Some time capsules are meant to be opened in 50 or 100 years while others remain locked and forgotten in cornerstones until a serendipitous moment in history.
Stonemason Tom Stander had such a moment while restoring the limestone on one of four tall buttresses at the Weeping Water Public Library.
"I stuck a flat bar to pry up a stone and I heard metal against metal," Stander said. "It was really surreal. Automatically, I thought 'water line.'"
What he found on Feb. 16 was not a water line or electrical box, but a time capsule for the Congregational-United Church of Christ. The library was the latest tenant of the limestone building built in 1870 for $2,600.
"The history is absolutely unbelievable," said Annette Erhart, a trustee of the present-day First Congregational United Church of Christ. "This is the oldest Congregational church in Nebraska."
Records show the time capsule contains the history of the church, the roll of members, subscription list, copies of the Home Mission Herald and the Plattsmouth Herald, a leather-bound Holy Bible, and a hymn book.
Stander, who had been restoring the building since July, contacted a senior church trustee. Meanwhile, he lifted the lid of the shoe-box-sized container about two inches and peeked inside.
"I saw the corner of the Holy Bible and about three-quarters of it had disintegrated," Stander said. "I also saw a red book and some paper shavings."
Within an hour of his discovery, Erhart and other church trustees gathered at the library and also snuck a peek into the cornerstone which was partially buried in the ground. Erhart said they later contacted the Nebraska State Historical Society to find out how to handle the fragile artifacts but did not have a lot of success.
Deborah Long, head of the objects conservation lab at the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center in Omaha, said it is difficult to preserve artifacts such as books and newspapers in time capsules.
"Generally the big problem with time capsules is they are often susceptible to water seepage," she said. "They get wet, and things rot."
Erhart said church members plan to salvage what they can of the contents, preserve them if possible and place them in a new time capsule to go into the cornerstone.
"A company in Omaha offered to build a time capsule out of stainless steel," she said.
Some new artifacts will join the old ones: a roll call of 226 graduates from Weeping Water Academy, U.S. coins from 2010, a book on the history of the church and photographs.
The Weeping Water Academy was in the church building from 1885 to 1914. The public library has occupied it since 1917. Erhart said the church leases it to the city for $1 for five years.
There's also one more item that will go inside.
Stander has carved a small cross from limestone sheered off of one of the 13-foot high buttresses. He's mounted the cross on a piece of black granite.
Erhart will contribute something, too, but it won't go inside the new time capsule.
She plans to bake a cake replica of the 140-year-old church to serve guests who come to a special service on Sunday commemorating the opening of the time capsule.
"We're going to have a lot of history displays of the building," Erhart said. "It's really done some pretty miraculous things over the years."
Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 473-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.