The 1957 Plymouth Belvedere That Was Buried For 50 Years

Feb 10, 2023 1 comments

The opening of a time capsule is supposed to be an exciting and nostalgic event that gives future generations a chance to peek into the past. But not all openings live up to the hype.

In 1957, the city of Tulsa, in Oklahoma, USA, was gearing up for the state’s 50th anniversary with a week-long festival named “Tulsarama”. To make things more interesting, the committee decided to bury a time capsule filled with various paraphernalia to educate future citizens how life was like in the 1950s. However, this time capsule wasn’t going to be an ordinary cache of contemporary items. It was to include an entire car.

“Miss Belvedere” getting buried in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The car that was chosen was a brand-new desert gold and sand dune white two-tone 1957 Plymouth Belvedere sport coupe with only 4 miles on its odometer. When asked why the Plymouth Belvedere was chosen, event chairman Lewis Roberts Sr. replied that the car was “an advanced product of American industrial ingenuity with the kind of lasting appeal that will still be in style 50 years from now.”

As part of the festivities, a contest was organized where citizens were invited to guess what the population of Tulsa would be in the year 2007, the year the time capsule would be opened. The person, or its descendent, whose guess came closest to the actual number would eventually win the car. In addition, a saving account was opened with a deposit of $100, which would also be awarded to the winner.

The Plymouth Division of Chrysler and a group of Plymouth car dealers from the Tulsa area donated the car. The car’s boot and glove box was filled with various items that included a woman’s purse, several photographs, a case of Schlitz beer, and a five-gallon container of gasoline and a case of motor oil, to help start the car in case fossil fuels became obsolete in the future.

In the front lawn of the county courthouse, a large hole was dug up and a 12 feet by 20 feet underground vault was constructed out of concrete. The vault was advertised as being strong enough to withstand a nuclear attack. Into this vault was lowered the Plymouth Belvedere. The car was then covered with a wax-like corrosion-proof substance and then wrapped in layers of sealed plastic. Finally, a huge one-piece concrete lid was placed on top of the structure and the vault was sealed shut. Over this, three feet of dirt was poured and a bronze marker donated by a local cemetery was placed on the spot.

As the years rolled by, some began to question the integrity of the vault and whether it would be capable of keeping away moisture from the surrounding soil. Buck Rudd, the deputy chief of building operations for the county court house, was concerned that vibrations from vehicular traffic from a nearby road could have caused the concrete to crack, allowing water to seep in. After all, the courthouse lawn was diligently watered every day and in 1973 there was a major spillage from a nearby construction accident. When asked what type of maintenance was done on the time capsule, Rudd replied, “We just cut the grass on top of it.”

In the months leading up to the highly anticipated unearthing, there was much speculation on the condition the car might be in. Forrest Brokaw, a former news director for Tulsa Channel 2, was confident that Miss Belvedere—as the media began to call the car—would be in a pretty good shape. He declared that “whoever gets the car is going to have a pristine automobile, 50 years old, highly classic and worth a lot more than the $2000 that cars were worth then.”

Brokaw had spoken too soon. When the moment of truth arrived and the lid was lifted, workers were appalled to find the car standing in four feet of muddy water. There were also indication that the vault was filled almost to the brim at some point during the past fifty years. Needless to say, the car was terribly damaged. It was streaked with mud and grime, and its windows rimmed with corrosion. Every square inch of the exterior as well as the interior was covered with rust, and all moving parts were jammed in place. In the trunk, only those items that were sealed in a steel container emerged unscathed. The contents of the woman’s handbag, that was in the glovebox, which included 14 bobby pins, lipstick and a bottle of tranquilizers, appeared to have fused together into a lump of rotten leather.

Despite the terrible state the car was in, thousands came to see its unveiling at the Tulsa Convention Center. “I just don't get it,” said Sharon King Davis, the organizing committee co-chairman, expressing bewilderment at the fascination for the rusted vehicle. “Maybe it has something to do with the fact it came from an era when cars had personality.”

The Plymouth Belvedere at the Tulsa Convention Center in 2007 after its unearthing.

Fortunately, the spool of microfilm, where the entries of the contest was recorded, survived and it was determined that the winner was Raymond Humbertson who, in 1957, made the closest guess of Tulsa's population half a century later. He figured that in 2007, there would be 382,457 people living in the city. The actual figure was 384,743. Because Raymond Humbertson had died in 1979 and his wife in 1988, and the couple did not have any children, the car and the savings account, whose value had grown to about $700, were awarded to Humbertson's surviving sisters and nephew.

The new owners transferred the car over to Dwight Foster, who owned a rust removable and restoration firm. For more than two years, Foster worked on the vehicle spending $15,000 of his own money, until most of the rust was gone. At this point, Foster halted further restoration effort knowing the futility of the project. There was no possibility the car would ever run. Foster’s goal was only to stabilize it and make it presentable from the outside.

The Belvedere stayed with Foster for nearly ten years before it was acquired by the Historic Auto Attractions Museum in Roscoe, Illinois, where you can still the partially restored car.

The Plymouth Belvedere after restoration. Photo: Dwight Foster

# The Buried Belvedere, Plymouth 1946-1959
# Miss Belvedere, you have a winner: But Raymond Humbertson died in 1979, Tulsa World
# Belvedere brouhaha, Tulsa World
# Rusty 1957 Plymouth Unearthed in Okla, Washington Post
# Salvaging a Famous Rust Bucket, New York Times
# A 50-Year-Old Time Capsule Sees Daylight, but Will It Start?, New York Times
# Miss Belvedere: The World's Most Disappointing Time Capsule?, Mental Floss


  1. So ridiculous that they thought a can of gasoline would be usable after 50 years or that a concrete vault buried under an outdoor lawn would keep water out for all that time. They should have gotten some professional advice for their time capsule project.


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