Hardy Murphy Coliseum was constructed in the mid 1930’s by the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.). It opened for business in 1937 as the Municipal Exhibition Building. For its first ten years it was a roofless stadium. During this period a rodeo bull jumped from the arena floor into the grandstand. After charging uphill through spectators the bull did a Swan dive into the parking lot below where he was finally destroyed.
In the late 1940’s a roof was added and presumably a better fence separating spectators and bulls. The county fair, jr. livestock show, professional rodeos and a host of other civic events headquartered at what was the region’s most prestigious facility. In the early sixties the coliseum was renamed for an Ardmore native and internationally famous Wild West Show and rodeo performer Hardy Murphy. Hardy’s show business career spanned three decades and took him to Hollywood, Madison Square Garden and a command performance for the King of England. Hardy’s friends included Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Oklahoma’s other famous cowboy Will Rogers.
At about the same time that Hardy gave his name to the coliseum, his two partners, show horses Buck and Silver Cloud, were buried at the coliseum’s grounds. The city closed its schools for the funeral and both the governor and longtime friend Gene Autry were among the 10,000 admirers of Hardy and his horses that attended.
Sometime in the early 1970’s Hardy Murphy Coliseum fell into a period of neglect and disrepair. In the mid-eighties a group of concerned citizens organized as the Hardy Murphy Coliseum Trust Authority and were given responsibility of managing and renovating the aging but still viable building.
Last year over 100,000 people visited Hardy Murphy Coliseum and Ardmore. Forty-eight weeks of the year the coliseum holds events spanning anywhere from a single day to all seven of the week. While horse events are our mainstay there is something at Hardy Murphy Coliseum that will interest nearly everyone.
Who was Hardy Murphy
It could be said that horses ran in Hardy Murphy’s blood. Born in 1903, grandson of an old line Texas horse trader, Hardy developed his love of horses into a career of international acclaim as horse trainer and rodeo showman before returning to Ardmore to enter business and enjoy a family life. Even then he worked daily with his horses until his death in 1961.
During his career as a rodeo showman during the 1930’s and 1940’s, Hardy astounded audiences with his pantomimes of scenes depicted in works of art by well-known Western painters and sculptors. His reenactments were so moving that two western balladeers acknowledged Hardy and his horse, Buck, as inspiration for their songs, “Gold Mine in the Sky” and “A Cowboy’s Best Friend”. Hardy and Buck were featured on the cover of “The New Yorker” in October of 1944.
Hardy loved to perform and demonstrate his skills with his equine partners whether in front of school age children, or before the Royal Court in London. And he did consider his horses Buck, Silver Cloud, and Thor as his partners. Hardy and Buck were top billing for 10 years in Col. W.T. Johnson’s rodeo in New York City, Boston and Chicago; as well as, Col. John Reed Kilpatrick’s extravaganza at Madison Square Garden. Hardy’s favorite charity show was for Children’s Ward of Bellevue Hospital performing for seriously or terminally ill children.
After retiring from the “Big Circuit”, Hardy returned to Ardmore in 1943. He began a second career as a realtor, civic promoter, fund-raiser, volunteer and part-time performer for charities and civic events. These activities won him the affection of the community, which resulted in the award that pleased him the most… the naming of this facility in his honor. He was frequently referenced as “Southern Oklahoma’s Goodwill Ambassador” and “Mr. Ardmore”.
His devotion to family, friends, and community arose from his genuine respect for others. Hardy is quoted in the program for his 1938 appearance at New York’s Madison Square Garden Rodeo: In training any animal, after gaining his or her confidence and affection, do not betray that instinct of admiration, because you are all that counts in that animal’s heart.
Though he was speaking of training horses, the sentiment expresses the attitudes which guided his dealings with everyone he met.
Buck was retired in a nationally televised show during the Fort Worth International Stock Show in 1953. So important was the event to good friend Amon G. Carter, Mr. Carter left his hospital bed against doctor’s advice to be master of ceremony. It was his last public appearance before his death.
Buck died March 3, 1957, buried at this Coliseum, where he had performed for so many years.
We are a Trust Authority of the City of Ardmore.