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Pekin time capsule connects the U.S. bicentennial to the city's bicentennial

Letters inside the Pekin bicentennial time capsule written by the men who were serving as Pekin's mayor and president of the Pekin Chamber of Commerce in 1976 to their successors in 2024 will be opened July 4.
Steve Stein
/
WCBU
Letters inside the Pekin bicentennial time capsule written by the men who were serving as Pekin's mayor and president of the Pekin Chamber of Commerce in 1976 to their successors in 2024 will be opened July 4.

The contents of a time capsule filled with glimpses into Pekin's history and letters from Pekin residents to their descendants will be revealed to the public July 4 in a ceremony that's part of the city's bicentennial celebration.

The capsule was buried and unearthed twice.

It was first buried outside the former City Hall at 400 Margaret St. on Jan. 1, 1977 at the conclusion of Pekin's celebration of the U.S. bicentennial in 1976. It was unearthed and buried again in 2002 outside the new City Hall at 111 S. Capitol St.

Twenty-two years after the second burial, on May 31, the capsule was brought up from the ground again.

The capsule was opened by city employees inside a room and its contents were taken out of packages so the items could get acclimated to seeing the light of day again and moisture could evaporate.

The city's "time capsule opening" ceremony will begin at 9 a.m. July 4 at the former Davison-Fulton-Woolsey Funeral Home, now owned by the city, at 301 Broadway St.

The concrete time capsule and its contents have been stored in a room at the ex-funeral home since the capsule was opened there. The capsule's contents, which were originally put in boxes and sealed with a plastic wrapping, have been placed on tables for viewing.

Many items reflecting life in Pekin in 1976 were put in the capsule in an effort organized by the city's U.S. bicentennial committee.

They included newspapers, a pet rock, souvenir coins, bumper stickers, Pekin flags, minutes of a 1976 Pekin City Council meeting, a brochure from the 1976 grand opening of Vogels Market Square Market, Christmas coupon books, key chains, a bottle of syrup, ash trays, bottles of liquor, toy Caterpillar tractors, and a Sears catalogue.

Also in the capsule were dozens of letters written by Pekin residents to their descendants. And letters written by former Pekin Mayor William Waldmeier and Chuck Wolfe, former president of the Pekin Chamber of Commerce, in 1976 to their successors in 2024.

Waldmeier's letter is addressed "to the citizens of the city of Pekin, Illinois in the year 2024," with instructions to be read by the city's current mayor (Mary Burress) when the capsule's contents are revealed to the public.

Neither Waldmeier nor Wolfe is still alive. Each died in 2013.

Pekin City Manager John Dossey said the letters from Waldmeier and Wolfe, instructions on what to do when the capsule was opened, and a list of the items in the capsule were inside a manilla envelope on top of the capsule's contents.

Here's a look inside the Pekin bicentennial time capsule before its contents were removed.
Courtesy City of Pekin
Here's a look inside the Pekin bicentennial time capsule before its contents were removed.

The list of items, which includes the names of people who wrote letters to their descendants, was posted June 7 on the city's Facebook page. Dossey said if someone spots their name, they can contact either him or executive assistant Paige Anderson, and they'll make arrangements to get them the letter.

Nikki Quarello, a grounds maintenance worker for the city, has been deeply involved in the process of unearthing the capsule, and opening and carefully removing the capsule's contents.

There's a good reason for that.

"I love history. It was my favorite subject in school," said the 1998 Pekin Community High School graduate and lifelong Pekin resident.

"It was very interesting seeing all the items in the capsule, but especially the letters to descendants," she said. "I'm off from work July 4, but I will certainly be at the ceremony helping out. I wouldn't miss it."

The final unearthing of the capsule, which was buried about five feet deep underneath a monument on the surface, took several hours as the sun beat down on city employees on a warm late spring morning.

After the digging began, reinforcements from the city's Street Department were called in.

"We didn't know the capsule was actually a heavy vault and we didn't know it was buried so deep," Quarello said. "Thank goodness for the Street Department coming over to help."

Charlie Whitman, a 12-year veteran of the Street Department, did most of the heavy lifting on the unearthing of the capsule, standing in the burial place using department machinery including a Vactor truck.

"We didn't know we'd be needed for that work," Whitman said. "We were 'camera-ing' sewers in the Sunset Hills area when we got the call. We didn't know what to expect when we got to where the time capsule was buried. It actually was an easy process getting the capsule out of the ground. I was more concerned about not damaging the capsule."

The contents from the capsule, along with Pekin time capsules buried in 1844 and 1952, will eventually be put on display in cases in the lobby at City Hall, Dossey said.

Another Pekin time capsule, this one commemorating the city's 200th birthday, will be put together. Items are not being accepted yet, Dossey said, but he'll have information about that in the fall.

Steve Stein is an award-winning news and sports writer and editor. Most recently, he covered Tazewell County communities for the Peoria Journal Star for 18 years.