As the patent leather shoes were removed from their box at the First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City on Monday, members of the assembled crowd let out a collective gasp.
The ladies' shoes were part of the contents of the Century Chest, which for 100 years had been encased in a concrete tomb in the church's basement. In 1913, the church sold space in the chest to raise money for a pipe organ still in use today.
The shoes still had a glossy shine, as did the metallic 1913 telephone. A blue women's hat with a red ribbon looked as though it had just been purchased.
“This is more than we could have hoped for,” Oklahoma History Center research director Chad Williams said. “I was expecting some things to be damaged, but everything looks in excellent condition.”
Getting the chest out of the basement was no picnic. Pinion Design and Contracting cut out the chest from under a 12-inch slab of concrete, removing two chunks that weighed 600 pounds apiece. An engine hoist was used to get the chest out of its tomb. The job took 11 hours.
“Just to see the way everything is preserved is fantastic,” said Peter Plank, who assisted in the chest's removal.
“We volunteered to do this a year ago, and to see all the items laid out here is amazing. The only thing we have to do now is fill the hole.”
Gov. Mary Fallin and Mayor Mick Cornett read remarks from their predecessors, Gov. Lee Cruce and Mayor Whit Grant, that were given in 1913 when the chest was buried. Cornett noted the references to women's suffrage in Grant's letter and how he would likely be amazed the state is governed by a woman 100 years later.
First Lutheran's stewardship ended with its opening, and the chest and its contents were turned over to the Oklahoma History Center.
Church members had taken pledges over the last century to make sure the chest was opened on April 22, 2013.
The duty had been passed down from generations of members in some cases.
“It's been a great success,” First Lutheran pastor Jerry Peterson said.
“I can say we did it. We're not a large church, but we fulfilled that 100-year pledge today. They did it right 100 years ago.”
Peterson was especially awe-struck by some of the items he didn't expect to see.
“There were some things I knew were in there but some that were surprises,” he said.
“I was intrigued by the pen used by President McKinley that had been placed in the chest. The spoon made out of buffalo horn was fascinating. Today is just the tip of the iceberg of what will be unfolding this year.”
Chet Brooks currently serves as the assistant chief of the Delaware Tribe of Indians.
He drove from Bartlesville on Monday to see the opening of the chest.
“One of the chiefs of the Delaware Tribe in 1913 had a letter to tribe members of 2013, and I wanted to see that,” Brooks said.
“The clothing and phone were really neat. It's a fun way to see what our state was like back then.”
‘Work ahead of us'
Also included in the chest was a quilt with embroidered names of community leaders, numerous photos, recordings of voices from 1913 that will eventually be digitized, a camera and a phonograph.
The Ladies Aid Society of 1913 placed a can of coffee for 2013 Ladies Aid Society members.
The items highlighting technology of the time were crowd favorites.
“The phone was interesting in so many ways,” Williams said.
“They wondered what we would think of something that was relatively new to them. They thought we would scoff at it, but we're not doing that. We're amazed by it. We're amazed they had the foresight to put this in the chest and share it with the people of 2013.”
While the chest has been opened and items unpacked, work remains to be done on the items.
The wax cylinders that hold the voice recordings will need to be digitized. Dozens of messages will be read and cataloged.
The History Center expects to open a Century Chest exhibit in the fall.
“All of these items that have been rolled up will need to be flattened out by using moisture,” Williams said.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us.”