Prologue.

LET’S BE HONEST: They weren’t exactly Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s on First?”

But on the occasion when best friends Brian Butler and Ralph Borland could do their impromptu Superman intro from the hit television show, one they’d been doing since they met in high school in 1955, it was always fun. Sometimes if one of them bombed (or it was real corny), they couldn’t stop laughing. For instance, if there was a balloon in the air, they’d do it. Or if a little kid lost hold of a kite and it was headed for Mars. Maybe it was nighttime in the Magic City and one of them recognized a certain galaxy.

“Look!” Brian said, pointing. “Up in the sky!”

“It’s a bird!” cried Ralph.

“It’s a plane!”

“It’s not Superman . . . it’s the Milky Way bar!”

So when the boys turned the corner and they both pointed and said “Look!” at the same time, Ralph said, “You go first, Bri, I went first last time.”

“Okay . . .

“Look! Up in the sky!”

“It’s a bird!”

“It’s a plane!”

“It’s not Superman . . . hold on! Hold on! I have to crane to see it!”

Up ahead, a twenty-foot long steel balance beam was attached to a towering orange crane’s boom, its crisscrossed girders poised to lower its appendage into a huge concrete vault below. A quartet of muscled workers waited patiently around its perimeter, each ready to take hold of one of the four taut steel cables to help make it a smooth pinpoint landing. If that came off fine, and everything was in order, they’d seal the downtown vault up for a while. No fuss, no muss.

“Be careful with the side, Joe. It’s gonna be a tight fit!”

“No problem – you just watch yours!”

“Will do!”

— ♦ —

As workers began final preparations for the descent, the mild air redolent of freshly dug earth and newly poured cement, some of the townsfolk, reporters, photographers, and cameramen jockeyed for position like impatient shoppers glimpsing a just-opened check-out line: all seeking prime viewing spots. Hopefully, for a few lucky lensmen, their stirring black-and-white images or film snippets would appear somewhere in print or on-screen.

Only two-hundred or so curious onlookers were on hand this day, though in time thousands would say, “I was there!” An uneven mixture of Oklahomans, with males outnumbering females by 5-1, watched the spectacle unfold.

The first event of its kind found men dressed in sportcoats and ties, windbreakers, and light summer fare. A few wore black or gray cotton trousers, some hitched way above their waist in old-man style; they were topped off with plain button-down shirts and a stylish hat of some sort: fedoras, Stetsons, big old straw ones. A cluster of ragtag men wore black four-button wool suits, fresh bushy beards, mutton chop-style sideburns, and top hats. Each wore a mustard-yellow button pinned to their lapel: TULSA GOLDEN JUBILEE – BROTHERS OF THE BRUSH. Any one of them could easily win an Abe Lincoln look-alike contest.

Young lads came to the affair dressed in colorful striped shirts and shorts with their knobby knees showing, while many of the older boys – the rebels, as townsfolk called them – had their hair slicked back with Vitalis or Brylcreem. A few wore white tees that looked tight and right with crisp blue jeans, their rolled-up cuffs done with military-style precision. Those bad boys must have primped and preened like mad in front of their bedroom mirrors to get the look just right, especially the James Dean wannabee with the unlit cig dangling from his mouth. Most of the small number of women wore plain, pleated housedresses (not a single one wore pants); others wore floral skirts clamped tight at their waists with decorative belts, their hems playing a xylophonic beat as the winds picked up this day, the sun playing peek-a-boo with the clouds.

One thin young brunette, sleeping child cradled in her arms, wore a little black cocktail dress with pearls, a few years before Audrey Hepburn made it fashionable to wear for an early morning snack in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Her hubby was talking with other officials nearby.

Many of the people congregated in small groups and talked in excited, albeit hushed tones while decked out in weekend garb with requisite sunglasses.

“Betcha never buried something like this before, huh?” one middle-aged man said to a worker with rolled-up sleeves, arms glistening with sweat, awaiting further methodical instructions from his boss. The worker shook his head and smiled. Then he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, only to wipe it on his pants leg when the rhetorical questioner moved on.

A chubby old man near the back of the crowd wore bright red suspenders over a stark white shirt and a wild pair of Bermuda shorts that failed to cover his bony legs and varicose veins. He became the butt of the rebel set’s jokes and, though he ignored their snide remarks – “Hey pops! The shuffleboard courts are down the street!” “What’s with the legs, man? I seen better ones on tables!” – he couldn’t ignore what was taking place.

How could he?

Every day for the last two weeks during his morning walk, Mr. Bermuda Shorts watched as all sorts of construction equipment would come and go by the site. He’d see some kind of forklift or bulldozer or cement truck in perpetual motion, workers with hoes and rakes scurrying this way and that.

All to bury a silly time capsule. Talk about a city wasting my money!

And now he was making it clear to anyone that would listen.

“Why go to the trouble of burying something that big, something that expensive?” he said loudly, gesticulating in disgust. Those within earshot eyed him with amusement. Funny old man. Funnier old clothes. White cartoon-thin legs.

“What are you talking about, daddy-o?” snapped a young tough. “It’s so cool, so radical, man. Geez, don’t be so darn square. Anyway, what would you bury?”

“Me? Certainly not that! It’s overkill, that’s what it is. You can get a refrigerator or a file cabinet or something, fill it with all kinds of junk like maps and records, maybe a radio or small television, throw in a couple of newspapers and magazines and a TV Guide, and you’re good to go.”

“Aw, you’re losing it, pops.”

“Yeah, what’s wrong with what they’re burying?” said a man, maybe in his thirties, wearing dark shades and a rockabilly-style shirt. He eyed the old man with a bit of snobbery. “I couldn’t think of anything more creative, more – uh – bold! Like a lot of people here said: It fits our town. What could be better, dude? Hmpf.”

Those listening nodded in agreement.

“I wonder who even came up with this ridiculous idea?” the old man said.

“I’ll tell you who came up with it!” snapped a young lady with a Kodak box camera slung over her shoulder. She knew the old man really wasn’t looking for an answer, but the heck with that. “Somebody that has a sense of style, a sense of taste, and wants to show the people in the future that we knew what we were doing here in Tulsa in 1957.”

“Aw, you’re all nuts,” muttered the old man. “I’ll admit that it’s different, but who do you think is paying for all this? Who do you think is paying for that crane? Who paid for that bunker to be built and the extra cops they had to hire to watch this thing? Me, that’s who! Me! I’ve been taxed all my life, and I barely have enough to get by now. And now I gotta pay for this, thisss publicity stunt?”

This guy’s a little off-center, the Kodak Lady thought. Don’t rile the grump any further. She tried reasoning with him, calmly. “It’s certainly going to draw a lot of attention here for a little while, no? And isn’t that good?”

“Granted, I agree it’s an interesting angle as far as time capsules go, but the money we’re doling out for all this . . . is it really worth it?”

“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I have to take some more pictures,” the Kodak Lady said. “My husband couldn’t make it today, he’s got work and all, but he said if I don’t get some good pictures, well, he said, ‘Maria, don’t bother coming home.’” She laughed and scooted, the domino effect soon leaving the old man with the thirty-something.

“You know,” the younger man said, putting his arm lightly on the old man’s shoulder, his snobbery dissolving into sorrow, “there’ve been all kinds of time capsules buried in the past, sure, but . . . like this? C’mon, be a good sport. It’s part of what’s made Tulsa Tulsa. Maybe you’ll think differently about it sometime in the future, you know?”

“The fu-future? I don’t imagine any overweight time capsule with all its silly trinkets and haughty predictions in it will mean anything to anyone in the future. Ha! Anyway, I heard what some people are predicting for the future, and it’s hogwash, I say. Hogwash. If you ask me, I can predict the future, no doubt about it.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Really. And I can predict it in three letters.”

“Go ’head. I’m listening.”

“S.O.S.,” grunted the peerless prognosticator, his hands turned up in mock helplessness. “Same old you know what.”

The thirty-something realized his cause was hopeless. Nothing like a nice positive attitude to take into the next century. “You take care,” he said, off to find a different vantage point. As he left, he caught the old man hiking up his Bermuda shorts with a huff.

— ♦ —

As post time neared, some photographers remained in the back and set up their tripods on the far ends of the grass, most of it looking like the felt of a pool table gone to seed. Other shutterbugs were off to the side adjusting their Kodak Brownies, Minoltas, and Polaroid Land Cameras for the proper backlighting as the decibel level rose another notch. One brave photographer was adjusting an expensive Leica, his shoulder bag crammed with extra lenses and camera equipment, while standing on a homemade milk crate in search of that unique angle. His grey fedora, a rumpled PRESS card in place, was in danger of being blown off his head as he fiddled with the camera’s shutter speed.

Some photographs would end up in the local dailies – the Tulsa Tribune or Tulsa World – and sent out over the AP and UPI wires and featured in newspapers across the country. A compelling photo might end up in a national magazine like Life or The Saturday Evening Post. Possibly a sharp lensman’s recording would be shown as part of the cinema newsreel at the opulent Ritz (just a half-mile away) where Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was now playing. There, beneath a ceiling of floating clouds and twinkling stars, surrounded by statues of eighteenth century Roman gods and goddesses, moviegoers could catch footage of the historic burial prior to the shoot-em-up yarn.

Who knows where great cinematography might lead?

Later that day on the local evening news, those fortunate enough to own a television set, might see images of the sleek, gold and white-skinned beauty being interred, if the rabbit ears on their TV were adjusted properly. Even for people with crystal-clear reception on their Philco or Zenith or any other HDTV of its day, it couldn’t match the thrill of actually being there.

Maybe at cinemas across the pond in Leicester Square, British Movietone News would air film of the event and stodgy Britons would really have something to talk about during tea time.

— ♦ —

The assemblage was now gazing skyward in hush anticipation as the Unit crane began to move.

The murmurs from the crowd assembled on the lawn, along raised tiers on the sidewalk, and the officials standing on a huge flatbed trailer brought in for the occasion, were being drowned out by the din of thrumming gears from its machinery as a warm breeze drifted in off the Arkansas River.

A red-faced middle-aged man, having stumbled upon the scene after sneaking a little hooch at the nearby Sooner Lounge, took one look at the crane and what was attached to it and did a double-take. “Geez! Th-they couldn’t just give the guy – hic! – a gosh-darned parking ticket?”

Of course, the honorable Mayor George E. Norvell, a native Tulsan who was born in 1907 – the year Oklahoma received its statehood – and his entourage was here. (President Eisenhower couldn’t make it as he had some silly monetary policy to work on.)

A little earlier, the jovial mayor stood on the trailer that was used to haul the main attraction here (with his boys surrounding him) and addressed the crowd. After adjusting the microphone on its stand, he tapped it twice, evincing that hollow, grating feedback, and began.

“Ladies and Gentleman, honored guests, and the great citizens of Tulsa,” the mayor said, still fidgeting with the microphone. “We Tulsans have always thought big, very big. And today, well today, Saturday, June 15, 1957, is no exception.

“This, as you can plainly see, is no ordinary burial.”

It certainly isn’t, thought one man. Especially for me. Clad in beige chinos, a modest maroon polo shirt, a wrinkled painter’s cap and oversized aviator shades that barely covered his bushy eyebrows, he was caught briefly on film with a smirk like that of a kid nabbed in the act of stealing a pack of baseball cards.

“This event will be talked about for a long time, a very long time,” the mayor continued, enunciating each word as if it was a savory morsel. “I mean, what other city has ever buried something like this before? With over a thousand oil-based companies in our little town, what other city can call themselves the ‘Oil Capital of the World’ but Tulsa? Really, who else would do this? Who else could do this? Who else should do this?”

There was mild applause as a bow-tied man on the podium pumped his fist and patted the mayor on his back.

“No, my friends, not Norman or Lawton or Oklahoma City would, could, or should do this,” the mayor emphasized, “nor any other city in our great state except Tulsa. My home – and yours! I imagine they’ll remember this day well into the twenty-first century . . .”

Yes, they would.

Like most everyone else, the man with the oversized aviator shades was captivated by the dream-like landscape as the crowd watched a crane and its intended hovering just above the pit, reporters seeking answers to burning questions like, “What do you think of all this?” “How would you describe this to someone that’s not here?” and “What would you bury in there?” and all the dramatics that continued to unfold.

A KVOO-TV News truck, “The Eyes of Oklahoma,” was parked at the curb, a lanky man with a headset helming a large, swiveling 360° camera on its roof. The contraption looked like a machine gun that could unleash a fusillade of bullets in the blink of an eye and wipe out the small crowd, rather than a recording instrument filming them. Another man crouched behind him, taking notes in a spiral.

As the winds began to whip up, some gents now held their hats fast to their heads; others just took them off. An older, dignified-looking lady with a flair for the dramatic tied her bonnet tighter and exclaimed, “My Lord! Mother Nature is in a dither!”

Directly across the street at the Denver Avenue YMCA, an American flag slapped against its pole like a wet towel as a pair of sleepy-eyed men, their noses pressed to the glass, watched the proceedings from just above it.

The surreal scene was a Salvador Dali painting come to life.

The man with the oversized aviator shades now stood tightly in place, his face rigid. Unlike everyone else, the amateur cat burglar’s emotional stake in this took on several hues that neither 35mm film nor an artist’s rendering could quite capture: anger, sadness, longing, and comic relief to name but a few.

If Superman had taken a break from his gig in Metropolis to watch the scenario unfold on the Tulsa County Courthouse lawn, it’s possible that even he – X-ray vision and all (though by a quirk of fate he’s unable to see through lead) – wouldn’t have known that a special added bonus was also being buried this day, unbeknownst to all but one man.

That added bonus just might amaze future generations with its historical significance, possibly unparalleled historical significance with its value in the millions, if it survives in a spanking new, straight-from-the-showroom-floor 1957 Plymouth Belvedere.

If.

Courtesy of the man with the oversized aviator shades.