HANNIBAL, Mo. -- As Hannibal Bicentennial Committee members make preparations to seal a time capsule at an Oct. 26 ceremony and then stash it away for the next 50 years, they have already made one key decision.
Unlike many other time capsules across the country, this one will not be buried underground.
The committee arrived at that decision after seeing what happened with a previous time capsule that was buried in Hannibal's Central Park on July 7, 1969, as part of the city's 150th anniversary celebration.
That particular time capsule was described as a waterproof two-ton concrete vault measuring 93 inches long, 54 inches wide and 64 inches high. It was placed four feet below the ground's surface and had an opening in the top measuring 24 inches long, 14 inches wide.
About 40 plastic-wrapped packets filled with letters, photos, newspaper clippings and various other memorabilia from the city's sesquicentennial year were carefully placed inside the vault. Then the top of the capsule was sealed and covered with four feet of dirt.
A stone marker was then placed atop the site with explicit instructions that the capsule was "not to be opened until year 2019."
However, when a team of bicentennial volunteers in early May dug into the ground with a backhoe and opened the concrete vault with great anticipation, they discovered a disaster. About two feet of water had seeped into the vault over the years and destroyed many of the treasured items stored inside.
"They thought it was a water-tight container," said Mary Lynne Richards of the Hannibal Parks and Recreation Department, who oversaw the opening because the time capsule had been buried in Hannibal's oldest public park.
Richards said Parks Department employees pumped out as much water as they could, but the damage to the waterlogged items was already done.
"Much of it was under water and completely destroyed," she said.
Most paper items, including many letters and even a scrapbook tediously crafted by a local woman a half-century earlier, had turned into mush.
"A few letters were salvaged, and we were able to find the people to whom those letters were written," Richards said.
Likewise, some water-resistant mementoes also were salvaged, including hats, jewelry, coins, record albums, glass bottles, a plastic figurine and even a small bust of Mark Twain.
Items recovered from the capsule were put on display this summer at Hannibal City Hall. Some of the best items have since been stored in a display case in the collector's office while the rest have been boxed up and put away.
Now that Hannibal's 200th birthday celebration is winding to a close, Richards is coordinating the Bicentennial Committee's effort to produce a 200th anniversary time capsule that will be stashed away for the next half-century.
She has already received many contributions for the capsule, including yearbooks and rosters of all students enrolled in every Hannibal school this year along with a copy of Steve Chou's pictorial history of Hannibal's first 200 years.
Richards also has 26 photos that were turned in by Hannibal residents who were invited to take "sandbagging selfies" during local flood fighting in May and June.
In addition, Richards invited Hannibal seventh graders to write essays on the topic of what life will be like in 2069. All of the entries will be placed in the time capsule, and the students who win the contest will get a chance to read their essays when the time capsule is closed at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at Central Park.
Richards said Smith Funeral Home has donated a container that will serve as the time capsule. She said the committee will accept items until 5 p.m. Oct. 18 for placement in the capsule.
Richards hopes area residents will write letters to family members or to other future readers telling about life in Hannibal in 2019. Letters can be dropped off at City Hall or placed in a special box at the Hannibal Arts Council's coffee booth at next weekend's Folklife Festival.
Richards said she's planning to write a letter to her children to be placed in the time capsule.
"I hope my kids will find the letter that I wrote very interesting and will hold it dear," she said. "And I hope to be sitting there with them when they read it. That's kind of our family joke."
Richards also is encouraging local businesses, clubs, sports teams, churches and other groups to submit photos and lists of their members or employees for inclusion in the time capsule.
In addition, the Bicentennial Committee plans to include some mementoes from the many activities held in Hannibal during the yearlong bicentennial celebration in 2019, such as tickets from concerts or copies of trading cards commemorating famous people born in Hannibal.
Richards said she will make a detailed inventory of everything that goes into the time capsule for future reference. The capsule will then be locked away somewhere inside City Hall with instructions that it not be opened until 2069.