Tom Cole and Marsha Page Ward were playing with the Caldwell High School band when the Leigh Mall time capsule was buried in 1972.
As a sophomore trumpet player, Cole said he remembers performing patriotic songs such as “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful” as the capsule descended into the ground in front of what was then Sears.
“I don’t think they even told us where we were going that day,” Cole said. “They just said we were going to play at an event. They bussed us here on school buses, and we saw that they were burying the time capsule.”
While Cole threw coins into the hole surrounding the capsule, Ward was a green freshman flute player, hoping weather would not impede the day’s events.
“What I remember was just being nervous because it was my first performance with the band,” Ward said. “I remember it was a very overcast day, and it looked like it was going to rain. As soon as the capsule was buried, the sun came out, just like today.”
Along with Cole and Ward, nearly a dozen who were at the original burial attended Wednesday’s ceremony to open the time capsule.
Mayor Keith Gaskin, former Public Relations Director for Sears Earl Martin, Jim Hull of Hull Property Group (which owns Leigh Mall), Aundrea Self of WCBI and local historian Rufus Ward opened the Leigh Mall were on hand to open the time capsule as a way to celebrate Columbus’ bicentennial.
The time capsule was put into the ground at Leigh Mall Aug. 22, 1972, a year before the mall’s opening. Martin, who opened various Sears stores throughout the Southeast, spearheaded the idea of burying the time capsule at the mall. He took a metal box to The Dispatch and asked the paper to advertise for items to be buried.
“This (location) was the most fun,” Martin said. “This is the only time capsule we ever buried.”
Rufus Ward recounted Columbus’ history, noting that Columbus was actually founded in Alabama in 1819, but the city was annexed and moved to Mississippi in 1821 where it was officially incorporated.
Soon after Leigh Mall opened in 1973, a flood hit Columbus, filling the entire city, and the mall, with water. As the capsule was being removed from the ground Wednesday morning, water gushed out, probably from the 1973 flood, Rufus said.
Various items were found Wednesday inside a metal box that had been in the ground for 49 years. They included 1972 yearbooks from Caldwell High School, Lee High School and the Mississippi University for Women, which at that time was the Mississippi State College for Women; a phonebook; a Bible; an Olympic medal; and the 1972 Sears fall/winter catalog.
An issue of The Dispatch from Aug. 22, 1972, the date of the burial, was also extracted along with a large box full of pictures.
“We’ve got lots of pictures here,” Rufus said. “They look fairly stable, so we don’t need to take them out. I think they can be salvaged. … We’re going to check with the (MUW) archives to find out the best way to handle wet material because you have to be very careful and know exactly what you’re doing, or it will disintegrate.”
Once the items are properly cared for and dried out, they will be on display at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library.
Hull, a retail developer based out of Georgia, purchased Leigh Mall when the property went up for auction in November 2019. Gaskin contacted Hull a few months ago about having a time capsule opening ceremony, and Hull was in full support.
“I looked up that a time capsule is a deliberate method of communication with future people, and it addresses the collective need for community past and future,” Hull said. “Opening the time capsule is a beautiful reminder of bygone years and the people who saw fit to communicate with us now.”
Hull said he has innovative plans to refurbish and revise Leigh Mall. He said he looks forward to working with all of the tenants to make it the best property possible.
Another time capsule will be put into the ground in the near future, Hull said, to continue to commemorate and preserve Columbus’ history.
“We think this is such a wonderful idea,” Hull said. “Y’all think what y’all want to put in it. We’re going to try to have it sealed, so it’s going to be dry… Y’all get something clever and fun that speaks to the people in 2072.”