Books, photos, letters found inside 1972 time capsule opened in celebration of Columbus bicentennial

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – With a few swings of a hammer, the time capsule that had lain buried underneath Columbus for nearly 50 years was opened in celebration of the Friendly City’s 200-year anniversary on Wednesday.

“We were planning on opening it 49 years later and now it’s 49 years later,” says Earl Martin, the former Sears manager who came up with the idea for the time capsule back in 1972.

Mayor Keith Gaskin, Leigh Mall owner James Hull and historian Rufus Ward all spoke during the ceremony before the crate was pried open.

“We’ve been a great city for a long time and we’ve got great history ahead of us,” Mayor Gaskin says.

Martin’s Sears store was the first to go up at Leigh Mall, where the Hobby Lobby currently stands. Of the 20 to 30 stores he opened in his career, he says the Columbus location was the only place he put a time capsule.

“I took it down to the newspaper, I put it on the counter, I told them what it was and I invited them to invite people to put things in,” he says.

Decades later, Martin and many of the people who put items inside were there to see it opened.

“We may have some people here today whose baby pictures are in there,” he says. “Or some other important part of their life that they put in the time capsule.”

Inside, city officials found things like yearbooks from the Mississippi University for Women and Lee High School, a Bible, a Columbus Phone book, a Sears catalog and a box of photos and letters that will need to be carefully refurbished.

What was just a group of everyday items back in 1972 has now become a collection of historical artifacts after 49 years inside a vault under Leigh Mall.

But more than that, they are pieces of the stories of Columbus’s people.

“It celebrates the fact that a lot of these people in the community, they’ve lived their entire lives here,” Mayor Gaskin says.

Columbus resident Dotty Richardson says her parents put a photo of her and her four sisters inside the box.

“That made it more special and more personal,” she says. “I just hope that there are others that can share those same feelings.”

And while the day was a celebration of the past, it featured a call to look towards the future.

“What are they going to see here 50 years from now?” asked Hull, the longtime property owner. “And what are we going to do? How are we going to communicate with those future folks?”

Experts will spend the next few months cleaning and restoring the items inside the time capsule and will eventually put them on display at the Columbus Library.

“We’re probably going to do something fun like this (again) and add something to (the time capsule) later and put it back in as part of the rest of the celebration of our bicentennial and let them open it in another 50 years,” Mayor Gaskin says.

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