D.B. Cooper, the elusive airplane hijacker who parachuted into history 40 years ago and may have landed somewhere east of Woodland, is getting his own museum exhibit.
The Cooper exhibit will open in August 2013 at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. It's part of an emphasis on more "contemporary" events as well as more traditional historical offerings, Jennifer Kilmer, the new director of the Washington State Historical Society, said Monday.
The exhibit is still being assembled. It will include some of the $20 bills in Cooper ransom money found in 1980. It also will feature portions of a Boeing 727 — the same type of plane Cooper jumped out of — to illustrate the safety and security changes made to prevent similar hijackings.
Several museum workers have a "keen interest" in the famed hijacker and are excitedly tracking down leads on other exhibit pieces, Kilmer said.
The Cooper fascination began Nov. 24, 1971, when a man identifying himself as Dan Cooper hijacked a Portland-to-Seattle flight by telling a stewardess he had a bomb. He received $200,000 in cash and a flight to Mexico and is believed to have parachuted out somewhere over Southwest Washington after herding the stewardesses into the cockpit.
Several people — including some FBI agents — believe he died in his parachute attempt. Cooper has never been found, but some of the marked bills were found along the Columbia River by a Vancouver boy in 1980.
Cooper became a folk hero and international sensation. Some believe he jumped over Ariel, a small town near Merwin Dam. But the exact location is unknown. The Ariel Tavern holds an annual party for Cooper, and FBI agents still are dispatched to attend just in case he does ever make an appearance.
The Cooper case remains the nation's only unsolved airplane hijacking case.
One thing the museum won't be able to exhibit is the FBI case file, because the hijacking remains an active investigation, Kilmer said. Still, she said she's excited about the exhibit.
"We're looking for ways to engage with our audience, and more nontraditional and recent history exhibits can do that," she said. "It's another way to connect people to their history."
In addition to Cooper, the exhibit also will include a broader look at air travel safety and security, including the dramatic changes that have taken place in recent years after the 2001 terrorist hijacks and attacks.
"We'll use it as a lens to look at safety and security in the sky and how our lives and experiences have changed," Kilmer said.
Kilmer visited Southwest Washington on Monday as part of a tour of the state to remind people of the state historical society's programs and resources. She also highlighted:
• The new Middle Village/Station Camp park near Illwaco, which will be dedicated Aug. 18 and then turned over to the National Park System to run and maintain. The park and interpretative center highlights the history of the area, including the time the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent there. The state partnered with the Chinook Tribe and National Park Service to develop the park, she said.
• The Heritage Capital Projects Fund, which allows museums and historical societies to apply for grants to help renovate or build museums. For details, visit: http://www.washingtonhistory.org/heritageservices/grants.aspx.
• Numerous educational programs teachers can access as well as historical archives available online to all residents. For details visit: http://www.washingtonhistory.org/default.aspx.