McCartney Memorialized

7 minutes

What wagon trains were to the nineteenth century, Route 66 was to the twentieth. This dream of Cyrus Avery—the Tulsa oil magnate who proposed the road’s construction when he was a member of the federal board appointed to create the nation’s highway system—symbolizes the “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet” spirit that gripped the country during the golden age of the automobile. Cars represent freedom—ask any kid on the cusp of earning her license—and Route 66, stretching from Chicago down through Illinois and Missouri; across the hills and plains of Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle; and through the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona to end at Santa Monica State Beach in California, bridged the old Midwest and the new west, taking road-trippers through the heart of North America.

Route 66 and the communities and businesses that lie along it have embraced its place in travelers’ imaginations with roadside attractions, quirky stops, and legendary restaurants, ensuring any journey down these asphalt stretches will be memorable. In Oklahoma alone, we have attractions like the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios on 66, the Milk Bottle Building and the Gold Dome, Lucille’s Roadhouse, and two museums—in Clinton and Elk City—dedicated to all things Mother Road.

We have one new attraction now, and it’s thanks to one of the most famous natives of Liverpool, England: Sir Paul McCartney.

The story begins in August 2008, when Sir Paul and his now-wife Nancy Shevell—they were dating at the time—drove the entire length of Route 66. Stories of Sir Paul and Nancy’s trek on the road were well-documented at the time, including the story of him stopping in Texas to play “Hey Jude” for a kid whose parents had named him after that song.

But my favorite tale about this trip came from Sir Paul himself, who told it to the tens of thousands of us who came to see him one night in July 2017 when he played at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Sir Paul McCartney on stage. Photo by Nathan Gunter

Sir Paul McCartney on stage. Photo by Nathan Gunter

It seems that, after a day of driving, Sir Paul and Nancy pulled up outside the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. On their arrival, a bellhop came to help them with their bags and, seeing the legendary Beatle’s face, stopped cold.

“You!” the bellhop cried. “You’re . . . you’re Paul! You’re Paul Simon!”

“I wish,” Paul deadpanned.

Side note: Does anyone else really super hope that bellhop was at the concert when Sir Paul told that story? Either way, Macca had lovely things to say about his time in Oklahoma and thanked the state for helping him make a good impression on the woman who would become his wife.

Now, some Oklahomans are returning the favor. A few weeks ago, Oklahoma County and a few residents along a stretch of the original Route 66 unveiled a sign commemorating Sir Paul’s stop.

Paul McCartney sign on Route 66. Photo by Shellee Graham

Paul McCartney sign on Route 66. Photo by Shellee Graham

And here is what it says:

Their trip began on July 31, 2008, from Paul’s holiday home in The Hamptons, New York. They joined Route 66 in Illinois, hoping to stay incognito, but that lasted only a couple of days. On August 5, their journey brought them here, to this road: Old Highway 66, just east of Arcadia, Oklahoma.

Resident Toby Thompson was working outside when a Ford Bronco stopped and the driver asked him if this was Old 66. After a few seconds he realized who he was talking to. He had no pen, camera or phone with him, so he simply verified that yes, this was Old 66, and he told McCartney he was honored to meet him. They thanked him kindly and went on their way, staying overnight at the Skirvin Hotel downtown. Sightings of Sir Paul and his future bride Nancy Shevell continued throughout their tour, allowing everyone involved to “Get Their Kicks on Route 66!”

Shellee Graham lives on this section of Route 66 and designed the sign with help from Route 66 historian Jim Ross, and they oversaw its placement. For those hoping to see it themselves, Route 66 News has a handy map; the sign marks a section of Old 66 near Hiwassee Road east of Arcadia.

Having grown up just off Route 66 in Weatherford—and currently living just a few blocks from its old route off Northwest Twenty-third Street in Oklahoma City—I adore the initiative taken by my fellow Okies. Surely the Mother Road has attracted its share of famous road-trippers, but to have a monument to the man who wrote or cowrote some of the greatest songs in history—“Eleanor Rigby” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” are two of my favorites, though I did nearly plotz when he played “Temporary Secretary” during his OKC gig—just a few miles from where I live is pretty cool.

I’m so glad Sir Paul and Nancy enjoyed their time in Oklahoma, and, all things permitting, I hope they’re able to join us in a little less than five years when we celebrate the Route 66 centennial in 2026. Until then, the next time I’m headed to Tulsa or out west to my hometown, I’m going to eschew the interstates and make my way down the ribbon of highway that reminds us all how big, beautiful, quirky, and worth-getting-to-know this country—and state—of ours are.

Written By
Nathan Gunter

Nate is an enthusiastic runner and cyclist and frequently can be seen making his way by foot or pedal through Oklahoma City streets. When not working, Nate is reading, writing, watching movies, playing video games, working in his garden, attending concerts, or taking off on road trips.

Nathan Gunter
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