As It Happens

Why a museum is carefully preserving a 95-year-old sandwich

A 95-year-old sandwich, believed to have belonged to daring American aviator, Clyde (Upside Down) Pangborn, has been carefully preserved by curators at a Wenatchee, Wash., museum.

The historic lunch may have belonged to an American aviator who famously crash-landed in town

A museum in Wenatchee, Wash., has rediscovered a 95-year-old sandwich in its archives that supposedly belonged to American aviator Clyde Pangborn. (Submitted by Anna Spencer)

Story Transcript

A 95-year-old sandwich, believed to have belonged to daring American aviator, Clyde (Upside Down) Pangborn, has been carefully preserved by curators at a Wenatchee, Wash., museum.

Pangborn and his copilot, Hugh Herndon Jr., brought Wenatchee to fame when they crash-landed the first non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean there in 1931.

The Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center held onto all sorts of artifacts from their lives and that trip, such as the propeller that was damaged upon landing. They recently rediscovered the sandwich in their archives, just in time for the 90th anniversary of the trans-Pacific flight.

But there are many questions about the now-indiscernible sandwich, including whether it really belonged to Pangborn.

"We'll never truly know," collections co-ordinator Anna Spencer told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Pangborn, right, and fellow aviator Hugh Herndon, left, in 1931. (Austrian Archives/Imagno/Getty Images)

Nobody knows what's inside the sandwich, which remains wrapped in cellophane.

Housed in a small, red tobacco tin, it was originally in the possession of John Walz of Saint Maries, Idaho, who held onto it for decades — though it's not clear where or how he got it. 

Pangborn was born near Wenatchee, in Bridgeport, Wash., but his family moved to Idaho when he was two and grew up in the same town as Walz.

In 2009, Walz' son Pete found the sandwich in the attic and donated it to the Wenatchee Valley Museum.

"When it was found, it was wrapped in a packaging and [Pete's] father had written a note on it that said '1926 Pangborn History Sandwich,'" Spencer said.

Another note inside the tin claimed the sandwich travelled across the Pacific Ocean on Pangborn's flight, Spencer said. But the dates don't add up. 

"That flight happened in 1931, so we're not really sure.... It's kind of just an enigma," she said.

Anna Spencer is collections curator at the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center. (Submitted by Anna Spencer)

Spencer has her own theory to explain the date that was attached to the sandwich — and it involves the pilot's life before that famed flight, when he was an aerial acrobat, also known as a barnstormer.

"He was known for jumping around on planes mid-air from one plane to another and hanging off planes while they were flying," she said.

"I think he kind of had a name for himself in his hometown before the flight…. People knew him there and maybe kind of saw his potential and thought that he might do bigger and better things one day."

The sandwich itself is dried out and fragile, sitting inside its original cellophane wrapping.

It could have been made with white bread, but the slices are now tan in colour, which the curator suspects could be due to age.

There are no bite marks, but she says it looks like it was cut in half. Pangborn could have eaten one half while the other was taken as a souvenir.

Over in Wenatchee, the museum considers his story a big part of its history.

There are other artifacts on display in the exhibits on Pangborn and early aviation. But the old sandwich remains hidden in the archives, away from any harsh light and temperatures. 

"We try to collect local history and preserve it," Spencer said. "I think it's very unique to have this sandwich."

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview with Anna Spencer produced by Sarah Jackson.

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