Uncovered time capsules in Old Town interrupt history

Uncovered time capsules in Old Town interrupt history

Karen Devlin expected to get a new bathroom when she brought contractors into her Wolfe Street home the last thing on her mind was unearthing time capsules buried just 16 years ago. 

Amidst the pipes and drywall, contractor Mike Cefola dug up two bundles of articles, magazines, letters and personal trinkets, carefully wrapped in faded Washington Post plastic sleeves, belonging to Alexandrian Ray Gallagher. Instructions on one bag, dated 1995, were clear: Finder Tell local News Agencies of the find.

Mysteriously, as far as Devlin knew Gallagher had never lived in the home, but it was built around the same time the capsules were hidden. 

I thought it would be connected to the owner or builder, but there is no connection, Devlin said, sifting through personal correspondences, sales flyers and newspaper clippings. This is very personal, something anyone would appreciate.


Outside of the clues bundled in the capsule, little about Gallaghers life is easily dug up. His wife, Mary, lives in the area, though she declined to comment on the discovery or her late husband, who died in 2003, according to an obituary in the Post. She was Jackie Onassis Kennedys personal secretary, according to newspaper clippings from the capsule.

This much is clear: Gallagher, a proud Catholic, grew up in Alexandria, served in the military during World War II, became an insurance agent, a columnist for the Alexandria Gazette and was a member of the Old Dominion Boat Club and the Belle Haven Country Club. He worshipped at St. Marys. 

The capsule contained a three-page typed account of his time with the 260th Regiment between 1940 and 1942, when he served as a bugler at Fort Bliss in Texas. 

Thinking this to be a pleasant way to finish out the balance of my One Year Enlistment, I volunteered to be a bugler, Gallagher wrote, noting he enlisted well before the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

And not without merit. Gallagher was the citys Boy Scout champion bugler from 1931-32, and had the honor of playing Taps beside George Washingtons tomb at Mount Vernon during that period.

He also had a seemingly dry sense of humor, recounting a certain Sgt. Justice who challenged his men to fight him. 

If any of youse guys think you can whip me, step forward, Gallagher remembered Justice ordering. No one moved, not wanting to get down to his level. He evidently had been seeing too many Hollywood movies about the Army.

Mark Holmes remembers Gallaghers infrequent appearances at a local bakery, where Holmes and friends would meet to talk politics over coffee Saturday mornings. Gallagher was full of stories, he said. 

Ray would sometimes come and sit at the table and talk to us and tell stories. He was a great story teller, an affable guy and fun to talk to, Holmes said. He had a lot of stories about Alexandria. He played kazoo for the kids and it was always an enjoyable conversation with him.

Ray Cobean, a member of the Old Dominion Club, considered Gallagher a friend. He was active in the community, Cobean said. You couldnt walk around town without running into him. 

Gallagher also was fascinated with history, collecting old photographs of the boat club. When he died, Cobean went looking for the materials, but never found them. While he hadnt known about Gallaghers time capsules, Cobean now suspects the old photographs may be scattered around town in the other packets rumored to exist. 

The question for the Devlins is what to do with Gallaghers capsule. Judging from the materials stored away, Gallagher intended the capsules stay hidden for a century or more, not a mere 16 years: seemingly arbitrary objects like a construction store catalog and a homebuyers guide would garner more interest in the year 3,000, he seemed to think.

Devlins 11-year-old son, Peter, wants the family to put the capsules back and leave them for another time. For her part, Karen remains undecided. 

Shes honored that her family was the first to discover Gallaghers capsules, a glimpse into the life of someone they would have otherwise never known. Still, the find has her wondering what she might hide away for future generations.

I think everyone thinks about it when they go through someones life like this, Devlin said. I havent come up with any good answers.