On May 2, 1921, members of Atascadero Masonic Lodge No. 493 stood on the steps of the City Administration Building.
One of them held up a copper cylinder about 6 inches in diameter and 10 inches tall.
From there, the Masons marched single file to a hill overlooking E.G. Lewis’ civic center. A large hotel was going to be built on the site in 1916, but five years later it became the site of Margarita Black Union High School, now Atascadero High School.
Following a formal ceremony by the Masons and a speech by Lewis, the canister was placed below the cornerstone at the base of what became the iconic clock tower where, only a few months before, workers unearthed the remains of a prehistoric whale.
That building and a gymnasium/auditorium with 750 theater seats next door was completed in December 1921. The auditorium was razed in 1973. The building that remained is known today as the “B” building, and it will be torn down sometime in the next couple years to provide space for a major revision to the high school campus.
We have known what was supposed to be in the canister since it was buried. Someone was quoted in the newspaper article at the time the capsule was put in place as saying the photographs were added to the cylinder because nobody knows how long the paper items would last.
“None of us will know until that canister is opened some time in the future,” the newspaper opined.
But last Friday morning, in another moving ceremony conducted by current members of the Masonic Lodge, we found out.
The top of the canister was cut open a few days earlier because it appeared to be sealed shut. Then it was resealed with tough black duct tape. We were all assured nobody peeked.
I can tell you firsthand you could not have removed any article in that canister and been able to put it back without somebody knowing it.
Part of the ceremony called on the Masons to remove those artifacts, which had been hiding there for the past 95 years.
Mason Lodge Treasurer Patrick Behr, wearing gloves, pulled out each item, and which was then checked against a list of what was supposed to be there. There were some audible “oohs” and “aahs” as photographs, copies of the Atascadero News, Lewis’ advertising bulletins and even coinage came out.
The photos were in pristine condition, as were the newspaper and other paper items, from a blank report card to lists of faculty members and even the names of the Masons who took part in the program.
All the items were spread out on the table for those in the audience to come up and get a touch. A member of the Atascadero Historical Society told me that the collection included photographs he had never seen.
I felt a connection with those who put that cylinder in place almost 100 years ago.
A new time capsule will be buried on the revamped campus. The historic items will be digitized by the Historical Society and eventually find their way into a permanent display, I’m told.
Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 805-466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.