By MAGGIE MENDERSKIHerald-Whig Staff Writer
WYACONDA, Mo. -- It took a sledgehammer to bust open 125 years of memories tucked into a burial vault in Wyaconda's Centennial Park.
The centennial time capsule had reached its opening date. Twenty-five years ago, more than 1,000 residents and former residents gathered to celebrate the birth of the now dwindling railroad town, which today has less than 230 people.
Mary Beth St. Clair, time capsule chairman, said 25 years ago her community packed the vault with old photographs, school yearbooks, clothing and memorabilia from past and then-present businesses.
"Wyaconda, was at one time, a very large railroad town," St. Clair said. "The time capsule will capture and preserve town, and it's people and it's history, for the children of this day."
St. Clair displayed the contents at Wyaconda's 125th birthday celebration over the weekend. About 100 people gathered for a parade, fish fry, and a prince and princess contest.
"There were some people who had been back that hadn't been back in quite awhile," said festival chairman Mary Dieterich.
St. Clair and four other volunteers unearthed the time capsule from Centennial Park a week before the celebration. With time, the vault had shifted beneath the ground. It took six hours, cables and a backhoe to pull it up and then a mallet to break into it.
"There aren't that many time capsules around (this area), but when you hear the stories you hear that they don't always come through intact," St. Clair said.
Moisture had leaked into the vault, but besides dampness, the items remained mostly intact. Photos, clothing and other small mementos from businesses dried out in St. Clair's garage before the time capsule ceremony.
Even the vault that Gerth Funeral Service had donated for the time capsule became a piece of town history. The funeral home closed its Wyaconda location at the end of 2012. The business still operates 10 miles away, in Memphis.
When the Gerth family learned the seal on the original vault had broken, they donated a new vault so the community could plant a new time capsule.
"There's a lot of heart in some of these small towns around here," St. Clair said.
In the last 25 years, Wyaconda closed its elementary school. Dieterich said gathering people since has been difficult. A group of volunteers spent three months planning this celebration.
"Since the schools closed it's been hard to come together and do things," Dieterich said. "We use to do everything around the schools and now we have to make an extra effort."
Mary Beth St. Clair will continue to collect items for the new time capsule. Anyone interested in donating a slice of Wyaconda history or a representation of modern life should contact her at the event's Facebook page at facebook.com/wyacondafallfestival