It was the summer of 1972 and, typical of the era, kids were mostly left to their own devices to fill up the long, languid summer days before the start of school.
Tuesday, Aug. 22, 1972, might well have been one of those endless, nothing-much-to-do summer days in Columbus were it not for a ceremony at the still-under-construction Leigh Mall.
That was the day Sears, along with a Merchants and Farmers branch bank, held their grand openings, the first two tenants of the mall that would not officially open until the following year.
Sears published a 12-page section in The Dispatch the previous day heralding its opening, which was to feature a ceremony. The Caldwell High School band was scheduled to perform, followed by remarks by various dignitaries, including Columbus Mayor Mayo Ellis and U.S. Sen. Jim Eastland. Glenda Meadows of Richton, the newly-crowned Miss Mississippi, cut the red, white and blue ribbon as the store opened its doors.
For Ron Cox and Jeff Lipsey, a couple of bored Columbus teens, it was a pretty good diversion for a weekday.
“We lived next door to each other on Lincoln Road, which was only a couple of streets over from the mall, so we decided to go over there and see what was going on,” said Cox, who was 14 that summer.
The boys weren’t much interested in shopping and even less interested in the speeches, but one thing did grab their attention.
“They had this time capsule out there, and they said anybody that wanted to could put something in it,” Cox said. “We didn’t know they were going to do that, so the only thing I could think of putting in there was this POW/MIA bracelet I had, so that’s what I put in. I don’t remember what other people put in, but quite a few people put stuff in there.”
Ward 3 City Councilman Rusty Greene, then 10 years old, attended the ceremony with his mom.
“I don’t remember too much about the ceremony,” said Greene, 58. “What I do remember is they had this thing that looked like a safe and the door was open for people to put things into it. I don’t remember if I put anything in it or not, but my mom would have been the kind of person to put something in. What that might have been, I have no idea, though. A lot of people were putting pictures in there. I do remember that.”
According to The Dispatch, items placed in the time capsule also included a Sears spring/summer catalog (lots of polyester and flared leg pants), a mall plot map and a copy of the day’s edition of The Dispatch.
The time capsule was sealed and buried in the Sears parking lot and was to be reopened in 49 years when the city celebrated its bi-centennial.
“Standing there that day, I never imagined being around when they opened it again,” Greene said. “I just forgot about it.”
Remembering the time capsule
Greene was not alone. The day that the time capsule was to have been opened, like the city bicentennial (Feb. 20, 2021) itself, came and went largely unnoticed.
Cox, whose father was a test pilot at Columbus Air Force Base, moved to Georgia with his family before his senior year of high school. Although he had no family in Columbus, his business travels sometimes brought him back to town, which gave him a chance to visit with his old school friends.
Cox said it was on one of those visits about three years ago that he and Lipsey recalled the day the time capsule was buried.
“We got to talking about it and finally decided we should go over to the mall and see if we could find the marker where it was buried,” Cox said. “It didn’t take long to locate it. It was right there in the parking lot.”
Cox said he had planned to return to Columbus when the time capsule was opened and kept waiting for word on when it would be done.
“I never heard anything, so about a week ago I called the Chamber of Commerce to see if they could tell me anything,” Cox said.
Chamber President Wilson Beck said after speaking to Cox he tried to reach the owner of the mall, Jim Hull of Hull Property Group, a retail developer based in Georgia. Hull purchased the mall when the property went up for auction in November 2019.
“We weren’t able to get in touch with them, so we asked the city if they could reach him,” Beck said.
Mayor Keith Gaskin said that during his campaign people had asked him about the time capsule, encouraging the city to exhume it.
“I called Jim Hull and filled him in on the time capsule and asked if he would be agreeable to having the time capsule opened,” Gaskin said. “He was very supportive of the idea.”
Gaskin said Hull was already scheduled to visit Columbus to talk about plans for the mall in early October.
“It’s a little premature to talk about right now,” Gaskin said. “We’ll be putting plans together for a ceremony. It’s tentatively scheduled for early October, around the 5th or 6th.”
Cox, 63, said he’ll definitely make the trip from his home in Dawsonville, Georgia, for the event.
“I think it will be fun to see what all is in there,” Cox said. “It definitely brings back some fun memories. I won’t miss it.”
Greene said he’s also curious, not just about the contents of the time capsule, but the condition of the items.
“Columbus people know about the big flood at the mall not long after it opened, so I’m interested to see if everything got preserved,” Greene said. “Hopefully, they did something to protect what was in there, but I was just a kid. I don’t remember how they stored it. But I hope everything is in good shape. Like I said, I don’t remember if we put anything in there. If we did, maybe when it’s opened I’ll recognize it. That would be pretty cool.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]