E.W. Marland Mansion – Ponca City, Oklahoma - Atlas Obscura
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Ponca City, Oklahoma

E.W. Marland Mansion

This ostentatious Italianate palace of an Oklahoma billionaire is filled with several themed mini-museums. 

Leave it to an ingenious billionaire/governor/congressman/oil magnate to take a quarry’s worth of rocks and reshape it into one of the Southwest’s most over-the-top palaces. 

The Roaring 1920s adhered to its own peculiar set of self-referential norms, one of which included having money prescribed the necessity to boast as much. Nowhere proved a better display of one’s worth and accomplishments than in the creation of a truly original home – a fact that was not lost on E.W. Marland. The element that sets this particular mansion apart from its peers is its solitary location in the middle-est part of America, alone on the plains of Oklahoma, perched on the edge of a former quarry pit.

Marland, free from any sort of budgetary constraints we plebes might understand, let his imagination run wild. Architect John Duncan Forsythe was tasked with the dicey task of bringing Marland’s vision to life. By the time the mansion was completed, the edifice measured an incredible 43,561 square feet. Manicured lawns and gardens stretched to all sides of the home, and the old quarry had been converted to a glorious swimming pool.

Traditional mansions’ checkered marble floors and crystal chandeliers are available in spades, but they’re not what makes Marland’s mansion so aesthetically unique. The estate is renowned for its incredible ceilings, which were individually hand-painted over the course of three years by Italian muralist Vincent Maragliotti, who Marland flew-in specifically for this project.

Guided tours of the mansion are offered daily at 1:30pm, (plus an additional tour at 3pm on weekends throughout the summer months) during which visitors are sometimes encouraged to play a game of “angel vs. dragon.” Hidden throughout the building are dueling motifs of angels and dragons – incarnations big and small, subtle and bombastic – which makes spotting them in their nooks decent sport. A few easy catches can be found on prominent display in a stunning 24 karat gold leaf mosaic located between the home’s gallery and first levels. 

According to the Marland Estate, their modern-day mission is to “create an authentic atmosphere which portrays the Marland lifestyle during the 1920’s and 1930’s.” As most rooms remain untouched from their original state, the effect is jaw-dropping, making their mission a total success.

Though glorious enough in its own right, the trust took this mission a step further, ensuring a visit to the mansion would include more than a mere tour of a giant, well-appointed house. Contained within the grounds’ various buildings are a handful of micro-museums dedicated to various topics pertinent to Oklahoma and Marland family history, ranging from a local sculptor’s working gallery and artist studio, to the oil museum and a separate Marland Family Museum, the existence of the latter begging the question of whether the Marlands themselves may be trapped in the center of their own Marland-themed matryoshka dolls, desperate to escape the confines of history into the real-live 21st century.

It’s worth noting that Marland himself was a ridiculous character (as one could likely surmise from his decorating scheme). During his time, he made and lost several fortunes, ruthlessly pursuing and attaining political office; his personal life’s nadir included marrying his own adopted daughter. Complicating a tempting portrayal of the man as a scoundrel out to serve only himself from high atop his palatial perch, Marland proved a genuinely progressive political force, having fought to expand the New Deal and lessen the impact of the Depression across his harshly ravaged home state of Oklahoma.

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977, the Estate of E.W. Marland has been assured to stand as a perfect representation of the legacy of a man whose taste was a complicated as his personal life, including his desire to positively shape the lives of a populace he’d never meet, far into the future.