Back in 1965, county officials put a time capsule in the wall behind a commemorative plaque in the newly built courthouse and administrative center. That time capsule, long forgotten, was inadvertently discovered as the building was being emptied recently after the move to the new administrative center, and its contents were revealed Thursday.
In May 1965, when the administrative building was dedicated, the Vietnam War was escalating, Muhammad Ali was the heavyweight boxing champion after beating Sonny Liston the previous year (when Ali was known as Cassius Clay), there were race riots in Los Angeles’s Watts community and the word “hypertext” was newly minted as computer networking was just getting started.
That also was the year La Crosse experienced record flooding, Roy Kumm handed over the Oktoberfest festmaster duties to John Coleman, and the old county courthouse was demolished. In 1965, a time capsule wouldn’t have needed to be very big to hold the cash in small bills required to buy a house, as the average house went for $3,660, pretty affordable for most people since the average income was $6,450.
Before Thursday’s monthly La Crosse County Board meeting, county board members and others gathered around as Jim Speropolous, the county’s facilities director, and longtime Facilities Department staff member Dan Ferguson opened the copper metal box, which had been soldered shut. Nothing on the outside of the box indicated that it was a time capsule.
“There are no smells coming out of the box, at least not yet,” quipped board Chair Tara Johnson as she stood nearby.
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Once it was cut open, Johnson pulled out a list of the box’s contents, which it turned out had been put inside the wall behind a large metal dedication plaque on Jan. 5, 1966. The box contained a scrapbook about the old courthouse, which was built in 1903, with interior and exterior pictures of the building.
The box also contained at least six full copies of the La Crosse Tribune ranging from March 1963 to May 1965, with an additional Tribune special section from October 1965 about the courthouse bell. There also was a program from the May 23, 1965, dedication ceremony, copies of the West Salem Journal and Bangor Independent newspapers, a roll of 1964 pennies, two 1964 Kennedy half dollars, a 1963 proof set of U.S. coins, county directories and minutes of county board meetings.
To the surprise of all, there was another copper box within the box, this one with a tight-fitting lid. The smaller box contained mementos from the time of the previous courthouse, which was the county’s third. Contents of the smaller box included two pens used to sign the construction contract for the 1903 courthouse, a $500 20-year construction bond that paid 3 percent interest, a list of county and city officials in 1903, records from the county insane asylum, and copies of several long-defunct newspapers, including a German-language publication.
Inspired by the discovery of the 1965 time capsule, the county will plant a 2017 time capsule in the new administrative center, with a copy of the La Crosse Tribune one of the items definitely being included.
If the county continues the tradition of including the contents of previous time capsules along with new mementos, observed County Administrator Steve O’Malley, “we’re going to need a bigger box.”
Or, O’Malley added, they might even want to get two boxes, one for courthouse related items to be placed in the Law Enforcement Center, where the courthouse is now, and one in the new administrative center with items commemorating county government.
Suggestions for appropriate items to include in new time capsules can be emailed to Terri Pavlic at email@example.com.