On Nov. 19, 1914, a handful of Nogales firefighters sent a small lead box full of letters, postcards and other tokens of the era, on a more than 100-year journey through time.
After a day of searching behind the Pimeria Alta Museum’s cornerstone, which is where the time capsule was stowed, that journey ended Friday morning.
Wearing white gloves and a boyish smile, volunteer firefighter and City Councilman Cesar Parada carefully pulled the box out of its concrete resting spot after municipal employees carefully drilled it loose. The metal container was roughly the size of a hardback book, and weighed about the same in Parada’s estimation. The small group of museum diehards and history buffs surrounding him looked on in wonder.
Raising it up to get a look underneath, Parada added a little humor to the buoyant scene.
“Made in China?” he exclaimed incredulously.
After the first wave of excitement wore off, a more practical concern quickly became clear: the box was completely sealed shut and there was no obvious way to open it.
“We can just use a can opener,” Parada offered with a laugh.
According to museum curator Teresa Leal, getting the box open without further damaging its contents will take no small amount of care. Before proceeding, Leal said she intended to get advice from the Arizona Historical Society
“The box is hermetically sealed which means that there is a health risk of using a method that can damage the box or its contents,” Leal said, adding that “there are plenty of technical measures, but we must do it right.”
The museum hopes to have the box open and its contents out within the next several weeks. The state of the contents, however, is up in the air, as the acids likely present in the box’s documents can do serious damage over time.
While visual confirmation was impossible Friday, it is fairly well known what’s inside the box, Leal said. Among the items placed by Fire Chief Bracey Curtis and other firefighters are clippings from the Nov. 18 Tucson Citizen and Nogales Daily Herald; letters; fire department badges and other memorabilia, as well as a photo of the firefighters themselves.
The building that now houses the museum was originally built as the town hall and fire station. The centennial of the building’s completion is coming up on Feb. 15.
Though the box was small and the likely items inside simple, everyone interviewed at the museum Friday morning said the moment was significant for Nogales.
“You get that electric feeling,” Parada said as he held the box.
Leal said that time capsules have a special ability to communicate across decades.
“They can be used to bridge the time element and teach people about celebrating the passage of time,” she said. “In this fast society where everything happens so quickly, it’s good to have something from 100 years ago catch up with us. Time capsules have always had that ability to teach us about the intrinsic value of time.”
In an effort to pay forward the actions of the Nogales firefighters more than a century ago, the Pimeria Alta Museum intends to put together its own capsule in the coming months, said board president Suzanne “Susie Sainz.”
Pimeria Historical Society members can pay a $100 annual membership to add a small part to the capsule, which will be placed in the same cornerstone site in November 2015, according to Leal.
“History repeats itself,” Leal said of the effort to put in a new capsule.