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Since ’68, Riverbank time capsule awaited reveal. Why city won’t let shocker ruin day

A plaque at the Riverbank Community Center is pictured Friday afternoon August 10, 2018. A time capsule was located at the spot but the contents are missing.
A plaque at the Riverbank Community Center is pictured Friday afternoon August 10, 2018. A time capsule was located at the spot but the contents are missing. jlee@modbee.com

As part of a celebration in 1968, the residents of Riverbank placed a time capsule in the cornerstone of their new community center, to be opened 50 years later. That date is next week, and the community is preparing for its follow-up celebration — albeit without the time capsule contents.

While planning for the Aug. 17 party — a half century to the day of the cornerstone being laid — city officials decided they should take a peek at the time capsule behind the plaque on the northwest corner of the old community center, said Rich Holmer, Historical Society treasurer and fundraising chairman.

The idea may have been to ensure no surprises on the big day, he said. There was a way to get to the time capsule from the rear, without disturbing the cornerstone plaque.

A surprise was, in fact, exactly what they got, Holmer, said.

“When they got in (from inside the building), they couldn’t really see anything,” he said. “So they pulled off the bronze plaque, and attached by a cord or something was this metal box. They pulled out the metal box, which was partially open, and there was nothing there. They were shocked.”

It brought to his mind, Holmer said, the April 1986 live television special “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults,” hosted by Geraldo Rivera, that held out the possibility of riches (or bodies) in the crime lord’s unearthed secret vault, which turned out to be largely empty.

Apparently, on one of the 18,200-plus days since the Riverbank time capsule was planted, someone got into it and made off with the contents.

It’s not known what exactly was in the capsule, though probably nothing of any real monetary value, said Holmer, Riverbank’s former city manager. There remain minutes of a council meeting in 1968 in which members discussed items to put in it, but there’s no inventory sheet he knows of. Holmer said council members at the time wrote letters to go in the capsule, and he imagines other tokens of the era — maybe 1968 coins, a Nixon-Agnew button — would have been included.

Though the cupboard is bare, next week’s party is by all means still on, Holmer said. It’s a celebration of what Riverbank was then and what it is now, and the capsule is just a tiny part of that.

“Back in 1968, it was a banner year for Riverbank,” Holmer said, including the first graduating class from Riverbank High School. “The city was only about 3,600 people at time, and the city, in cooperation with the Women’s Club and the Lions Club, was able to raise nearly $400,000 to build a community center and was in the process of building a community pool.”

Proud of its accomplishments, the community held a dedication — a huge celebration that included a dinner, dance, a mariachi band, a band that played music of the day, and the crowning of Miss Riverbank. “With a population of just 3,600, doing that meant a lot,” Holmer said.

The idea of next Friday’s celebration is to re-create the 1968 event to an extent. Attendees are encouraged to dress in attire that echos the era, he said, and a cover band will play music from the ‘60s and ‘70s. And though the artifacts from the time capsule won’t be there (unless someone comes forward with them), the Historical Society is working to gather a collection of items representative of 1968. The exhibit also will include news articles of the time, Holmer said.

Also, on each dinner table that evening will be cards asking attendees to write down things that represent 2018, which would go in a new time capsule to be opened in 2068.

The lone remaining council member from 1968, Allen Trawick, has been invited to attend, Holmer said, and 1968 Miss Riverbank Carolyn Faye Hendrix, who no longer lives in town, is planning to return for the dinner.

“We’re going to celebrate those folks who were able to raise those funds back in 1968 and the residents of Riverbank today,” Holmer said. “It’s going to be a fantastic evening.”

Tickets for the Friday, Aug. 17, event are $35, available at Riverbank City Hall. For more information, including time, call 209-863-7150.

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