June 18, 2007

Here She Is, Miss Belvedere...

On Friday, Sugar Pea and I stood in a massive crowd in downtown Tulsa and watched history unfold--well, we caught tiny glimpses of it unfolding, anyway. A giant crane gingerly lifted the 1957 Plymouth Belvedere from the vault on the courthouse lawn amid cheers from native Tulsans and world travelers alike.

Then Miss Belvedere was pulled through the adoring crowd on a trailer, still dressed in her shroud and layers of protective wrappings.

That evening, as the world waited, Miss Belvedere finally made her debut after fifty years below ground. The Sweethearts watched as her wrappings were gently removed and the ravages of the last half century were revealed.

Here she is, Dollfaces, proudly displayed smack dab in the center of the classic car show organized in her honor. Despite the dirt and rust, spots of shiny chrome are still visible, as are signatures of several Tulsans, placed on her whitewalls just before she was lowered into her tomb.

Many of her much publicized contents were lost to time, but a few survived, including several cans of "The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous".

A few of the contents of a lady's purse were recovered, including two combs, a plastic compact, a tube of lipstick, a cigarette lighter, and the famous bottle of tranquilizers.

The really good news is that the contents of the steel time capsule buried with the car survived in perfect condition.

Had the years been kinder to Miss Belvedere, and had that special vault and those layers of Cosmoline done the job we all hoped they would do, this is how she would have looked on June 15, 2007.

This 1959 Cadillac Coupe DeVille made my midcentury heart race, and I'm not much of a car person, really. Those tail fins! Those rocket exhaust-like brake lights! The chrome! That beautiful aquamarine paint job!

What I began to wonder was, why did forward-looking style die after the 60s? I realize these gas guzzlers were from a time when America was on top of the world. We thought gas would always be 24 cents a gallon, especially in Tulsa, The Oil Capital of the World in those days. And even if it wasn't, hell, we'd all be flying around in plutonium powered personal jets with colonies on the moon at the turn of the 21st Century. That was part of the reason Miss Belvedere was buried for us to exhume now. "The Greatest Generation" thought maybe we'd like to know exactly what those "automobiles" their grandchildren would read about in electronic textbooks had looked like up close. That's why they included gas, oil and a spare tire with the Plymouth--the folks in 2007 would need those accessories to take the relic for a spin, if there were still such antiquated things as roads. Everyone was looking forward, and the sky was the limit. It seems we've lost that spirit of progress now. Oh, I know science and medicine make great leaps every day, and really, who among us would go back to a time before women were free to control their own destinies and make their own decisions regarding family, finance and career? Before The Pill. Before a cure for Polio. Before equal rights for all. Before prevalent air conditioning, for god's sake. Though I appreciate the timeless design and many of the values of the 1930s through the early 1960s, and fairly ache with nostalgia for a time twenty five years before my birth, I'm not one of those who look back at the middle of the 20th Century with rose colored glasses and see only poodle skirts and apple pie. There were problems, lots of them. Life could be hard. There was crime and ugliness, even then. But for all the progress we've made, it seems we've lost something, too, not just in the area of design, but in the pride we had in ourselves, our homes, our communities, not only as Americans, but as citizens of a world on the brink of utopia, always one atom away from perfection. At some point we stopped looking forward. We became cynical and selfish and began the move from "us" to "me".

As I stood in that cheering crowd while that rusted old car was being lifted from the ground, and later as those failed wrappings were removed, I was more stirred than I had imagined I would be. I felt the pain and disappointment of all that hope and hard work and those best laid plans that, in the end, were a gamble that didn't pay off. I could feel the pride and confidence with which she was buried that day, fifty years ago, the fragility of human efforts, and the speed with which Mother Nature could reclaim it all, given enough time. Many of the folks responsible for this unprecedented time capsule have long since passed on, and those little girls photographed on the car's hood in 1957 are now grandmothers. There is a lesson to be learned from Miss Belvedere, I think. Though she didn't survive the passage of time as she was intended to, something of the spirit of hope for the future of Tulsa, Oklahoma, of the United States, and of the world remains, if only we can find a way to recapture it.


MR. HALL said...

damn, baby, this is a good post.

Stephen said...

I must agree with Mr. Hall. Truely a topshelf post. Also, I find similar trains of thought in you and your gentleman's last posts.

sweetheartville said...

Why, thank you kindly, boys.

jungle dream pagoda said...

What a lovely post,I am sure you were quite misty-eyed(along with others) over your realizations. Those little girls!!! How can they be grandmothers? Time marches on.

woof nanny said...

Thanks for visiting my blog! In Los Angeles, there's a guy who gives retro slide shows (he is so fun to listen to!), and he mentioned this on his travel blog. You'll get a kick out of him

Wendy said...

I live in California, but my hub and I love vintage cars and were soooo curious about the condition of the Belvedere. Thank you for sharing those pics!

Was also wondering about the person who guessed the 2007 population. Were they or "their heirs" in attendance?

samann1121 said...

(I realize I'm commenting way after the fact, but I was reading one of your latest posts, and you mentioned Miss Belvedere, so I had to go looking for the post on her.)

This post is very moving. Partly because of what you said, but partly because Miss Belvedere means something completely different but equally important to me. I grew up in Tulsa, but my parents moved away right when I was going off to college, so I rarely get to visit my own home town.

Ever since I was little, when we'd drive past the courthouse, my dad would say, "There's a car buried down there!" In my little 6-year-old head, it was a red convertible, covered in dirt.

When my family said they were coming down from Minnesota to see her exhumed, I knew I had to be there too. It was a great weekend, full of family and friends, and nostalgia, for Tulsa itself, and for my own childhood. (I'm getting choked up just thinking about it...) Thanks for posting about this!