A boy was in awe of Palatine church's time capsule. 50 years later, he prompted its opening.
If not for the memory of a 5-year-old boy, a time capsule in a Palatine church would not have seen the light of day for who knows how long -- possibly ever.
The capsule was extracted Thursday from about a 450-pound cornerstone drilled out of the exterior of St. Paul United Church of Christ, 144 E. Palatine Road. It contained things like U.S. flags, a religious newspaper, coins and various papers in German and English dating from the 1800s to 1971. All the contents were displayed in public during the church's 150th anniversary celebration Sunday.
None of it would have happened if Brad Helms, now 55, hadn't remembered his awe during the last opening of the capsule in 1971, when the church celebrated its 100th anniversary.
"I do remember them cutting into the corner of the church," said Helms, who now serves as a councilman in Palatine. "I was one of those kids who kind of wanted to know everything, and I remember thinking, 'Jeez, if they cut the corner, isn't the tower going to collapse?'"
The tower did not collapse. Church members examined the capsule, added new items and reinserted it into the cornerstone, presumably thinking it would be reopened in 50 years.
As it turns out, Helms was the only person who remembered as the church got ready to celebrate its 150th anniversary, which fell on April 7.
A survey was conducted three years ago to find out how parishioners wanted to commemorate the occasion. A church anniversary committee planned the celebration for two years. But not once did anyone bring up the time capsule, said Helms' mother, Gloria, who serves on the anniversary committee.
Then, Brad Helms mentioned it when he stopped by his parents house one morning in early May.
"We started talking to him about the anniversary and he said, 'You're going to open the time capsule, aren't you?'" Gloria Helms recalled. "And I said, 'Wha-at?'"
"I don't know how come I don't remember it," she said. "If Brad was there, I must have been there. Where was I? Was I in the kitchen or something? I honestly don't know.'"
Gloria Helms said she eventually spoke with someone who was on the church board in 1971 and recalled the placement of the time capsule. She set off to make preparations for its opening as part of the 150th anniversary.
At one point, it looked like the church wouldn't be able to afford the $2,800 cost of hiring a masonry company for the delicate job of extricating the capsule. But a generous donor came through with a surprise $10,000 memorial check that also covered work on the church's outdoor benches, landscaping and sound equipment, Gloria Helms said.
The opening of the capsule took place "with sparks and smoke" early Thursday morning. The capsule is a metal box from Zimmer Hardware, which closed in 2019 after 136 years in Palatine.
Among the contents were German coins from the 1800s and several papers in German, including a memorial sheet from 1921. The items hearken back to the origins of the church, organized in 1871 as the "German United St. Paul's Congregation."
Other items included the 1917 church constitution and an Evangelical Herald from 1924, the year the current church building was built. There also was a Kennedy half dollar from 1964 and two U.S. flags, one of them with 48 stars. The more recent items dating back to 1971 included parts of a church directory.
"We don't know the reason for all of that. Some of it we couldn't figure it out," Gloria Helms.
Still, the contents of the time capsule were interesting to peruse and elicited much interest from parishioners, she said.
The capsule was to be "reburied" Tuesday with the original items -- minus some that were damaged by humidity and whose copies were used -- plus new items, Gloria Helms said.
They include several 2021 coins; information from the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control Prevention about the COVID-19 pandemic; two face masks, one cloth and one paper; a wooden cross; the last congregational photo taken in 2016; and the 150th anniversary bulletin.
Hopefully, the next opening of the capsule for the 200th church anniversary will go off without a hitch, Gloria Helms said.
Meanwhile, her son Brad will continue holding his memories as a young boy and think about it all whenever he goes by the church.
"All these years, I always look at that brick and I think, 'That's a pretty cool thing.'"