Tulsa 1957: June 2007 Archives

My UTW column this week was also about the proposal to move City Hall to One Technology Center at 100 S. Cincinnati. Most of the questions I posed were raised in one form or another, and most were answered, although I won't say that my fears were allayed. (Don Himelfarb couldn't answer my question about the true operating costs of the first year, operating in both old and new facilities.)

I had two related feature stories in the issue, a report on the unearthing and unveiling of the buried car, and a look back at the Tulsarama! celebration in 1957 -- it was a huge city-wide celebration, plagued by at least as much rain as we've seen so far this year. It was much more than burying a time capsule and a car.

I'm pleased with the way the Tulsarama! story came out, but it isn't the comprehensive Tulsa 1957 story I wanted to do. I just ran out of time and couldn't get my arms around it. I have gathered a ton of material, looking through old city directories and planning documents, and receiving the reminiscences of Tulsans who were around in 1957. The article I wrote just scratches the surface, and I intend to provide more here and hopefully in future feature stories. The story of the major comprehensive planning effort that began in 1957 is a story that we need to know as we begin assembling yet another comprehensive plan.

Also in the current issue, Brian Ervin has a story on the difference of opinion about how many police officers Tulsa needs, with the Mayor and her interim police chief on one side and the Fraternal Order of Police on the other side.

UPDATE: Regarding the Belvedere, reader Richard Randall offered this interesting (and frightening) perspective:

We wonder why all of the bridges in Tulsa (and Oklahoma) are falling apart. Most of them were designed and built around the same time as the vault (give or take some years) by some of the same engineers. It seems to show just how well they designed and built some things back then and today, when it is built by the cheapest bidder. Growing up my dad had always talked about how bad the car would look when it came out (He worked at his dads construction company at the time the vault was built). He knew that the vault would fill up with water, by the design they used. Had they looked to the oil industry, they would have learned that water will find a way into anything. The best thing to use would have been a 1 to 2-inch steel box welded shut and encased in concrete. This would have withstood the fifty years. They did seem to grasp that idea a little bit. The time capsule was steel, (not sure if it was welded shut). Everything in it was in great condition.

Not only that, but the same engineers were probably responsible for designing the Civic Center's leaky and crumbling subterranean garage. (Maybe not crumbling any more. I haven't heard a report of falling concrete in some time.) One of the interesting facts that emerged in today's Council meeting about the proposed City Hall move -- about $16 million of that $24 million in deferred maintenance is related to the underground parking garage.

The winning guess from 50 years ago has been identified. Someone named R. E. Humbertson, place of birth Cumberland, Maryland, date of birth July 8, 1921, guessed that Tulsa's population in 2007 would be 384,743. He was off by 2,286; the official Census Bureau estimate, as of June 1, 2007, was 382,457. The next nearest guess belonged to Mrs. Houston I. Shirley, Jr., who guessed 385,555.

The tally was dependent on a paper log of submitted entries and a few postcards. A roll of what may have been microfilm was presented to the Tulsa Historical Society. After being soaked in distilled water for three days, it was found to contain -- nothing.

It surprises me that only 812 guesses were submitted. Of that number, 25 were illegible.The median guess was 691,829. 148 people guessed a population of a million or higher. Only 68 people guessed a number less than the actual result.

The 1957 Polk Directory, using information supplied by the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, reported an estimated population of 254,100, and a land area of 41.03 sq. mi. The city is now more than four times as big in land area (182.7 sq. mi.), and if we had maintained the same population density, the population would be 1,131,466.

I suspect that, if you were to measure the population today within the city's 1957 boundaries, you'd be at about 120,000, less than half.

At the announcement, at East Tulsa Dodge, it was mentioned that we don't have the 1957 address for any of the entries -- just name, date of birth, and place of birth. (In some cases, we only had Mrs. plus the husband's name.) Event chairman Sharon King Davis asked whether anyone had a 1957 phone book, so we could find out where Mr. or Mrs. Humbertson lived. I said try the library. Central Library not only has phone books for most years going back to the 'teens, but they have at least one city directory for each year. Someone else noted that there was a directory in the time capsule. It would be interesting to look up Humbertson in 1956 and subsequent years and see when the name disappears.

It does appear that our Mr. Humbertson has found his way to his own eternal time capsule, and did so many years ago. The Social Security Death Index has the following entry:

Name Birth Death Last Residence Last Benefit SSN Issued
RAYMOND HUMBERTSON 08 Jul 1921 May 1979 22204 (Arlington, Arlington, VA) 22204 (Arlington, Arlington, VA) 215-16-4982 Maryland

If that's not a match, it's an impressive coincidence. The next step would be to see if there are any probate records in Arlington County that would indicate the existence of heirs.

The organizers have very thoughtfully posted the list of entries from the Buried Car website. Here's a direct link (Microsoft Excel format). I found a couple of names I recognized; maybe you will, too.

I've been so busy creating content for this coming week's Urban Tulsa Weekly that I haven't had time to link the current issue's column. It's about what I call the Greenwood Gap Theory, the widely-held notion that nothing happened in Tulsa's one-time African-American commercial district between the 1921 Race Riot and the late '80s construction of the OSU-Tulsa campus.

greenwoodpolksample.JPGTo fill the gap, I look at the historical record provided by aerial photos, street directories, and oral histories, all of which reveal that Greenwood was rebuilt after the riot, better than before in the view of many, but it was government action -- in the form of urban renewal and freeway construction -- that produced the empty lots in the '70s which OSU-Tulsa replaced.

An annotated aerial view of Deep Greenwood (the part of the district extending a few blocks north of Greenwood and Archer) from 1951 accompanies the story. Here's a larger version of the graphic for your perusal (1 MB PDF). (The scan of the aerial photo was done by INCOG at a cost of $35. INCOG has aerial photos of the entire county taken at roughly 10 year intervals.) And this photoset contains the pages from the 1957 Polk City Directory for N. Greenwood Avenue, showing the businesses, churches, and residences in house number order. Specifically they are pages 357 through 360.

My photos of this afternoon's unearthing and tonight's unveiling are currently being uploaded to Flickr. You'll find them in the Tulsa's Buried Car photo set. Included are photos of the time capsule contents, which came out in pristine condition.


This web page has photos of the crypt with the amount of water that was found in it when it was first opened.

The official buriedcar.com website has a gallery of photos of the vault and the 1957 burial.

KOTV has video of last night's unveiling.

Somehow I was able to go through the arena floor to the north loading dock where workers were detaching the 1957 Plymouth Belvedere from its skids and other workers were using a circular saw and a hammer and chisel to open the time capsule.

When they hosed off the undercarriage, the water that dripped down to the ground was the color of Oklahoma City dirt.

Even if it is soggier than Ted Kennedy's car and as rusty as Davy Jones' locker, the Belvedere has served its purpose. It has been the focal point of Tulsa's statehood centennial celebration, and it has drawn press and visitors from all over the world.


Speaking of press from all over the world -- I've been surprised that the organizers didn't do a better job helping press find out where they were supposed to be. Last night at the credentialing welcome party at the Tulsa Press Club, there was no sign outside on Boston Avenue pointing visiting reporters there. (Doesn't help that Boston Ave. looks like a war zone.) There were no signs indicating press parking and entrances. The press packet listed the north YMCA lot as the press parking area, but there seemed to be no way to get to it from any direction. And there were no signs pointing to the press reception area in the basement of the convention center.


The MC at the noon excavation was fired retired KRMG morning host John Erling, the favorite mouthpiece of the old Tulsa establishment. He got the nod to MC the arena groundbreaking and the inauguration of Kathy Taylor. Erling is a relative newcomer -- he arrived in Tulsa in 1976. Why not ask a Tulsa media personality who was around in 1957 -- someone like Lee Woodward (he moved here in 1957) or Clayton Vaughn or Don Woods or Dick Schmitz or Frank Morrow or any number of old-time Tulsa radio and TV types who frequent TulsaTVMemories.com?

"You know, there really ought to be a drain at the bottom of this thing, just in case any water gets in."

"Whaddya mean, in case any water gets in? It's a pool liner, it's designed to keep water on one side. And we're sealing it in an airtight plastic bag -- space age technology. Anyway, it's too late to change anything even if we wanted to."

"You're right. And it's not like we're going to be around in 50 years when they pull it out of the ground."

It isn't Tulsa, but it is 50 years ago:

On Monday morning May 13, 1957, I entered the Washington bureau of the Associated Press in the old Evening Star building on Pennsylvania Avenue, a 26-year-old reporter transferred from Indianapolis where I had reported on the Indiana legislature for the AP. I was immediately sent to Capitol Hill, and soon was helping cover the Kennedy brothers' investigation of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, defended by Edward Bennett Williams. What a start for 50 years in Washington that continue today.

My $125 weekly paycheck was hardly enough to get by, but drinks were cheap in the Members Bar of the National Press Club (restricted to males, as was the club itself), and the small steak there sold for $1.25. I resorted to group living, in a large Georgetown house owned by a Foreign Service officer who was in Costa Rica as ambassador. I paid $100 rent a month. My housemates included two United Press reporters and two CIA employees (one overt and one covert).

It is highly unlikely to find journalists and intelligence operatives cohabiting today, reflecting the kinder, gentler nation's capital a half century ago. Then, as now, a Congress controlled by Democrats with a one-vote margin in the Senate confronted a Republican president. But they opposed each other courteously in 1957. I had arrived in Washington in a pause preceding party polarization, the civil rights revolution, racial riots, student unrest, assassinations, two impeachment proceedings, Vietnam, Watergate and Iraq.

Washington then was still the town of Southern efficiency and Northern charm, shabby and not resembling today's sleek metropolis. The government was much smaller and far less intrusive. The $76.7 billion federal budget ($585 billion in current dollars) compares with the 2007 figures of $2.7 trillion. But even those relatively modest figures spawned an assault on President Dwight D. Eisenhower's budget by Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson.

Read the rest of Novak's reminiscences of then vs. now.

And if you arrived in Tulsa about the time that Mr. Novak arrived in Washington, I'd love to know what you remember about it. I'm still working on my story about Tulsa in 1957 -- it'll run after the unearthing of the Belvedere and will include coverage of that event -- so there's still time to send me your reminiscences.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa 1957 category from June 2007.

Tulsa 1957: May 2007 is the previous archive.

Tulsa 1957: July 2007 is the next archive.

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