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Reveal of 50-year-old time capsule contents bridges Madison’s past to present

MADISON – Man has just set foot on the moon for the first time when Burwell L “Sonny” Wilbanks was first elected to serve as Madison’s new mayor. The year was 1969 and, as mayor, Wilbanks played a significant role in recognizing the town’s centennial that year.

Part of the celebration involved burying a time capsule in the front lawn of what was then Madison Junior High School. With the help of students, city officials and community leaders various items representing Madison life in 1969 were placed within a concrete vault and buried — not to be disturbed for 50 years.

Fast-forward to 2019, fifty years later. Wilbanks, along with others who had hand to play in the time capsule’s creation, watched as Madison Elementary School principal Jamie Golliver displayed the items they found when the capsule was finally opened last week.

“I get chill bumps every time I talk about this, but here we are fifty years after the moment the capsule was buried as a gift to the future,” Golliver told a large crowd gathered in the school’s gym Sunday afternoon to see what treasures the capsule contained.

The time capsule was unearthed last Tuesday, fifty years to the day it was placed in the ground. Since then, Gulliver and a team of specialists had opened the 5-foot-long vault weighing several hundred pounds in preparation for the reveal. What they found was both amazing and somewhat disappointing.

“When we moved the time capsule, we realized it was filled with water,” Gulliver said. “Fortunately, most of the items were wrapped in heavy durable plastic bags. However, everything in there was wet, some items more than others.”

Gulliver said he contacted experts on how to deal with water damage and restoration. “We have spent the past several days here on campus, in a room specifically set up with circulated air and low humidity, drying out some of the items,” he told the crowd. “Some items dried completely, some partially, while other items are still very wet.”

The items that faired the best were laid out on a table in the gym where visitors were allowed to examine them. They included a variety of books, toys, clothing, magazines, coins, memorabilia from the city’s centennial celebration, an old leather-bound Bible, records and letters from past city and community leaders to the leaders of today. Also included was a letter from the residents of Madison in 1969 to the residents of Madison in 2019.

All of the items salvaged will eventually be on display at the Madison Public Library.

While each items was pulled from a plastic storage container and placed on the display tables, it brought back memories for 64-year-old Albert Douglas. He was a ninth grader at Madison Junior High School at the time.

“I was outside watching as they buried the time capsule,” Douglas said. “We decided to do this as a project throughout the year.  It was a small school then, and it has changed a lot. I enjoyed the time I was here very much.”

Douglas first went to West Madison before coming to Madison Jr. High in the sixth grade. The year the capsule was buried was his last at the schools. He would go on to Sparkman High School, which was the main high school for Madison area students in the late sixties and early seventies.

“I am really enjoying this today,” Douglas said about the reveal ceremony. “I have seen people I haven’t seen in fifty years.”

One of those was his principal in 1969, W.R. Foutch.

“It is great to be back at the school,” Foutch said, who just turned 84-years-old. “It’s really a great day to be here to see so many former teacher and students.”

While Foutch was talking about his years at Madison Jr. High, a white-haired man with a mustache walked up. “I’m Tommy Benson,” the man exclaimed to his former principal. “Oh my,” Foutch replied. “How could I not remember you?”

“Do you remember me standing out in the hallway every day?” Benson asked Foutch. “I was in your office every day.”

“I knew there were would be a bunch of them like him here today,” Foutch joked with plenty of spunk. “That’s why I wore my black hat, like the mean cowboys do in the westerns.”

“I remember you coming around the corner in the hallway with those old wood floors,” Benson continued. “You would look down the hall and see me, and I would see you and turn around and do my best to act like I was just walking down the hall.”

It was times like that, former students, teachers and a beloved principal, reminiscing about their old school days that made Sunday’s event even more special.

“This is a very exciting day for all of us,” Wilbanks said. “It was exciting back in 1969 for the centennial too.”

Wilbanks went on to serve as Madison’s mayor for almost twenty years, but that October 1969 celebration of Madison’s past and future will always stick out to him as a favorite memory, one that was relived Sunday.



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