Items from the city's past that had been underground for the past half-century were unearthed Saturday morning in preparation for the city's upcoming 250th birthday celebration.

Fire Chief Richard Tupper (with shovel), City Council Chairman Gary Fortier (with vacuum) and 250th planning committee Co-chairman Fred Ehrlenbach (wearing cap) work to unearth the time capsule from in front of City Hall Saturday morning. At left is a button found inside the time capsule that would have been worn by bicentennial celebrants in 1963.
- By Steve FullerA time capsule buried in 1963 as part of the city's bicentennial observance was dug up in front of City Hall and cut open in one of the Fire Department's bays downstairs.

Inside were posters, letters, certificates, newspapers, maps, ribbons, buttons and other paraphernalia — but no Twinkie, for anyone wondering — from the 200th birthday bash held in the summer of 1963. There also was a derby hat, worn by the chairman of the bicentennial committee.

The contents were all wrapped in plastic and stored inside a metal box (built by Ben Coperthwaite and Arvid Faulkingham) that was welded shut. The outside of the box had been covered with tar, and all those preservation efforts paid off — the contents were in excellent condition.

"I'm simply amazed that this stuff is dry," said Fire Chief Richard Tupper, a member of the committee that has planned the 250th celebration for later this month (July 20-27).

There had been one failed attempt previously to retrieve the time capsule — a "wet, failure-dig fiasco," according to the crew on hand Saturday — but organizers made a concerted effort for the second dig.

City Council Chairman Gary Fortier, who also serves on the 250th organizing committee, consulted an Ellsworth history book by Deale Salisbury, which has a photo of the time capsule being buried in front of City Hall.

Using that photo as a guide, Tupper and Fortier took a cemetery probe and went out to the front lawn to search for the capsule. After a short search, they hit an object and found the edges of the object.

It seemed flat and sounded hollow, and hits kept coming back at a consistent depth. Those factors convinced the searchers they had found the capsule and not, say, just a rock.

Digging got under way before 7 a.m. Saturday, and with the use of shovels, trowels and hands — and a Craftsman 3-horsepower, 8-gallon wet/dry vacuum as the digging got deeper — the capsule was found and brought up out of the ground.

A wooden shell had surrounded the metal box, but years of contact with dirt and water had left little of the wood intact. When local historian Darlene Springer asked what kind of wood the shell was made of, Tupper grinned.

"Rotten," he quipped.

There were a couple of 1963 pennies on top of the time capsule, which were set aside and saved. The box was taken to an empty bay in the fire station, where it was cleaned off and prepared for opening.

After an unsuccessful attempt to open the box with a soldering tool, Tupper used a cutoff wheel to open the box. Sparks flew and a metallic smell filled the air, and then the moment of truth arrived.

"Oh thank God, they put the records in plastic!" said Thelma Beal, another member of the 250th planning committee, as the box was pried open.

Relief was evident among the rest of the small crowd in attendance, too, as Tupper and Fred Ehrlenbach, co-chairman of the 250th committee, pulled the plastic-wrapped items out of the metal box. The items were then brought to a conference room in the fire station, where they were unwrapped, shared and admired.

The first item Ehrlenbach pulled out of the plastic wrap and read aloud was a charter for a "Bicentennial Belles" organization, a document that was signed by his mother, Katherine.

Other family connections were found, too, and lighter moments were many. Ehrlenbach, for example, read a letter from 1963 Bicentennial Committee Chairman Lloyd T. Dunham addressed to "Chairman of The Next Bicentennial."

Dunham's short letter described the bicentennial as a "great success" and wished the present-day planners best of luck, then closed with a postscript that got everyone in the room smiling.

"Please do not ask me to serve on any committee or in any capacity," Dunham wrote, drawing laughter from committee members who know well how Dunham felt after planning a week's worth of events in 1963.

A map of the parade route was pulled out, and when onlookers remarked at how extensive the route was, Rita Dunn — Springer's mother, who was herself a Bicentennial Belle in 1963 — offered an affirmation born of experience.

"I walked every bit of it," Dunn said.

There was some disagreement over just how far historical preservation efforts should go once everything had been taken out of the time capsule, looked at and sorted. Ehrlenbach asked where the plastic wrapping was, and Beal replied she had already thrown it away.

At Ehrlenbach's request, the plastic was removed from the trash to be preserved — at least for now, if not for posterity.

Committee members said Saturday morning they planned to display at least some of the items in a display case at City Hall.

There also are plans to create a new time capsule in honor of the 250th birthday bash, though a few things might be different. Rather than make people 50 or 100 years from now go on a dirt-digging expedition, the capsule may instead be stored in a vault at City Hall.

The contents may be slightly different, too.

"Something tells me that the next one of these is just going to be a CD in a box," Springer said.