Backers of a memorial to Merle Haggard got the green light to place a monument on the north lawn of the Muskogee Civic Center, a step forward for a project about five years in the making. 

Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame officials recently took control of the project for which City of Muskogee Foundation directors rejected a letter of inquiry seeking funding. The letter of inquiry was submitted during this year's grant cycle by the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce.

The memorial as originally envisioned would include a bronze sculpture of Merle Haggard sitting on a bench with a guitar case and hat. It would be placed where visitors can take photos of "Old Glory down at the courthouse" and the Civic Center, where Haggard recorded the album "Okie from Muskogee."

OMHOF Executive Director Jim Blair said an opportunity exists that would expand the scope of the memorial and add a monument Haggard designed and asked a Ponca City artist to create. Haggard planned to have the piece placed at his ranch near Bakersfield, Calif.

"They want to see that placed in Muskogee," Blair said about those who are part of Haggard's organization. "The bench will be great, but what a story to tell — to have a memorial standing next to it that was designed by Merle himself." 

Blair said the cost of the Haggard-designed monument is unknown, but funding would be raised from private donations. The estimated cost of the Hag's Bench memorial is about $150,000, which also would come from private donations. 

Derek Gibson, an OMHOF board member, said now "is the time to do this." He cited Haggard's recent death and his previously scheduled appearance in June as a featured headliner for the inaugural G Fest as catalysts that spurred the project forward.

"Merle Haggard helped put Muskogee on the map," Gibson said. "We want to put a bronze bench with Merle on it — he will be sitting there with a guitar case and hat, it will be a good photo op for the next hundred years."

Blair said he expected to meet Wednesday with the artist to discuss details about the Haggard-designed monument.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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