By Will Spencer
A hollow, hulking mass of fiberglass, its hinges creaking with the weight of being buried in time for 50 years. Within this mere shell contains the expansive, rich and intricate history of Martin, Tennessee.
The City of Martin’s Sesquicentennial Committee recently unveiled the contents of its time capsule on July 4, 2023, at the CE Weldon Building. It was exhumed from its underground resting site there, where it was placed during the Centennial Celebration in 1973. Now half a century later, the Sesquicentennial Celebration commemorates 150 years of Martin.
Alicia Pinto, a resident of Martin who has been on the Soybean Festival Planning Committee for roughly a decade, was selected for the Sesquicentennial Committee to prepare time capsule contents for public exhibition. Despite being a flight attendant, Pinto underscores that she was in the right place at the right time, and she had enough to spare for a collaborative project that covered significant intertwining threads of time itself, all evoked through items like photos.
“The time capsule dates back to 1973 when we were celebrating the centennial, so we were all dressing up in our way of thinking how people would have dressed in 1873,” she says.
Photographs from the capsule depict around a thousand citizens bustling about the Centennial Ceremony in their period-specific looks. The men sported mustaches, beards and sideburns to complement their bow ties, and the women were clad in bonnets. Despite the limited financial means of Martin and its people at the time, essentially everyone in the town became passionately involved.
The Sesquicentennial Ceremony hoped to emulate the same tight-knit celebration with people donning garb from the 1970s, and Pinto believes it was successful in producing a similar sense of unity.
“I just think it’s really important to see that we have this history, and this town means so much to a lot of people. We need to preserve that history because so many of these stories are fun and funny, and some are serious,” she says. “We’re so polarized about so many things, but everybody just came together and had fun.”
The contents of the capsule can, thus, be used to promote communal pride, and they are collectively a wide scope of tools. Of course, there are the photos and Polaroid pictures, ranging from the Centennial Celebration to leaders of women’s business groups to members of a club of young boys determined to begin shaving. Letters, brochures, handbooks and documents from local organizations, like the Fortnightly Club and Twentieth Century Club, were also abound as they encapsulate the inner workings of the era, and preserved newspapers and clippings served the same purpose.
More distinct mementos included a handful of centennial coins and pins, but the true standout may be the baseball thrown by Mayor CE Weldon at what was declared “Martin, Tennessee Day” at Busch Memorial Stadium on May 13, 1973. There’s even a directory from the Martin Church of Christ and a book from the Oak Grove Baptist Church, and a suit was discovered from a Campbell’s factory outlet of unknown origin.
“We’ve got so many things to be proud of and to just look back to see how we all came together,” Pinto says.
The capsule and its contents offer a unique opportunity for Martin citizens to explore a special intersection of time, one where the past and present collide, so they can better navigate their path toward the future. Pinto notes that the children participating in 1973 are adults today, and the children who participated this year will be adults for the bicentennial.
“Martin really is a special place, a special place to grow up,” she says.
The time capsule exhibit is currently closed to the public, but the Sesquicentennial Committee is hoping to recruit more volunteers so it will be open soon. Meanwhile, they are working on the next one to be unearthed 50 years later and honor an even deeper history of connectivity.