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Why the Wenatchee Museum is preserving a 95-year-old sandwich

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 13, 2021

By Luke Hollister Wenatchee World

WENATCHEE – Locked behind five doors, hidden in a dark container and wrapped in cellophane sits a 95-year-old artifact: Clyde Pangborn’s sandwich.

Yes. That is correct. The Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center has a sandwich from 1926, and plans to keep it, permanently.

Anna Spencer, the museum’s collections coordinator, keeps Pangborn’s meal in a temperature-controlled room. She’s the one who found the sandwich hidden among a collection of nearly forgotten archived items last June.

“We just want to make sure nothing happens to it,” she said.

Spencer takes care of various items of historical significance to north central Washington.

The sandwich is boxed, wrapped and stored in the museum’s archives, giving it four layers of protection against the elements.

Spencer said she was shocked when she rediscovered the sandwich. “I just think it’s fascinating.”

The bite-sized piece of history is believed to have been taken as a souvenir before Pangborn’s famous first-ever flight across the Pacific Ocean in 1931.

This month marks the 90th anniversary of the daring feat. It’s a historical achievement that put the Wenatchee area in the history books and prompted the long-lasting relationship between Wenatchee/ East Wenatchee and sister city Misawa, Japan, where Pangborn and Hugh Herndon started their history-making flight.

The late John Walz, of Saint Maries, Idaho, kept the sandwich in a small, red tobacco tin for decades before his son Pete found it in an attic, according to museum records.

John Walz had left a note on the sandwich’s wrap labeled “Clyde Pangborn Sandwich 1926.” His son donated his findings to the museum in 2010.

Pangborn’s aviation career started during World War I when he worked as a flight instructor with the U.S. Army. He later returned from the war and was a part of a flying circus show that performed airborne acrobatics.

Following the historical breadcrumbs, John Walz is thought to have acquired the sandwich sometime during Pangborn’s pre-fame flight escapades while the pilot was flying around the Inland Northwest.

So why is the museum keeping a couple of crumbly slices of bread?

Spencer said it is because Pangborn and his trans-Pacific flight still hold a huge amount of historical significance to the Wenatchee Valley. She also said, “it’s just one of those items” among some 70,000 other artifacts preserved at the museum.

The idea is to collect pieces that tell the story of this valley, she said.

The museum does not know a whole lot about the sandwich and there are still several pieces of history yet to be known, like what kind of sandwich it is or why it was stowed away in the first place.

“It’s kind of an enigma,” said Spencer.

The museum is not looking to put the artifact on display due to its delicate nature, but residents in the Valley can rest assured that this slice of fame is sticking around for years to come.

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