellaÂ choir, and Knights Templar from all over the state.
In 1936, more facilities were completed: The Lord's Supper Building, Herod's Court, a lodge, control room, and others. The chapel was built to resemble America's oldest church, Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, where George Washington worshiped. Irene Malcolm donated several years of her life to create Biblical murals and paintings on the ceilings and walls.
A radio broadcast of the pageant took place in 1936, during which a telegram from President Franklin D. Roosevelt was read. That year 2,000 cast members came from 65 cities and towns, and there was a congregation of 100,000. Thousands of tourists have come each year to see the city and the chapel, where various types of chapel services are held, including weddings.
The citizens of Lawton elected Wallock as the Outstanding Citizen of 1938. The following year, the state of Oklahoma included Wallock in its Hall of Fame. He died in 1948. Following Wallock's last wishes, a white marble statue of Christ, eleven feet high, was erected in 1975. The Oklahoma Historical Society nominated the Holy City for the National Register of Historic Places. A new use permit was issued in 1996, not expiring until 2021.
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