Opening history: Volunteers unseal time capsule

Published 9:19 am Friday, August 26, 2016

Nearly a century after a copper box was sealed shut and set inside the YWCA’s cornerstone, the time capsule was chiseled open Thursday.

Though Will Branch and his brother, Ovett Branch, had to use a jackhammer, screwdrivers, a hammer and a chisel to do it, eventually 21st century determination forced open a 20th century box that was shut sometime in November 1916.

Inside, the men found water, likely a result of recent rain that had crept in through the slate that had sealed the top of the cornerstone. After the water was drained and the box opened, the men found paperwork itemizing the box’s contents, some coins, postcards of various places in Bogalusa and a list of facts about the city. All the contents were taken to the city’s museum on F Street to dry out.

Earlier this year, Will Branch and a team of workers took apart the old YWCA board by board, pipe by pipe and carted off the bones of the building to be sold later, somewhere else, for use in boutique lofts and homes.

On Thursday, the building was gone and in its place was left a barren patch of whiteish dirt and, near a small tree, the cornerstone.

When the cornerstone was placed, on Nov. 17, 1916, the Bogalusa American newspaper reported a more grandiose affair. The city was just 10 years old then, and the cornerstone was meant to support the city’s first athletic and recreation center.

Although the cornerstone was laid on a Friday, its occasion was treated as a small holiday, resulting in time off for workers and considerable ceremony.

“Following … the ancient custom, a cornerstone was laid yesterday afternoon in the presence of a tremendous throng composed of every class, vocation and race inhabiting the city of Bogalusa. But the modern spirit in which the ceremony was conducted … indicated that the sentiment was Christian,” the paper reported.

Sandy Bloom, a member of the museum’s board, pointed out that the YWCA was a big deal for the city.

“It was a huge contribution to the social life in Bogalusa,” she said.

The article then continued, “All places of business were represented by attendants, the employees of the lumber mill, paper plant and railroad were let off at an early hour in order to attend the ceremony; the school children forming a procession marched from their respective schools, accompanies by their teachers, and assumed places near the ceremonial stand that had been reserved for them.”

There were no school children present Thursday. Likewise, nobody from the mill showed up. There were no speeches, and no songs were sung.

This time, armed with a jackhammer and surrounded by a handful of Cassidy Park Museum volunteers, employees of Our Lady of the Angels and Rene Ragas, the hospital’s CEO, Branch and his brother had no trouble at all getting to the box. However, it was a challenge to break through the soldering that sealed the box closed.

“They did a good job,” said Will Branch, as he and his brother took whacks at the seams and sweated in the late summer sun.