Time capsules: Important history if one could find them


If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that Id like to do is to remember where I put the bottle.

With apologies to singer Jim Croce, whose song from the 1970s beckons one back to remembering important things, this isnt about lost loves. Its about lost time capsules.

Alexandria has missing time capsules, time capsules with plaques that clearly designate their locations, time capsules whose whereabouts are being investigated, plaques that say time capsules can be found where they are not and, perhaps, mythical time capsules. But, as a committee plans to construct, fill and bury yet another time capsule at the new T. C. Williams High School, that committee might want to consider the successes and failures of those who have been down this path before.

The citys expert on buried treasures had some information. As city archaeologist, Pam Cressey was involved in the creation of the 250th birthday time capsule. It is buried at the Charles Beatley Library on Duke Street, complete with an artistic plaque, an inventory of its contents and the longitude and latitude of its burial site. There are also pictures of its burial in the fall of 1999 during the citys year-long 250th birthday celebration.

The Alexandria Archaeological Commission took responsibility for planning the time capsule, Cressey said. The capsule itself was donated by a company that builds metal containers for all types of military uses. Inside, we put letters from various public officials to their counterparts who will open the capsule in 2099, newspapers, maps and other items that are representative of how we lived in 1999.

While Cressey was researching that project, she found another time capsule that was buried as part of the citys bicentennial celebration in 1949. Everyone just forgot about it for a long time until a teacher at George Washington Middle School got interested in it and turned that interest into a class project. She and her students found out where it was buried and made a plaque to designate the spot, Cressey said.

That time cylinder was built at the Torpedo Factory and paid for by the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce. It contained an aerial view of the city, maps, newspapers and a program from the ceremony signed by President Harry S. Truman, who was in attendance. It is likely that he came not for the time capsule burial but for the football game between Virginia Tech and a team of Marines from Quantico. The Marines won, 33-14.

The Masons
Masons are well known for placing memorabilia in cornerstones of buildings as part of dedication ceremonies. There is just such a cornerstone at the George Washington Masonic Temple in Alexandria. According to Temple librarian Mark Tabbert, there was a ceremony in 1923, at which the Temple was dedicated and the cornerstone laid. Inside the cornerstone are coins, a U. S. flag with 48 stars, a copy of The Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution and memorabilia from each of the Masonic lodges in the United States.

So far, so good. But then theres The Carlyle House Museum and Park. When the building was undergoing renovations in the 1970s, workmen found a cat buried in the foundation of one of the chimneys. The mummified feline was removed, photographed and returned to its previous resting place because, in those days, the English and people from Western Europe buried cats in the walls and floorboards of buildings to protect those structures from evil spirits and witches, said Carlyle House Curator Jim Bartlinsky. (See cat mummy story and photo).

In 1975, when renovations were completed at Carlyle House, Mayor Chuck Beatley placed a time capsule inside another wall there. According to media accounts, the time capsule was sealed in the wall and a plaque was placed on the wall, clearly designating the capsules location. While the staff would not say that either is missing, they said that the matter is under investigation.

Meanwhile at T. C. Williams High School, longtime T. C. principal, John Porter, found a program from the 1965 dedication of the original high school.

The program has an agenda item that says presentation of the historic time capsule. Theres nothing about the burial of the time capsule and we cant find any pictures of such an event, Porter said.

The statue
The statue of the Confederate soldier, known as Appomattox, has stood guardian over South Washington Street for many years. When the statue was erected, members of the Daughters of the Confederacy placed a box containing special Civil War documents in the base. Less than 20 years ago, a car struck the statue toppling it from its base and leaving the box visible.

A man who was living at the YMCA on East Monroe Avenue, grabbed the box and fled with it.

The Alexandria Police Department was on the case quickly. Then police detective Steve Mason was assigned.

Within a week I pretty much knew who had taken the box and was able to convince the gentleman to return it with its contents intact, Mason said.

Mason returned the box to the Daughters of the Confederacy who were grateful for his assistance. It is unclear whether the box has been returned to the base of the statue or is in the Daughters of the Confederacy museum.

Foggy memories
Alexandria Commonwealths Attorney Randy Sengel, was a member of the first graduating class at T. C. Williams and might have been present at that dedication ceremony in 1965 although his memory, like many things in the 60s, is not very clear.

It hasnt improved since the last time I discussed this when they began planning for the new school, Sengel said. However, I did find copies of The Oracle, the T. C. Williams school newspaper. I have issues, beginning with the first one that was published in October, 1965, through the spring of 1967 when we graduated. There is not one mention of a time capsule in any of them.

Sengels not so clear memory recalls not the time capsule at the dedication ceremony, but a time capsule created by his senior class. I kind of remember our class doing something like that so maybe were missing two time capsules or maybe, forensically speaking, the evidence indicates that there never was a time capsule, he said.

But what about the time capsule in the old career wing at T. C. When we were getting ready to tear down the career wing, we found a plaque on the wall of the vestibule between the outside front doors and an inside pair of doors, Porter said. That plaque indicated that some students had buried a time capsule in the wall behind it. When we tore down the wall, there was no time capsule. We kept the plaque, he said.