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Time capsule in Sioux City reveals old items 101 years later

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SIOUX CITY | In the early afternoon of July 10, 1916, a slew of Woodbury County officials made sure interesting Siouxland items from the prior 40 years were placed into a cornerstone box, as a new county courthouse was being constructed.

On Tuesday -- 101 years, four months, 11 days and two hours later -- current county officials muscled open the time capsule in a Woodbury County Courthouse ceremony, and aired the items for a crowd of interested people.

What they found was as expected, since a master list of the capsule items had been kept from 1916, just two years before the courthouse opened. That included a bunch of Sioux City newspapers, minutes from county board of supervisors meetings, foreign and domestic coins that dated from 1899 to 1915 and pamphlets from lots of men's lodge organizations, which are no longer functioning.

There were also scads of photos, including of President Woodrow Wilson, a Sioux City tuberculosis hospital, downtown businesses and Stone State Park, only four years after it opened.

There were lots of bemused looks as it took 15 minutes to pry open the cornerstone, then again as officials such as Sioux City Public Museum Archives Manager Tom Munson raved about what was pulled out.

That came on the heels of one of Munson's first statements, that he expected so many newspapers in the capsule to deteriorate.

"I think I am going to see dust, not to be pessimistic," he said.

Forty-five minutes later when the unveiling was completed, Munson noted the items, some of which dated to the 1860s, showed little wear: "It is better than dust, far better than dust."

A week ago, county crews extracted the time capsule from the cornerstone at a cost of less than $5,000. The iron box had to be drilled out of the granite from the northwest corner of the building to avoid structural problems caused by colder weather.

The public event on Tuesday was designed in part to build excitement for the 100th building commemoration, which will be held May 1-5, 2018.

Designed by famed architect William Steele, the courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1996. It's considered the largest publicly owned Prairie School-design buildings in the world.

Woodbury County Building Services Department Director Kenny Schmitz and consultant Shane Albrecht took 15 minutes, longer than expected, to get the capsule open. They used a rotary tool, then big pliers, then eventually pounded on a screwdriver. Schmitz said the extra labor was necessary because there was an unexpected second seal of the capsule on the inside.

Woodbury County Historical Committee members are setting the centennial celebration events. Committee member Jim Jung raved about the items as they were pulled out by Munson, who was wearing gloves so not to harm the pieces.

"Pretty good shape, that is amazing," Jung said.

Those items will now go into a Sioux City Public Museum display.

About 30 people watched in the courthouse atrium, and another 10 from the County Attorney office and other court workers observed from the floor above. Committee member Jeremy Taylor noted the Tuesday unveiling of the capsule lacked the musical flourish that occurred with the 1916 cornerstone ceremony.

"We don't have the Elks Quartet with us to sing today," Taylor deadpanned.

In spite of the differing aspects of the 1916 and 2017 events, it was fantastic to watch people get excited, he added.

"It was worth it to see the excitement on historians' faces," Taylor said.


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