Phillip Tutor: Treasures in our ground
Aug 11, 2013 | 2753 views |  0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Back in the old days, as Eli Henderson describes it, treasures were buried beneath the bricks of the Calhoun County Courthouse.

But where? What were they? Were they still there?

If only he knew.

If you’ve ever met Henderson, county commissioner-turned-circuit clerk, you’re not surprised that he’s been poking around, figuratively, in the courthouse dirt at 11th and Gurnee streets in Anniston. He is the county’s whimsically full-time but wholly amateur archeologist; heaven help us if anyone ever gives him a shovel and one of those fancy hand-held metal detectors.

To understand this fascination with finding what Henderson describes as the courthouse’s long-rumored “time capsule,” we need to hear him tell how, as a kid growing up in the working-class neighborhoods of Wellborn, the courthouse had always intrigued him. The county’s “center of activity,” he calls it.

“When we were kids,” Henderson begins, “we would hitchhike to Anniston from Wellborn on the old highway, and we’d ride the elevator up to the 10th floor of the bank building and then ride back down, and then we’d go to the museum. And the last trip would always be to the courthouse.

“There would always be someone there preaching or talking. There always would be some activity of some kind.

“And then we’d go back home.”

If anything, winning election as the circuit clerk has spiked Henderson’s curiosity about the 113-year-old courthouse and its potentially mythical time capsule. It was the county’s Jimmy Hoffa story, just without the killin’.

So he began asking questions.

As you can expect, facts were few. Henderson wisely reached out to Ken Joiner, the county administrator whose knowledge of such things is famously encyclopedic. Joiner told Henderson that “it seems to me that they dug it up,” but he wasn’t sure. An outdoor cleanup around the courthouse uncovered the original cornerstone, on the building’s south side, but no mention of a time capsule, either real or imagined.

Henderson, being who he is, wouldn’t let his quest die.

Finally, Fred Burger, a former Anniston Star reporter, brought Henderson what he sought — proof. A March 1964 clipping from The Star explained that workers dug up the capsule when, according to the story, “the cornerstone was removed in connection with the new addition on the east side of the courthouse.”

The search was over.

Turns out that in 1900, when construction on the courthouse began, county bigwigs put together a collection of items, sealed them inside a copper box and buried them beneath the cornerstone. For 64 years, the box went untouched by human hands.

When Dan Gray, then the chairman of the Calhoun County Commission, and others opened the box in March 1964, three things were apparent: the box wasn’t sealed well; papers were damaged by water; no one would get rich off the booty.

Inside were old coins, including a half-dollar from the 1893 Columbian Exposition; ribbons from the cornerstone’s elaborate ceremony in November 1900; a disintegrated pair of baby shoes; a Masonic trowel; a Bible; a molding copy of the Anniston city charter, which was heavily damaged by water; and two yellowed but readable copies of The Anniston Evening Star and The Hot Blast, the papers later merged into The Anniston Star.

Unknown still is where the cornerstone (and the copper box buried underneath) sat in 1964. Henderson’s unsure, and he doesn’t necessarily think it was on the 11th Street side of the courthouse, where the cornerstone rests today. “I think (the time capsule) was buried somewhere else,” he said.

A question for another day, perhaps.

More interesting is what wasn’t in that leaking copper box — nothing, apparently, from the Woodstock Iron Co., so central to Anniston’s founding, nothing from the private collection of the Samuel Noble family, nothing noteworthy from other towns in the county. Whoever decided what went into that box could have made more imaginative choices.

Perhaps, as Henderson told me, it’s time for Calhoun County to bury another time capsule at the courthouse, to be opened in 100 years. Consider what we could, and should, place inside.

The names of each high school graduate from Calhoun County schools in 2013.

A copy of the featured sermon from Interfaith Ministries’ Community Thanksgiving Service.

Recorded video messages from our city councils and county commissioners.

A flash drive that includes photo galleries from all around Calhoun County: our people, our land, our lives.

A bottled beer from Anniston’s new brewpub.

A stone from the Indian burial mound made famous by its dismantling in Oxford.

Highlight videos from the county’s best high school football teams this year.

Books, signed by the authors, written about the county and its towns.

Transcripts of the valedictorian speeches from Anniston, Oxford and Jacksonville high schools.

A jersey from the winning cyclist of the Sunny King Criterium in Anniston and the shoes of the Woodstock 5K winner.

A Google Earth map showing the status, thus far, of Veterans Memorial Parkway, the county’s biggest road project of modern times.

A copy of The Chanticleer, Jacksonville State University’s student newspaper.

And something from McClellan’s never-ending redevelopment, perhaps an inert shard of unexploded ordnance left behind by the Army.

Oh, and a word of advice.

This time, make sure the box is sealed. Tight.

Phillip Tutor — — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at
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