EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The capsule was built to stand the test of time.
Shore Mall, however, was not.
With local historians in tow last month, demolition crews started the work of unearthing the time capsule buried nearly 39 years ago under a section of the mall now slated for demolition. But their drills were no match to its 4-inch-thick concrete encasement.
“They got the cover off, but the huge drill they used to get it out broke off,” said Atlantic County historian June Sheridan, who attended the unpublicized ceremony and went home with just the plaque.
Crews reconvened more than a week later with even less fanfare but heavier equipment. Sheridan, who didn’t attend the second attempt, said even those efforts proved fruitless.
This time, there would be no reprieve.
“They could never get the doggone time capsule out, so instead they got the top off and gave the contents to the historical society,” she said. “It was intended to last for 100 years, believe me.”
The time capsule, or at least its contents, will soon be the last tangible remains of a 247,000-square-foot section of Shore Mall being torn down after decades of decline. The capsule items are now on display at the Greate Egg Harbour Township Historical Society, along with other artifacts from the mall.
Inside the capsule were an assortment of clothes from Steinbach’s department store, a reel-to-reel video, copies of Vogue and several local newspapers and information about local government and history. The contents were preserved beneath a lead sheath and a water-treated cardboard and plywood box.
Dawn Cooper, the mall’s marketing and promotions director, said the mall will also donate 40 years of photos and newspaper clippings for the society to include in its exhibit.
As for the capsule, she said the solid concrete encasement made unearthing it “quite a process.” A larger event had been considered, but construction made that unfeasible.
“Construction closed in on us a little faster than we anticipated, and we had to come up with a back-up plan pretty quickly.”
Cooper declined to comment on the demolition timetable.
Lynn Wood, another township historian, said the original plan was to keep as much of the contents as possible unopened until March 20, 2074.
But, like the people who first buried them, those plans, too, faced the hard light of reality. Just as shopping malls sometimes face the wrecking ball, a time capsule once opened is hard to keep sealed.
“Someone said, if we’re going to wait until 2074, it might be too late for the reel-to-reel tapes,” she said. “They’ll probably fall apart and, by then, we won’t have the equipment to have reel-to-reel put on a DVD.”
With the equipment available in 2013, Wood said, the society plans to convert the old analog video to digital to preserve it for future generations.
Wood said it’s important to hold onto these pieces of history, because the mall was big piece of the township’s history.
“Everyone shopped at the Shore Mall,” she said. “I myself remember seeing the Steinbach’s Budweiser horses when I was a kid. I even have a film of it an elderly gentleman took of those horses.”
When it was opened in 1968, the mall was the first of its kind in the area and marked a major boost to the local economy. That continued until the 1980s, when competition from Hamilton Mall and a stagnating economy led to a slow decline.
The time capsule’s burial in 1974, upon the opening of Steinbach’s department store, was met with more fanfare than the excavation.
Robert Ford, The Press’ publisher at the time, summed up the optimism of the crowd that watched the capsule’s burial.
“When this time capsule is opened (in 2074), it will prove that all who are participating here today had faith in what was ahead,” he said. “The act of opening the time capsule will prove that our faith was not misplaced.”
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