On the early spring evening of April 22, 1913, a large group of Oklahomans gathered in the basement of the First English Lutheran Church to bury history.
The group included Oklahoma Gov. Lee Cruce, and Oklahoma City Mayor Whit Grant, along with church members and other interested citizens.
The program included an invocation by the pastor of the church and baritone and soprano solos from choir members. At the conclusion, the tomblike copper Century Chest was sealed in layers of concrete.
A century later, the Century Chest has been excavated from the church basement and will be opened, revealing its contents, at 10 a.m. Monday at what is now known as First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City, 1300 N Robinson Ave.
The Century Chest was part of a 1913 fundraising effort by the church to buy a new Mueller pipe organ for its sanctuary. The organ is still in use today.
The intriguing concept of the chest came from Mrs. George G. Sohlberg. As the excitement of the chest heightened, it became a citywide project, and later, a project that involved people from across the state. Sohlberg and then-Rev. Newton Hoyer canvassed Oklahoma City in an early electric car to boost interest.
“That's one of the most amazing aspects of the chest,” said Chad Williams, Oklahoma Historical Society research director. “That they were able to raise the funds and acquire these items in such a short amount of time says a lot about how quickly excitement built.”
Early 20th century technological artifacts
At the time, there was contemplation of what people would think about the items in the chest in the future. Organizers also wondered what people a hundred years earlier in 1813 would have thought of the gadgets they were burying with the chest.
“Those who open the chest 100 years from today, what will be their feelings? Will they look upon the wonders of 1913 as crude?” an editorial in The Daily Oklahoman read.
Williams said contemplation is one of the most intriguing aspects of the Century Chest.
“I was really taken by their thought process,” Williams said. “They talk about having skyscrapers and the telephone. They were wondering what we would think of those things.”
Included in the chest were items that were at the time cutting edge while also foreshadowing gadgets that would be improved upon or invented over the following 100 years and beyond.
“This chest represents what Oklahoma was in 1913,” current First Lutheran pastor Jerry Peterson said.
Some of the items in the chest include:
- Phonograph and three voice recordings: A wonder at the time, tin phonograph records eventually gave way to vinyl. Eight track and cassette tapes later became trendy before they were made obsolete by digital recordings that can be played on devices the size of bottle caps.