The philosopher George Santayana famously said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. In Medway, such forgetfulness can turn the front lawn of Town Hall into a dug-up mess.
A time capsule buried in 1963 has gone missing, and town officials celebrating Medway’s 300th birthday this year have not been able to find it. There have been ground-penetrating radar, search grids, hand-dug holes, even backhoes.
Still, the hunt over the last two weeks has come up empty, despite the town’s efforts to plumb the admittedly hazy memories of residents who saw the capsule placed in the ground 50 years ago.
“We didn’t find anything. No bodies, nothing,” said a chuckling John Foresto, a selectman and cochairman of the Medway tricentennial committee.
The dead end has puzzled town officials, whose search has focused on a small patch of lawn to the left of a concrete walkway into Town Hall.
That’s where Mickey Rojee, a captain in the volunteer Fire Department a half-century ago, recalled the capsule had been interred. “I helped them dig in the spot where I thought it was,” said Rojee, a 76-year-old lifelong resident of Medway.
The elusive capsule is believed to hold a potpourri of snippets from a simpler time when this quiet town of 12,700 people was even quieter: newspaper clippings, commemorative buttons, some offerings from the ladies.
The specific contents are anyone’s guess. “God only knows what’s in there,” Rojee said.
Eyewitnesses such as Rojee were thought to be the best hope of finding the buried treasure. No photos from the 1963 ceremony could be found that showed the site. No one appears to have documented the spot.
So far, these first-person recollections have resulted only in a lot of digging, a lot of sweat, and nothing to show except a few piles of dirt that now need landscaping.
When asked why the site was never recorded or photographed, Foresto laughed. “It was 50 years ago in Medway, come on,” the selectman said.
Another eyewitness, Joanne Beksha, recalled that her late father seemed to foresee this 21st century predicament. “We were all up there as kids, and he told me, ‘Just remember where this is because I don’t think I’m going to be around then,’ ” Beksha said.
The 250th celebration was wonderfully memorable, Beksha said, in this town about 30 miles west of Boston. She was a 16-year-old junior in high school, where the girls wore special dresses for the anniversary. And her father was one of many men in town who grew beards to mark the year, a group called the Brothers of the Brush.
Townspeople who flouted the trend and continued to shave, she recalled, were subject to the whims of a “kangaroo court” whose punishments included time in mock stockades in front of Town Hall.
“It was a great celebration,” Beksha said. “It’s the way the town is. They’re very good about all the different anniversaries.”
Beksha’s memory of the capsule site closely tracks Rojee’s, which makes the search that much more perplexing for town officials. “You almost become obsessed with this,” said Tom Holder, director of public services. “You’re thinking the next shovel will turn up something, but you’re disappointed time and time again.”
To avoid extensive digging, Holder initially hired a firm to locate the capsule through ground-penetrating radar. After the company found “anomalies” under the surface, digging by hand ensued. Still, nothing.
Frustrated, Holder summoned the backhoe from his department, which handles the town’s public works, to dig 3 feet down in a 10-by-10-foot plot. “We kind of destroyed the front yard, so I thought, what’s the harm now?” Holder said. “It looks pretty poor out there.”
Holder has nearly run out of options. “If I had any other solid information, I’m more than happy to pursue this,” Holder said. “But at this point, I don’t.”
Perhaps, he speculated, the capsule was destroyed inadvertently during work at Town Hall since 1963. A new sidewalk has been built, Holder said, and a monument has been placed on the lawn.
Maybe, he said, the time capsule ended up in the back of a dump truck.
Foresto, the cochairman of the tricentennial committee, said he would like to make another attempt.
“It’s part of history. These people put it in the ground and expected us to take a look at it,” Foresto said. “It’s important to go back and think about how the town got here, why it’s here, and its values.”
If the capsule is not found this year, the odds are good that its snatches of 1960s memory will remain buried.
“If we don’t find it,” Holder said, “I don’t think anybody else will look for it.”
But if they discover the capsule, Foresto said, town officials could display its contents Aug. 10 during a band concert and fireworks.
If not, undeterred, Medway will forge ahead and bury another capsule to mark the town’s 300th birthday for future generations.
In 2063, however, town officials will not be forced to dig randomly on the Town Hall lawn again. The new location, Foresto said, “won’t be a secret.”