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Dexter’s elusive sesquicentennial time capsule, buried in June 1974, was unearthed on Saturday, May 18th, 2024, revealing a fascinating yet eerie glimpse into the past. The capsule, a coffin donated by Hosmer Funeral Home, had been ceremoniously transported by owner Dave Hosmer in a horse-drawn hearse during the 1974 celebrations. The coffin was taken to the Dexter Area Museum on Inverness Street, where it was placed in a concrete burial vault and interred on the museum’s front lawn, marked by a small headstone, to be opened 50 years later at the town’s bicentennial celebration.

crowd gathered on lawn behind caution tape

Photo by Richard Weaver

With the time finally here to disinter the coffin for a unique peek into the 1974 worldview, the vault proved elusive. Initial probes with metal rods yielded no results around the headstone. Ground-penetrating radar was employed, and the vault was flagged. But after some digging, it wasn’t there either.

Finally, the vault was discovered exactly where it should have been—under the headstone—but deeper than anticipated. This depth turned out to be a critical problem.

two men digging up burial vault

Photo by Richard Weaver

As the crowd held its breath behind caution tape on May 18th, the 2,000-pound vault was carefully lifted from the ground. The silence was broken by a little girl perched on her father’s shoulders who innocently but darkly asked, “Is that where we’ll find the girl that went missing?” The crowd chuckled and let out a collective breath. Her mother explained that she and her husband had been joking earlier about finding Jimmy Hoffa’s body there.

When the vault cleared the ground, the watchers gasped. The concrete had degraded and cracked in one spot. Water poured out of the fracture. When the lid was lifted, eerie tendrils of stringy goo sealant waved in the breeze.

damaged burial vault

Photo by Richard Weaver

Historical Society volunteers in HAZMAT gear began the task of removing the contents. Clothing and clumps of paper were lifted high, water pouring off them, revealing that the time capsule had been soaking for some time.

Kelsy Tingley of Hosmer Muehlig offered a hypothesis. “I’m not completely certain about the exact reason for the vault’s failure, but based on what I know, I’d venture to say it was buried too deep,” Tingley said. She also noted the recently resolved drainage problems in front of the museum. “It’s possible that the combination of standing water and the weight of the soil from being buried too deeply led to the damage we observed in the lower left corner. It’s also possible that the combination of standing water and the prolonged exposure to moisture may have caused the hot seal used to secure the lid many years ago to fail.”

bags of sodden refuse

Photo by Richard Weaver

Some of the items retrieved from the time capsule included a picture book featuring local landmarks like the IGA, the Library on Baker Road, and the train station, a Dexter Leader newspaper with a picture of the carriage carrying the casket to the museum, a receipt book from a local grocery store, a mysterious key, numerous Dexter Sesquicentennial pens, a telephone book cover, and a 70s dress and shoes.

Bev Hill, a Dexter Area Historical Society Board Member, says, “Everything will be displayed at the museum and put back in the new time capsule. We will have a vault again, but we will use sealed plastic bins and plastic bags for the new items.”

sodden clothing

Photo by Richard Weaver

To celebrate Dexter’s 200th birthday, preparations for a Bicentennial time capsule are already underway. Beginning May 31st, community members can bring their contributions to the Museum on Fridays and Saturdays from 1-3 pm or June 16, 17, and 19 from 5-7 pm. The deadline for contributions is June 19th at 7 pm.

Guidelines for Donations to Dexter’s Bicentennial Time Capsule:

  • Maximum size: approximately 18 x 18 inches
  • No liquids, food, or hazardous materials (e.g., batteries, aerosols, chemicals, gases, anything flammable or corrosive)
  • Any electronic devices must have batteries removed

For more details, visit https://www.dexterhistory.org/. The new time capsule will be buried on June 21st, 2024, and won’t be opened until 2074.

man in hazmat suit displaying graphic to onlookers

Photo by Doug Marrin

woman in hazmat displaying sodden newspaper

Photo by Doug Marrin

man in hazmat suit displaying ruined book

Photo by Doug Marrin

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