For many of us we will never truly know what it is like to encounter one of natures horrific wonders. As a person who travels from one state to the next it always rests in the back of my mind however knowing full well that at any time the world around me can dramatically change and with that create a whirlwind of chaos.
While there are some excursions out there for those living on the edge and wanting to seek out real storm chasing options, for the rest of us watching from a much more safe location we can always turn to movies and the magic of the big screen to see what we are missing in a much more comfortable and fearless way.
But something in me was really questioning how they create such realistic experiences for us on the big screen. My hop down the rabbit hole of questioning led me to Wakita, Oklahoma where the movie screen magic merged with the reality of the actual infamous Tornado Alley for the ultimate creation of the iconic movie Twister.
Now for those who have lived under a rock for the past 25 years and never seen this iconic classic let me summarize:
Movie opens with a tornado plowing through a small community and a small girl losing her father in the most tragic of ways (he is sucked out of their storm shelter by the horrific winds of the F5 tornado). From this point the movie cuts to a group of storm chasers which look more than a little rough around the edges.
The girl is now an adult, played by Helen Hunt, and is now a part of this clan looking to find the answers for helping other people experiencing the same tragedy she did as a child and give me advanced warning to save more lives.
Enter the drama.... Bill Paxton, a former storm chaser and husband of Hunt's character returns to get his divorce finalized so he can move on with his new love interest, which happens to come with him. But before this can happen a storm line starts to move forcing the crew to move forward and Paxton joins the crew with his new love interest (who has no knowledge of this side of Paxton) hopping on for the ride.
The chaos begins, many things are destroyed and ultimately the love story amidst all of the horrific conditions plays out....
Now I won't tell you how it ends, because I strongly urge you to watch it, but the movie magic was well ahead of its time on this one and thoroughly recreated the actual intensity that towns in Tornado Alley face throughout the tornado season.
So why Wakita?? Wakita, OK was used as one of the film locations for the movie. Why?? They had no through major highway to impair production, a very small downtown with several buildings on the brink of demolition and were a part of the communities which had recently been effected by recent tornadoes. In fact, all to the debris you find in this movie was real debris from storms in the area and a few other local communities.
If you think about that.. it is so surreal that amidst the destruction came something so great.
Hollywood signed on the location and basically shut down downtown for several weeks. They rebuilt storefronts for movie magic and helped the community by destroying several structures which were in need of demolition for safety purposes.
But well beyond the physicality of the movie production came the genuine human connections which were established. Many of the community were involved as extras and those who were not watched on from a very short distance. You could find the stars intermingling with the small town people regularly, with Paxton taking a special interest in the community. It was not uncommon for him to get the football and throw it around with the kids, take photos with all the ladies and have chummy conversations with all the men of the community.
Paxton greatly made an impression on the community. And it did not stop once the wheels of Hollywood rolled away. Instead he stayed in touch. Signs of Paxton and his legacy still remain to this day some 25 years later. A football he had the cast sign was donated to the locally owned museum commemorating the filming in the community. It was followed by a Twister Pinball Machine.
Paxton was a part of Wakita and a quick stop at the Twister Movie Museum will reveal just how much of an impact he had with the people and how his legacy will live on.
Storm chasers from around the country make it a point to stop in Wakita and often leave tokens for the museum, fan art is displayed alongside photos and videos from behind the scenes and while the museum is small it has so much heart behind it.
Not so often can a community boast that they were a part of such a huge production which remains so relevant today. However if you are ever in northern Oklahoma just 8 miles from the Kansas line you will find the community which lives forever through the infamous Wakita Watertower.