By Herb Sparrow
I have visited many interesting house museums over the years. There have been houses that were impressive for their sheer size, for their distinctive architecture or for their beautiful furnishings.
The E.W. Marland Estate in Ponca City, Okla., fills all those bills. Known as the Palace on the Plains, the massive 43,000-square-foot-plus stone-faced Italian Renaissance-style mansion, built by oilman E.W. Marland in the mid-1920s, has 55 rooms, 12 bathrooms, seven fireplaces and three kitchens.
The rooms feature crystal chandeliers, gold-leaf-covered ceilings, a leather-lined elevator and hand-carved details. The wood panels in the dining room came from the royal forest in England and required permission of the king to be harvested.
“This was E.W.’s castle,” said Todd Stallbaumer of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department as we toured the mansion.
However, the houses I have found most interesting were those with great stories about the people who lived in them. And again, the Marland Mansion more than fills that bill, even though Marland and his second wife, Lydie, only lived there for a few months.
Marland, the founder of Conoco, made and lost two fortunes in the oil industry, the second shortly after the house was completed. Although they occasionally entertained in the mansion, E.W. and Lydie moved into the refurbished chauffeur’s cottage.
Marland later served in Congress and was governor of Oklahoma. The more interesting story is Lydie, who was the niece of Marland’s first wife and his adopted daughter. After his wife’s death, Marland had the adoption nullified and married the vivacious Lydie.
Lydie continued living in the cottage, gradually becoming more reclusive, until the early 1950s, when she vanished from view. There were reported sightings of her around the country working as a maid, standing in a bread line and marching in antiwar protests until the mid-1970s, when she returned to Ponca City and resumed living in the cottage until her death in 1987.
Now known as Lydie’s Cottage, the cottage is part of the tour of the Marland estate.
In the entrance of the mansion are limestone statues of Lydie and her brother, George, also adopted by Marland. Destroyed and buried in 1953, Lydie’s statue was found in pieces in 1990, restored and returned to the mansion.