Twenty-three years ago this summer, Hollywood came to Oklahoma to film several scenes for what would become the 1996 hit movie “Twister.” Not long after it became a box office success, the town of Wakita, Okla, quickly capitalized on the recent filming that had occurred there and a museum. Linda Wade was one of the extras in Wakita and was convinced by people from Warner Bros., the studio behind “Twister,” to make a museum devoted to the movie. They convinced her that it would be good for maybe seven years.
Over two decades later, the museum is still running strong with Wade as the caretaker. On the day this reporter visited, there was a couple who had travelled all the way from Australia just to visit the locations as seen in the movie. Since its opening in 1996, the museum has received voters from over 25 foreign countries.
Wakita is only a little over an hour’s drive southwest from Wellington in Grant County, Okla. The employee at the museum told the story of how Wakita had damage from a severe storm in the mid 1990s and was in talks with the State of Oklahoma for grant money to make repairs. When location scouts for “Twister” heard that Wakita had real authentic storm damage and debris, they immediately entered into negotiations to film parts of the movie there.
When one enters the museum, they are immediately confronted with Dorothy. It was a metal cylinder decorated with a picture of “The Wizard of Oz’s” Dorothy Gale. In the movie, it is filled with little sensors that Paxton and Hunt, along with their team of storm chasers, struggle to get into the heart of the powerful tornado. They hope the sensors will reveal new, life-saving data that will cap their nearly life-long pursuit of the storms.
A visit to the museum also reveals that the opening scene in the rural farmhouse was filmed southwest of Wakita on Highway 11. Although the house is long-gone, there are still silos on the property. The character of Aunt Meg had her house in Wakita, but it was destroyed in the movie when the town was struck by a powerful tornado. The lot where the house was located, on Elm Street, is now an empty lot, but it has an identifying marker listing it as ‘Aunt Meg’s House.’ There are wind chimes there that people will remember from the movie.
One learns from watching the behind the scenes footage showed at the museum that the town was convincingly trashed by the movie company, but were still able to have it all cleaned up by September 1995 when the city had its fall festival.
“Twister,” of course, started out as an original screenplay written by famed novelist Michael Chrichton and his then-wife Anne-Marie Martin. It sold for $2 million dollars and was picked up by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Productions. It received a then uncredited rewrite by Joss Whedon, who would go on to write and direct two Avengers movies. The director of “Speed”, Jan de Bont, was hired to direct, with Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt starring.
In the museum, there is a nice display devoted to the late Bill Paxton, and one finds that many of the locals who were around then still speak fondly of him. They remember how he spent a lot of time in between takes throwing around a football to anyone who wanted to play catch with him. At the Hollywood premiere, Paxton received a custom-made “Twister” pinball game. It was later donated to the museum by Paxton.
A map details the location on the south side of Kaw Lake where they saw the flying cow; the drive down the trench was filmed near Ponca City. However, the ending with the F5 tornado and the barn was filmed in rural Iowa.
The museum sells “Twister”-themed t-shirts for $20.00, hats for $16, stuffed animal flying cows for $15. Shirts from various storm chasers are displayed up on the wall for visitors to see.
This writer made his first visit to the museum in 1996 not long after the release of the movie, with another visit in 1997. For many years, I had a t-shirt from the museum that read ‘I was cast as an extra in the movie Twister, but my part was cut.’
The museum is open April thru August, 1:00-5:00 p.m., Tuesday thru Saturday. Others times by appt, April through October. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.