Buried Plymouth: the book… part fiction, part reality

It’s been a few years now since Tulsa, Oklahoma dredged up a Plymouth-shaped block of rust which had once been a proud 1957 Belvedere, a snazzy car that turned heads back then (more than the same-year Chevrolet which is better remembered). At the time, the Plymouth represented an optimistic future for a state celebrating its 50th year.

Preparing Miss Belvedere, the 1957 Plymouth buried in Tulsa, OK

Looking at the original burial photos back in 2005, Sanford Miles spotted one man, wearing dark sunglasses and a baseball cap, in multiple photos of the event. Who was this strange man, and why was he apparently avoiding the camera’s glare? These are the questions first-time novelist Sanford Miles pondered, and thoroughly delved into, in nearly 500 pages of fact and fiction in his historical novel, The Buried Plymouth—A Story Unearthed in Tulsa.

Buried Plymouth cover

The story begins—and this is not exactly a spoiler—with the man in sunglasses finding his perfect car in the showroom and agreeing to buy it, only to suddenly learn that the car could not be sold—it had just been earmarked for the time capsule as a publicity stunt. (The term “time capsule” is an overstatement in this case—it was essentially a block of porous concrete apparently made with more “common sense” than expertise, which is why it resembled a muddy swimming pool when it was unsealed in 2007.)

car burial

In some ways, The Buried Plymouth is similar to the more famous Christine, Stephen King’s novel about a Plymouth Fury which has found better ways to survive and return to showroom condition. Admittedly, in King’s novel, the Fury’s original owner has spiritually possessed the car; but the effect is similar. In both vehicles, the car has captivated a man. The spell of the Plymouth Belvedere (which the Fury was based on) captures its frustrated, would-be owner in The Buried Plymouth, and he never gets over it. He also does not buy a replacement, even five to ten years later when the Belvedere is somewhat less special—because some other car with similar gold-and-white paint was not his Plymouth. In his mind, the damage was done.

Throughout the book, you can tell that Sanford Miles has done an astounding amount of research. He knows the names of everyone involved and their back stories. He’s investigated Tulsa as it was through historical photos, and as it was in 2007; he knows the story of Tulsa from its birth to the present day, when it’s no longer the Oil Capital, but merely another midwestern city. The amount and depth of history is quite stunning. For some, it may also get a little tedious, but the nice thing about a printed book is your ability to skip if you want to.

suddenly it's 2007

There are actually very few liberties taken with history. Unlike Stephen King, Sanford Miles took some time to familiarize himself with the car in question as well as the era and people. He followed its real-life journey after being unearthed in Tulsa—many were disappointed it would not start right up with a new battery, but being immersed in water for (probably) at least ten years will do that. No steel car could have survived, though the rust-proofing of post-1960 Plymouths may have helped. Regardless, the moving parts would have all had to be replaced. It is actually quite amazing the car came out in one piece.

pumping concrete

Readers follow along with the fictional characters as “Miss Belvedere” is dredged out, cleaned up, and subjected to attempts at stopping the rust and fixing some of the damage. The story takes the car to its final resting place, and follows the main character on to his, still linked—partly because he’s buried his own time capsule, with historical significance, right in the car. Should that survive, it might stun the world.

There are a number of side stories, and the characters are three-dimensional; this is not a horror story where people are good, evil, or observing. It’s a full-fledged novel circling around real events and real people. Miles even goes into the girls who sat on the car for photos in 1957, during its burial day. (Sanford Miles, a retired New York City English teacher, lives in Sarasota, Florida, not too far from Christine’s creator. For the book, he bought a fine 1957 Plymouth—at great expense—and created a Web site covering the car, archival footage of the original burial, and such).

Miles' 1957 Plymouth

The photos are all in black and white (despite our colorization above); the book is optimized for reading, on a nice creme paper which provides good contrast without being blinding under full light. The photos were carefully prepared for reproduction, so they aren’t dark or muddy. There also are not so many photos that the reader would be distracted by them—there are enough to illustrate, but there is not a photo on every page (or every five pages), and they don’t get in the way. This is not a coffee-table book or a picture-table book; it is not like my “Go-Anywhere Jeeps” or Dodge Viper or even my minivan book. It is a novel, fiction with heavy doses of reality to set the stage.

book review

I will say that my own tastes lately run to less serious fare; I like happy endings as I look on a world where reality seems inclined to take them away. Miles avoids being depressing, and I didn’t get that feeling of increasing sickness that Kurt Vonnegut so often brought as his characters went insane. Miles’ hero doesn’t go there, though he could have. Miles doesn’t bring too much unnecessary tragedy. The book is still pretty serious literature—avoiding both the tragedy in Of Mice and Men and  the clear comedy in Cannery Row (despite the foreword by Jason Woliner, director of Borat Subsequent Movie Film).

The Buried Plymouth—A Story Unearthed in Tulsa is a unique work which should intrigue Mopar fans whose interest radiates outwards beyond the cars to the eras in which they were made—at least, from the 1950s to the 2000s—and much of the general public as well. Older readers may be reminded of many forgotten cultural peccadilloes, while younger ones may find out many strange things about the past. It was worth the read—and I say that as one with eyesight that protests strongly at book-sized print.

Signed (and unsigned) copies of The Buried Plymouth are available from BuriedPlymouth.com. Don’t go looking on Amazon, it’s not there!


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