Well – as you long time listeners have come to learn – we are pretty geeked out on DB Cooper here at ORHistory.com.
And there are so many reasons for this blatant geekery. The enduring mystery, the amazing investigators that are drawn to the caper, our hard drinking, Raleigh smoking, iconicly clad antagonist, the legend-like status that has evolved around this unknown criminal in the Pacific Northwest. But the fact that this story (seemingly) started at Portland’s airport on November morning has absolutely cemented this tale as a cornerstone in Kick Ass Oregon History. So it was with great anticipation, and frankly very high expectations, that Melissa The Intern and I drove up I-5 for a visit to the less than two week old exhibit at the Washington State History Museum: COOPER. We had the esteemed pleasure of being given a guided tour by one of the exhibit’s curators, Gwen Whiting.
I think I will start this review with a pointed question – have you ever wanted to walk inside an actual 727 and sit next to a black suited mannequin, with a leather satchel full of explosives on the seat next to him? Yeah – you can do that in Tacoma. (I don’t think they’ll let you smoke and drink bourbon with him though…)
The exhibit occupies several galleries, and it is quite detailed. Thematically – all I can say is this presentation is very, very tight. The crime is examined, of course, but so very importantly, the context of the era is also given it’s appropriate due. The history of hijackings is presented, as are the economic conditions of the Pacific Northwest (and the impact Boeing had on the economy), the role of the flight attendant – such an important detail in this story, is given worthy attention.
Delving a little deeper into a review of the exhibit, the physical objects are outstanding. Remember – this is an active criminal investigation, so while we must give a kind shout out to our favorite Federal Public Affairs Specialist, Ayn Dietrich, needless to say, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has not always been in the most “sharing is caring” of moods about the case recently. The WSHM had to go to other routes to find actual physical objects related to the case, and the job they did in attaining that accomplishment is superb! I am willing to wager that this is the most material objects ever assembled in one place related to DB Cooper – and I’m willing to bet a collection of this magnitude will never be assembled again. As you know, I have looked quite a bit into this case, and there are photos displayed I had never seen before. Private collectors, former case agents, Boeing employees all reached out and offered up items that give this collection wonderful, lasting depth.
“That looks like Tacoma down there” – DB Cooper
The attention to detail was extraordinary. If someone was not familiar at all with this storied case, I cannot think of many better introductions. And in addition – there were quite a few items that would perk the interest of even the most experienced of Cooper Sleuths. For example, examine the photo of the period altimeter that is on display. One of the standard questions is “How could have DB Cooper known when to open his chute?” My standard answer has always been “Besides the road flares and crazy battery – what else might DB have stashed inside that leather attache for this well planned, quite detailed caper?” While not endless, the possibilities are many. Very nice touch, Gwen. The interpretive display placards were designed by the exhibit’s curator Gwen herself using fonts and popular color schemes from the era. It is all very top notch.
In summation – the short of it is GO! This is NOT a permanent exhibit. While some of the items will reside in the museum’s permanent collection and holdings, they will likely not be on display, and many of the other items are from private collections and other museums – these items will be returned when the exhibit closes on January 5th, 2014. Be sure to journey up to the Washington State History Museum and see this amazing COOPER exhibit!
One last thing: leading up to this 42nd Anniversary of this most infamous of skyjackings, we have a few things planned here at Kick Ass Oregon History.
- About Middle November, we will release our annual DB Cooper podcast. In this episode, we will provide you with an audio sneak-peek of the new exhibit, when we had the opportunity to be personally toured by the curator, Gwen Whiting.
- On Tuesday, November 19th, at 7:30pm, Resident Historian Doug Kenck-Crispin will offer a FREE presentation about the DB Cooper saga at The Jack London Bar. This will be a straight 101 on the whole deal, but with expanded information for those of you who are a bit more familiar with the case. The play by play. An overview of the lead suspects in the case. Where we are at today. Maybe peruse a few old Playboy magazines – and actually, yes – for the articles. Oh, and why don’t we watch some footage of CIA planes dropping paratroopers out of the back of 727s over Laos? I think we shall…
- But the Main Event will be on Saturday, November 30th, 2013, The Official DB Cooper Symposium. Please join Melissa and I, along with New York Times best selling author of the book SKYJACK; The Hunt for DB Cooper, Geoffrey Gray. We will have panel discussions on the case, and listen to WSHM curators Gwen Whiting and Fred Poyner discuss Cooper and skyjackings in the 1970s, Geoff Gray talk about the book, and Resident Historian Doug Kenck-Crispin talk about what kind of man smoked Raleigh cigarettes. We will set aside time to visit the exhibit, and all-in-all have a delightful time catching up on the latest developments in this still active case.
- Finally, once the Symposium concludes at 2pm, we will caravan to Ariel, Washington for the annual DB Cooper Party at the Ariel General Store [I am hoping that we will arrive around 4pm]. Why don’t you join us for some Cooper stew and expensive tinned Rainier beers? You can read about last year’s Ariel celebration right here.
Below are a few photos from our visit. You can see more on our FaceBook Machine Right Here.
Melissa The Intern deplanes flight 305… Like a Fucking Boss!
The attention to detail is superb in the COOPER exhibit.