Time capsule discovered by accident
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Jason James was looking for some electrical wiring.
He knew it had to be there, in a concrete base next to a flagpole at the building at 303 W. Kirby Ave., C. He was going to install a light fixture so the new headquarters of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce could have a flag illuminated at night.
There, on that concrete base, were four bolts in a rectangular pattern. To James, that meant he might find an electrical box beneath the concrete.
James, project coordinator for maintenance and development for Ramshaw Real Estate (which manages the property), chipped a hole in the concrete and found a copper enclosure.
He peeled back the copper lid and did not find a wiring box.
"A time capsule from 1976," the nation's 200th birthday. "It was supposed to be opened in 2076," James said.
The building was home to City Bank of Champaign in 1976, as the nation celebrated its 200th birthday.
Ten years later, City Bank was purchased by First Busey Corp.
It may be that the four bolts James found once held a plaque, and that it was removed when the bank changed hands. No one was sure; there's no registry of time capsules.
"Time capsules were sort of a movement that was popular, especially tied in with significant events" like the bicentennial, said Eric Fair, archive librarian for the Champaign County Historical Archives at the Urbana Free Library.
The tailgate of James' truck became an inspection table for the materials, which were in, shall we say, uneven condition.
Water had gotten into the space, James said, though the copper lid had been tarred shut.
Still, two out of three Tupperware containers held up. All three looked as though they had been caulked.
James took the materials to the archives, where, Fair said, "a number of the items were in good condition."
It looks as though they'll wind up at the Champaign County Historical Museum. Among the documents that are well-preserved is a deed from the bank, granting everything in the capsule to the museum.
A flag that had flown at the bank was presented by American Legion Post 24, whose color guard members signed a slip of paper citing its origin. The flag was soaked. The paper was just fine.
Water probably ruined the videotape of the WCIA recording of ceremonies of July 4, 1976.
There was a key to the city of Urbana, a little rusty but sharp in its details. A copy of then-Mayor Hiram Paley's Urbana city budget had been soaked for a long time and looked like it. A bicentennial license plate — JMC 40 — was given by Julie M. Casper, one of the documents notes.
Copies of the July 4, 1976, editions of The News-Gazette and the now-defunct Courier were in the boxes. So were maps, promotional tourism brochures for the area and a note from the city clerk of Urbana "to the city clerk of 2076," saying he had tried to get the city's records into good shape.
Coins from 1876 and 1976 were in the boxes, as was the bank book for a savings account for the "2076 Fund," into which $50 was placed. This was a bank's time capsule, after all.
The museum could use that money, and more, for work on maintenance issues at its home, the Cattle Bank at First Street and University Avenue in Champaign. The Taste of Champaign was originated as a fundraiser for the historical museum, according to Champaign city planner T.J. Blakeman, and the popcorn wagon belonging to the museum will be at the festival.
For James, finding the capsule was "cool as it gets."
"I've always liked old stuff," he said. "Doesn't everybody?"
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