OKLAHOMA CITY —
As part of the celebrations of Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years on the British throne, a regatta was recently held on the Thames River that was led by the Royal yacht with the queen on board.
As documented in the recently published “Thames, the Biography” by author Peter Ackroyd, that waterway has played an important role in British history for centuries. Similar royal regattas took place on the Thames when England was ruled by King Henry VIII and later by his daughter Elizabeth. It was on the banks of the Thames at Runnymede in 1215 where King John was compelled to sign the Magna Carta that placed limitations on the powers of the British monarchy. The presence of both houses of the British Parliament on the banks of the Thames is indicative, Ackroyd asserts, of the waterway’s importance to the British nation.
Ackroyd reminds us that the Thames has been referenced by artists such as Shakespeare and Chaucer and has been the subject of both poetry and paintings for centuries. The author documents how when the Thames froze in the 17th century it hosted what were known as “Frost Fairs” that included sporting events, food stalls and merchants who opened stores on the ice.
At one time, Ackroyd relates, the port of the Thames was the busiest in the world, and it was said that it handled enough rum to inebriate the whole of England and enough sugar to sweeten the Thames. But in recent decades the amount of cargo handled on the river has dwindled, and some of its wharves have been converted into homes, retail centers and parks as a result. Canary Wharf in London’s East End is the best example of that transition, and the author believes that it will serve as a model for similar transformations on the Thames River’s docks.
It is possible that in time the Oklahoma River will play a somewhat similar role in the state of Oklahoma’s history and culture. For the past several years that waterway has hosted a Christmas parade that included vessels festooned with bright holiday lights that brought hundreds of people to its banks.
Regatta Park is adjacent to the waterway and there are walking trails connected to it that are popular with those who want to travel the length of the river. Fireworks recently exploded over the Oklahoma River as part of an Independence Day celebration sponsored by a local energy corporation.
In September that waterway will host the annual Oklahoma Regatta Festival that will include boat races and also events for children. Future historians may reference the arrival of the Dell Computer facility adjacent to the river as the beginning of Oklahoma City’s transformation into a high-tech city.
WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.