On Sunday, when Charlotte officials opened a 50-year-old time capsule buried at the Regal Park Terrace theater, they found that age – and moisture – had beaten them to it.
Most of the items – including newspaper clippings and a letter from then-Charlotte Mayor Stan Brookshire – had melted into a thick and sloppy mush of history.
But there were also some items that remained intact, including Brookshire’s key to the city and a reel-to-reel tape.
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“I’m a huge fan of time capsules,” said resident Adam Shinn, 27. “It’s the curiosity element of it, seeing what kind of things may or may not be in it.”
The time capsule was buried on May 11, 1964, to commemorate the opening of the theater, in the Park Road shopping center. Among the capsule’s contents were pictures of Charlotteans and some of their predictions about 2014.
Brookshire also wrote a letter to city residents 50 years in the future. City officials believe the letter discussed the progress made by the city at that time as well as projects Brookshire expected to be completed by 2014, according to a city statement.
A 1964 article in the Charlotte News said that he estimated the city’s population would be 1 million by the time the capsule was opened. He also anticipated that the city would have an outer beltway, according to a statement from the city.
His population prediction was a little off: According to a 2012 U.S. Census estimate, Charlotte has about 775,000 residents. But the 2012 population estimate for Mecklenburg County, 967,971, was closer to the mark.
Brookshire, who served as mayor from 1961 to 1969, was considered a champion of economic development and was also known for encouraging local businesses to coordinate voluntary desegregation. Before he became mayor, he led the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.
More than 100 people attended the unearthing of the time capsule on Sunday. For one of them, the ceremony completed the circle: Rod Gatlin, 58, said his mother took him to the movie theater in 1964 to see the capsule being buried.
“She liked to bring me to things like this,” he said. He said he didn’t remember too much from the day, other than that the mayor was there and a lot of papers and even some movie tickets were put into the capsule.
“Every time I’ve seen (the capsule plaque) since, I’ve wondered if I would still be here the day they opened it.”
Dirk Allman, a local historian who collects memorabilia from the past, said even though the time capsule ended up being “a lot of slop and mush,” it was still a proud moment for the city.
“The real time capsule is all of you who came here today,” said Allman to the crowd, adding later, “Your life is better enriched if you study your past.”