On the evening of 22 April 1913, the congregation of a Oklahoma church buried an 8 ft x 4ft x 4ft copper chest in their basement and covered it with concrete. It was filled with an array of everyday objects, state of the art equipment, and messages for the future. Members of the congregation made solemn oaths to pass the knowledge of the chest on to their descendants, to be opened on the appointed day engraved upon it – 22 April 2013.
What had started as a novel idea by Virginia Sohlberg, a member of Oklahoma’s First English Lutheran Church, to raise funds for a new organ quickly took on a life of its own, and the ‘Century Chest’ became first a citywide, then a statewide project to provide Oklahomans of 2013 with a snapshot of life in 1913. The burial ceremony in the church prompted The Daily Oklahoman newspaper of the day to wonder: “Those who open the chest 100 years from today, what will be their feelings? Will they look upon the wonders of 1913 as crude?”
They needn’t have worried. On 22 April 2013 a thrilled congregation in the same church – joined by TV viewers across the US, and internet users across the world – watched enthralled as the excavated time capsule was reopened, and they gasped at each artefact that was pulled out.
The trove of objects, neatly parcelled and looking as new as the day they were buried, included a 22 April 1913 issue of the Daily Oklahoman; a woman’s outfit and shoes; a pen used by President William McKinley; a Kodak camera; various Native American artefacts, including a message from Victor Locke, chief of the Choctaw tribe; a graphophone with recordings of 1913 Oklahoma voices; and numerous other written messages, books and photographs.
Also in the chest was a book of family pictures and poems from Virginia Sohlberg herself, much to the delight of her great-grandaughter, Virginia Eason Weinmann. She told Fox 25 News that she’d been “waiting her whole life to read what her forefathers wrote.” She said: “When I was 50 I’d say I wonder if I’ll live that long…then at 60, I’d wonder if I’ll live that long…so I’m happy I’ve made it.”
Chad Williams of the Oklahoma History Center was also delighted. He told the Oklahoman: “This is more than we could have hoped for. I was expecting some things to be damaged, but everything looks in excellent condition.”
The ‘Century Chest’ artefacts will be exhibited by the Oklahoma History Center later this year. Pictured here are: a woman’s hat; a tin of coffee; a stack of parcels (the top one “to be opened by the oldest male here present at the opening of the chest“); a Pioneer candlestick telephone; and a box of recorded music and messages, with written instructions. See the full set of images on Facebook.
Among the messages and poems was the following:
Spirit of 1913 Greets the Year 2013
Written specially for the Century Chest
Well, well, and is this you, 2013? Here are we, the spirit of 1913, your many times great-grand parent.
We were slain by New Year and buried in the garden of Once Upon a Time. Yet, through all these years have we lived, for out of the dust of us have grown the trees under whose shades the young have snuggled close in Cupid’s arms; the old have dreamed of yesterwhiles. The fragrant magnolia and the lily pure and white and fair to see – all have taken root within our heart. And we have wondered at our beauty, moulded by the Craftsman who, alone, is perfect in His craftsmanship.
How aged and infirm we feel as we number the bairns that have sprung from our loins; yet how immature were we on that December night so long ago, when the big clock struck and our toddling steps were at their journey end.
Of all the masters that the world has known, Time alone, our master, is unchanged. In rain, in sun, in wind and torrid heat, he journeys on – his feet unfettered and his trudge unbound.
We, the spirit of another year, at whose breasts have suckled many souls, greet you today and offer you this balm for weary hours: On earth, in Heaven, in hell, there’s no decay, save that which turns the goodly to the things of ill. The brave, the true, the Lordly and the right, live on. The pressure of the hand, the smile, the word of cheer, when we have gone, give comfort to the stricken of another year.
Year 2013, how’s our town? Did that man get the dollar that he sought and if he got it, were the things he bought worth all the care lines and the frown that gathered? Was his heart as big, his laugh as great – or did he crumble ‘neath the touch of fate and yearn to turn aback the hands of time?