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Special Collections Assists in Time Capsule Opening
by Tracy Harter


Sometimes it pays to have connections.  In this case, the connection was Mark Purington, Senior Cataloger in Technical Services, who was serving as Marshal of the Rockingham Union Lodge #27, A.F. & A.M.  In mid-November, 2006, Mark asked Preservation Specialist Julia Merkel and Special Collections Librarian Tracy Harter if they would like to represent Special Collections during the opening of the Lodge’s time capsule, which was to be recovered from the cornerstone of the Masonic Temple at 114 S. Main Street in Harrisonburg in honor of the building’s centennial celebration.  Julia was able to attend, as well as Glen Huffman, Database Cataloger in Technical Services.

Mark Purington holding broadside from Time Capsule
Mark Purlington holding the 1860 Broadside.

On November 28, when the capsule was opened, the folks who had gathered were well rewarded, as contents that had been housed in the 8”x10”x6” copper-plated box for over one hundred years were in remarkably good condition.  In the archival/preservation world, this was a rare treat!  Among the items in the capsule were coins and currency, handwritten and printed documents and pamphlets, several folded 1860 and 1905 Harrisonburg newspapers, and a 20” x 37” broadside advertising the laying of the 1860 cornerstone.  The 1860 issues of the Virginia Citizen and the Valley Democrat, and the 1905 issues of Spirit of the Valley and the Harrisonburg Free Press may be the only issues in existence for those dates.  However, the broadside quickly became the “centerpiece” of the collection.  Although it had been folded repeatedly to fit into the small time capsule, it was well preserved, easy to read, and had a wealth of information of local interest.


The next question to be answered was what to do with the items?  Mark, as a representative of the Lodge, had the authority to make arrangements with Special Collections to temporarily house the collection during its centennial celebrations and until the items could be re-interred into a new time capsule.  In return for processing and inventorying the collection, the Lodge agreed to allow SC staff to make photocopies of the contents and digital photographs of selected items and donated those surrogates to Carrier Library’s Special Collections.  Julia took charge of preservation issues related to the original contents, including flattening, cleaning, photocopying and photographing items.  Tracy arranged and described both the original materials for the Lodge and the photocopied items for Special Collections, researched the history of the Lodge, and compiled the finding aid that serves as a guide to the collection.


Time Capsule materials on display in library
Time capsule materials on display in Carrier Library, February 2, 2007.

In the nearly two months that the original materials have been housed in Special Collections, they have been quite popular, and as a result, Mark has served as “de facto” curator and point-of-contact for the original materials.  The collection was first displayed at a public banquet on December 4.  Later that month, a reporter from the Daily News Record came to view the materials and ask questions for a story published on December 26.  In January 2007, Mark contacted Craig Baugher, Graphic Designer in CIT to have the broadside scanned and pieced to create a high-quality digital facsimile, which has been presented to Special Collections and will be framed and displayed later this spring.  Most recently, Mark has graciously arranged to display the original materials for the university on Friday Feb. 2, from 12:30 to 2:30 in Room 109, Carrier Library, which may be their last “exhibit” here in Carrier Library.  Thank you, Mark, for taking the initiative to make the original contents of the Masonic cornerstone available to the public and for helping to ensure future generations of researchers access to the facsimiles in Carrier Library’s Special Collections.


Mark Purington adds: “On behalf of the officers and membership of Rockingham Union Lodge I just want to extend our sincere thanks to Tracy, Julia, and Craig for their enthusiastic work on this project. All three have been extremely generous and flexible with their time and expertise.”



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