There was a slight twang as the aged copper lid was pried back, and 40-year-old coins jangled in the bottom of the metallic document box. A little dusty and worn by the ages, packed with admission pamphlets, class catalogs and registers of the state and university, pieces of Ole Miss history that have been secretly tucked away behind the cornerstone of the Student Union were coming to light for the first time.
Bradley Baker, director of the Student Union, said rumors of the capsule had circulated for years, but eventually a tip from an alum confirmed the box’s existence for him.
“I received an email back in the early spring from a gentleman who did not necessarily know what was in it but knew that they had placed it,” Baker said. “The news article that he sent me was from the Vicksburg Post from way back when, and it referenced the Frank Everett quote ‘One never graduates from Ole Miss,’ and that was the one thing that we knew was in there.”
The box contained the full-length speech given by Everett including those iconic words that once hung on the landing of the staircase below Baker’s fourth-floor office in the Union.
He said the box was discovered when contractors began to remove the cornerstone, behind where the Union’s bike rack was.
“It was damaged a little bit when we were taking the forklift through; we punctured it,” he said, explaining the crumpled copper around the lid of the container.
Though the official opening date for the Student Union was listed as April 29, 1976, the capsule and cornerstone were finally placed in a ceremony in 1978. Not unlike the current Union project, opening dates were less solid than the concrete being poured on the 1970s site.
The cornerstone and capsule were placed Nov. 11, 1978, and the capsule contained artifacts reflecting that brisk fall morning. It held a program of the day’s events, copies of remarks given by ASB President Rick Outzen, Chancellor Porter Fortune and Dean Franklin Moak as well as a list of the hymns sung in the ceremony. These were the same hymns sung in 1846 at the cornerstone ceremony for the Lyceum.
Prior to its unveiling to The Daily Mississippian, only Baker, Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc and Assistant Vice-Chancellor Melinda Sutton Noss had seen the capsule and its contents.
Their primary concern is the preservation of the artifacts exposed to the elements after to the puncture. They are hoping to turn over the capsule to the University Museum or Archives and Special Collections for temporary display before returning it to its resting place. The trio was mostly worried about loose-leaf documents in the box which listed Union program council members, trustees and ASB presidents up to 1978 and included minutes from the committee on Union construction in 1953.
Baker said when the date for laying the cornerstone nears, he will work with students to decide what to place in the time capsule before its second burial.
“Things that were important back then may not be as important now,” Baker said. “I think you could have a lot of fun, especially because back then there wasn’t social media, so if it’s having suggestions or recommendations, it will be really cool to play with.”
Baker said he hopes to recreate the snapshot of campus provided in the original capsule that included student media publications such as the former university magazine, Ole Miss Today, a copy of The Daily Mississippian from
, and the 1977-1978 University of Mississippi Yearbook, the first of the annuals to include photos on its cover. Edited by Darden North, the book features a photo of the reigning Miss University and Miss Mississippi from that year, Mary Haskell (née Donnelly).
The Union was as new to campus as Haskell when she came from Beaumont, Texas, to Deaton Hall to begin her time at the university.
“You all look at the Union as somewhat dated,” Haskell said. “But we all felt like it was cutting-edge. It was probably the newest, nicest building on campus.”
She said at the time the capsule was placed, campus life was much more centric, noting that students of all grade levels lived on campus.
“You knew what dorm everybody was in,” she said. “You knew where to rendezvouz, whether it was at the Union or the Grove.”
A music major with classes across campus, Haskell estimated she spent 80 percent of her time near the Union, stopping for food, being involved on campus and socializing.
Rose Jackson Flenorl, who came to the university as a freshman in 1976, was similarly plugged in on campus the year of the capsule. Flenorl recalled attending meetings in Weir Hall the year before the Union was fully functional. As a member of the Association of Women Students, of which she would be elected president of her senior year, Sigma Delta Chi, The Daily Mississippian and countless others, she was a fixture in the Union.
“What I loved about the Student Union was the opportunity for fellowship with my friends,” Flenorl said. “It was a really nice opportunity between classes to see people and say hello, and then we would come back in the afternoons for meetings. On the weekends, the Union ballroom was where a lot of dances were held.”
Some of her fondest memories of those years at Ole Miss included the election of “Gentle” Ben Williams as the first African-American Colonel Reb (now known as Mr. Ole Miss) and the many leadership opportunities with which the organizations at the university provided her.
She said she feels that her years working and planning in the Union prepared for her for organizing major events in her first job at IBM.
If she could have chosen what to put in the time capsule that year, she said she would have put in a symbol of a heart.
“When I think about the heart, I think about love, so I would always remember the love that we have for Ole Miss and to continue that love for generations to come.”