Virginia Weinmann never met her grandmother, but their connection spans more than 100 years.
In 1913, Virginia Sohlberg was the driving force behind the Century Chest fundraiser to buy a new organ for the First Lutheran Church in Oklahoma City. The chest was filled with hundreds of items of the time — a wax cylinder player, clothing, corn and a telephone — and buried in the church basement.
The chest was opened 100 years later, and its contents now are part of an exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center. Weinmann was there the day the chest was opened. She held items her grandmother had placed there and read a letter addressed to her descendants.
“I recognized her handwriting right away,” Weinmann said of reading the letter. “I had seen it before. I undid that string, unwrapped the paper and carefully opened it and read her journal. Pictures are wonderful, but to have something like that is simply amazing.”
Weinmann loved the detail it provided her about her family, especially her grandmother’s relationship with her grandfather, who likewise she never met.
Weinmann’s closest connection to her grandparents, her mother, Ada, died of leukemia in 1975.
“She just bragged about her husband and my mother so much,” Weinmann said.
“It was very emotional to me. I was amazed by it, and I thought how happy my mother would have been that I was able to be there.”
Now living in New Orleans, Weinmann had the option of keeping the items. But she, and others who have been given the same option, have all let the History Center keep the items.
“The amount of enthusiasm from the families and the organizations that we’ve worked with over the last year has been my favorite part of it,” said Chad Williams, research director at the History Center.
“We’ve seen tears from people opening up packages from their ancestors and reading what they wrote. The emotions have been the most incredible thing, and to be a part of that, has been an incredible experience.”
‘Makes you think’
The exhibit occupies a wing on the second floor of the museum. It includes a giant panoramic photo of Oklahoma City taken in 1913 and a current photo, taken from the same vantage point.
One of the most striking aspects of the exhibit is the voice of Angelo Scott, one of Oklahoma City’s early civic leaders. The message, delivered in a soaring oratory, tells listeners “we, who would have long been dust by the time this message falls upon your ears, salute you.”
The speech was read at the Century Chest opening by Billie Fogerty, a member of the Oklahoma 1889er Society.