WESTERLY — Hundreds gathered Saturday in Wilcox Park as relics, records, and souvenirs were removed from a time capsule buried deep under the ground about 50 years ago.
The good-natured crowd strained to get a look as the final screw was unfastened, allowing a glimpse into the stainless steel receptacle that was sealed with lead and packed with items including a phone book, copies of The Sun and other newspapers, locally produced mechanical items, photographs, granite samples from the Westerly Granite Co. and much more.
"I first noticed this capsule in 1969, I was 6 years old and I've been been watching that capsule ever since," said Timothy Coyle.
Coyle, whose father, Francis "Pat" Coyle, was a reporter at The Sun for more than 20 years, traveled from his home in Brockton, Mass., for the time capsule reveal, one of a year's worth of events organized by the Town of Westerly 350th Anniversary Committee established by the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce.
The capsule, which was attached to 8 inches of concrete, was unearthed Friday during an operation that took about eight hours, according to Alan Peck, the park's manager. Starting with shovels and picks, the work crew eventually needed a jackhammer and a mechanical hoe to pull the mass up out of the ground.
Saturday's event was about history and industry, along with other threads in the fabric of the community. Town Council President Christopher Duhamel recalled the search he and his wide undertook when they looked for a place to raise a family. They considered communities along the entire East Coast before they found the right place, he said.
"Westerly was unique over all the other neighborhoods we looked at ... we recognized there are great strong families in Westerly that grew up over generations. The families opened their hearts up to our new family, they welcomed us in every aspect," said Duhamel, who along with former Town Council President Diana Serra, is co-chairing the 350th Anniversary Committee.
Council member Caswell Cooke Jr., co-chair of the Anniversary Committee's time capsule subcommittee, recalled his discovery of the time capsule when he was a young boy flying a kite in the park with his mother in 1979. A Sun staffer happened to be in the park that day and took a photograph of the 5-year old Cooke, who showed Saturday's audience a news clip to prove it. He remained intrigued by the capsule.
"I told myself some day I'm going to dig that thing up," said Cooke, who acted as master of ceremonies on Saturday.
Serra said that the "passion and dedication" of the Westerly Tercentenary Committee was evidenced by its decision to pack the time capsule with "the examples of pride that they wanted to share with this community."
Chris Green, co-chair of the time capsule subcommittee, recalled growing up on Park Avenue and playing in the park. She jumped at the chance to help coordinate this year's events. "I felt compelled to be a part of the history that also seemed to be a part of the fabric of my own life for the past 50 years," she said.
Green's son, Gregory, attended the event with his friend, Giovanna Czerkiewicz. Green took photos and video. "It's amazing, all of the stuff is very cool to see," Green said.
Joseph Iacoi, a member of the Westerly High School Class of 1969, recalled his class celebrating the town's tercentenary. A policy banning facial hair was waived to allow for beards and mustaches that reflected the style of 1669, he said. He also recalled a production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" and a parade that started at the old Almacs Shopping Center on Granite Street.
"Our town, one of the most scenic in New England, is steeped in historic tradition and pride," Iacoi said
State Sen. Dennis Algiere, who was 9 years old in 1969, recalled the turbulent events of the 1960s including the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the Vietnam War.
"The community probably needed something like this in 1969 because '68 was a tough time, but overall what you have is a community that has weathered tough times and good times. The people of the community always come together and that's evident today by the people interested in what happened in 1969, and at the end of the day this is fun," Algiere said.
After the items were removed from the capsule and shown to the audience they were placed on a table set up under a tent. Westerly resident Louis Renna, who attend the event with his wife, Marsha, and son-in-law Colin Burns, studied the industrial items and said they brought back memories of his father's business and a friend who worked for the Cottrell Co., the printing press manufacturer in Pawcatuck. The Rennas' daughter, Rebecca, played in the Westerly Band, which provided musical accompaniment throughout the morning. "It's wonderful, really nice," Renna said of the event.
Cooke dedicated the day to Joseph Cugini, who served on the committee that organized the tercentenary events. The committee left seed money that was used to help pay for this year's events. Cugini died on June 15 at age of 89. His wife Betty and other family members were on hand Saturday.
A new time capsule will be buried in the park in September.