Time capsule from 1965 La Crosse County courthouse includes a surprise

La Crosse County Board Chairwoman Tara Johnson sets out some of the items that were placed in a time capsule when the old courthouse/administration center was built in 1965.

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.

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.

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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 tpavlic@lacrossecounty.org.

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(6) comments

Jim Rosenberg

The $3,660 figure for the average cost of a home is incorrect. I found a source that listed that number as the cost in British Pounds. For the U.S., it was $13,600. (That makes sense, when it is compared to the average annual income of $6,450 in that same source. It would be an interesting situation to have the average cost of a home be a little more than half of the average annual income, wouldn't it?)


SnowCougar, I'm in total agreement with you on this. I applaud your analogy.


We don't build building anymore that lasts long enough to put a time capsule in them worth while. A time capsule should not be opened until at least a century has passed not a 52 years. hell nothing has really change except politicians are getting dumber and more prone to a authoritarian style government


I think I still have a shirt from 1965.


Put pictures of all the pot holes the roads have just to show what a lousy job lacrosse government is doing for the people paying their wages!!

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

Our current county official’s time capsule they were originally going to use was too big and contained asbestos ... so they sold it for next to nothing. The current county officials then unnecessarily spent our taxpayer dollars to buy an overpriced time capsule that was too small and yes, also contained asbestos.

So their solution was to foolishly spend additional millions of our tax payer dollars to make the too small time capsule bigger and asbestos free.

The current county official’s time capsule will now surely become a future La Crosse County tourist attraction. But how can anyone drive on our intentionally neglected county roads to view this attraction? The county board voted twice to not spend even one dime of the $19 million in reserves for our roads. Their backs are against the wall to borrow any more money, so what do they do now? Simple, they justify a scheme to tax ALL of our La Crosse County citizens with an additional .5% "tourism" sales tax!

This is the type of scandal or plain incompetence that would take the tribune more than 50 years to investigate or even acknowledge. So don’t count on the time capsule containing any “surprise” article from the tribune when this current time capsule is opened in the future……


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