In the summer of 1972, the management of Sears decided to bury a time capsule at the location of its new store as part of its grand opening celebration. Citizens were invited to add momentos to the time capsule before it was deposited into the ground in the parking lot outside the Sears store at Leigh Mall to be unearthed on Columbus’ bicentennial in 2021.
But 50 years was pretty much a lifetime away, and what was then a diversion on a summer’s day was quickly forgotten. The bicentennial came and went before there was any real attention paid to the time capsule.
On Wednesday, the time capsule was finally removed, its soggy contents displayed on a folding table during a short ceremony.
Much, indeed, had changed in the intervening years.
Leigh Mall, once the crown in the city’s retail firmament, has long since lost its luster, but the arrival of a new owner, Georgia retail developer Jim Hull, holds out promise for a much-needed renaissance of the property.
The contents of the time capsule didn’t produce the hoped-for oohs-and-aahs that sometimes accompany the discovery of long-forgotten history. This was not King Tut’s Tomb, after all.
But not all treasures are measured by their commercial value or unique qualities.
Much of what had been stored away for posterity was in poor condition, rain-soaked as it was. Perhaps this was at least partially the result of the historic flood that happened about six months after the time capsule was buried.
Columbus historian Rufus Ward, who helped retrieve the items Wednesday, said only about a dozen of the 40-to-50 photos that were placed in the capsule are recognizable images.
Aside from the photos, there were yearbooks from the MUW and the city’s two high schools at the time — Lee and Caldwell, neither of which are still open — a city phone book, a Bible and a copy of the day’s edition of The Commercial Dispatch. There may be a few other items yet to be displayed — Ron Cox, who was 14 at the time, remembered contributing his POW/MIA bracelet — but for the most part, the contents were unremarkable, except for those whose memories were stirred by them.
About a dozen people — people who are approaching or have arrived at senior citizen status — were at the scene when the capsule was buried and turned out to see it exhumed. They were kids and young adults at the first ceremony, their lives all ahead of them.
For them, especially, Wednesday’s event was rich in nostalgia.
The purpose of time capsules is to capture a snapshot of the people and places and preserve it for future generations. They tell our story, and not unsurprisingly, the stories they tell are simple, familiar. They are stories of normal people living normal lives, pursuing normal dreams, suffering normal disappointments, celebrating normal milestones and achievements.
When they are retrieved long years later, their value lies mainly in what can be gleaned from their lives and what memories may endure.
Hull said he’d like to bury another time capsule, perhaps when the first new tenants return to Leigh Mall.
If folks are allowed to participate, it will be interesting to see what they choose to contribute, what they believe is important enough to be remembered, the story of who we were at that moment in the broad sweep of history.
The writer Ann Lamott, in cautioning people not to take themselves too seriously, put it this way: “Every 100 years, it’s all new people.”
That will be at least half-true when the next capsule is exhumed in 2072 or thereabouts.
We may not be around then, but maybe our memory will be.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.