As Alabama continues celebrating its bicentennial this year, Don Layman, a retired teacher from Moulton Elementary, recalls the memorable way he and fellow Lawrence County residents celebrated the United States’ Bicentennial in 1976—by burying a time capsule in front of what was then Moulton City Hall in October that year.
Layman said he headed two bicentennial projects going on that year as the state was looking for ways to celebrate along with the rest of the country.
“One, because I was a schoolteacher at the middle school at the time, and then the other one because I was just interested in Moulton,” he said.
The first idea that came to him was to plant trees on the school lawn. He said a grant allowed the school to plant several seven or eight-foot trees in front of the old Moulton Middle School.
“At the time, we had hoped that the trees we’d planted would be around another hundred years,” said Layman. “Since they tore down the middle school, those trees went with it. The trees were where the parking lot is now.”
Though the trees are gone, Layman’s second effort to mark the nation’s bicentennial remains in place 43 years later.
“A stone marker will soon be in place to designate the spot. That way, people will be reminded from time to time of what’s buried under the surface there,” The Moulton Advertiser reported on Oct. 21, 1976. “Those 50 or 75 citizens of Moulton and Lawrence County who stood outside City Hall on a chilly Saturday morning will remember. They watched the Bicentennial time capsule being lowered in the ground and covered with dirt.”
The project had begun earlier that year, Layman said. An article was placed in the newspaper to solicit items from interested participants. He said some items were brought to him and his wife, Donna, others chose to donate capsule items at the school.
Layman contacted Harvey Elliott, of the former Elliott Funeral Home, and the funeral home donated a small concrete burial vault. He said Elliott also donated the marble slab that would mark the burial site with an inscription: Centennial Capsule to be opened in 2076.
Layman and his wife began compiling lists of things they felt would be important to include in the capsule.
“We just started collecting things, and it all started trickling in a little at a time,” he said.
Textbooks, so future generations could see what was being taught in public schools that year, were included among the buried items. Postage stamps, telephone directories and coins were among the items donated.
Families who donated items also provided family histories and photographs for their descendants to find 100 years later.
Layman said the time capsule included a cassette recording from the son of Clay Harris, who once owned an auto parts store in Moulton.
“Clay Harris’ son made a recording of what life was like in ’76,” Layman recalled. “He put a lot of thought into what he said. He discussed the price of bread, milk and things like that, and he talked about popular things to do in Moulton. It was a really good historical glimpse of what Moulton was like back then.”
Layman said Harris was afraid cassette tapes would no longer be in use by 2076, and the young man even thought to include a cassette player and batteries wrapped separately.
On the day of the capsule’s interment, an album containing polaroid photos and details of the day’s event was placed in the capsule before it was sealed.
The Moulton Advertiser reported that at least 76 individuals, organizations and businesses contributed to the items that were buried. A copy of Moulton City’s budget, local business cards, pennies and bubblegum were thrown in just before the vault’s lid was closed, according to the report.
David Norwood, with WALW-FM—Moulton’s Classic Radio Station on 97.9—was there to photograph the event for the newspaper. He said he also took the opportunity to toss in his business card.
“At the time, I thought it was cool, but I didn’t really appreciate the significance then,” Norwood said. “A time capsule is an important link to the past. They are well preserved. They can include old photos, maps, even newspaper articles. They provide a snapshot of what life was like at the time it was buried. The older you get, the more we appreciate where we’ve been and what the future may hold for younger generations.”
Several dignitaries including former Mayor H.A. Alexander, Congressman-elect (at that time) Ronnie Flippo, Ray Campbell and Perry Glenn were also present the day the capsule was buried.
Layman said the dignitaries spoke on the significance of the day and dedicated the capsule before it’s ceremonial descent.
“Today we recall contributions of our past and look at changes that have taken place during the constant struggle for improvement,” Flippo announced at City Hall that day. “Where are we today? Our country has made progress in meeting human needs and wants. We should ask: what will we do in our lifetime to pass on to the next generation?”
Layman said he is pleased his grandchildren should be alive when the capsule is recovered.
“I’ve instructed them to be there,” he said. “This was one of the neatest things I’ve ever been involved in in my lifetime. It was a cool adventure.”
The capsule was buried in front of what is now Moulton Senior Center at 14220 Court Street, where the former Moulton City Hall was once located. The dedication stone can still be seen today protecting the 43-year-old vault beneath the ground’s surface.