June 23, 2007



Guest post by
Susan Murray

A brand-new shiny car, buried half a century ago in a time capsule, was recently revealed in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Oklahoma’s statehood. People had hoped to find a pristine, gold ’57 Plymouth Belvedere. Instead, they discovered a rust-covered relic. The capsule had been infiltrated by water and the car was ruined, keys hardened into the ignition.

I have followed this story closely in major news outlets and on blogs. It is generally presented as a fluff piece, which isn’t really surprising. Except that the imagery ought to raise bigger questions.

As Aaron Donovan, writer for streetsblog.com, points out in his piece An Old Car Interred:

What was an asset in 1957 has become an enormous national liability. Fifty years ago, the oil fields of Oklahoma were awash with ever increasing amounts of oil and the United States produced more oil than any other nation in the world. We didn’t have to import a drop. Nobody had ever heard of the terms global warming or climate change.

To my knowledge, none of the major media has made this connection. But, perhaps the images suggest the connection. In the photo above (published almost twice this size at the on-line Tulsa World), a yellow wreath serves as a memorial for the car on the spot where it was once buried. It’s odd to ascribe mourning to a material object like a car, but perhaps not so odd for a once-futuristic vehicle assigned to symbolize the American way of life.

In 1957, this car represented America’s global leader in industry and technology, free of all of the complications of globalization. Today, the yellow flowers and colors remind me more of the recently ubiquitous Gulf War yellow ribbons. Where have those ribbons gone? Have they gone the same way as our hopes for a continuation of life organized around the car?

On classic car blogs, this event elicited tremendous longing for what once was. The most moving image is that of the rusted car, set amid blazing colored lights, as it was “unveiled” to the public. What those lights reflect, though, are old expectations juxtaposed with the reality of raising gas prices — along with the danger of international conflict that our insatiable hunger for fuel has brought home.

More images here.

Susan Murray is author of The Urban Naturalist, a work-in-progress.

(image 1: Joy Lewis / Tulsa World.  June 2007.  tulsaworld.com. image 2: Brent Burke. autoblog.com.  image 3: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters. June 15, 2007. via YahooNews)

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Michael Shaw
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