Everything’s pretty much set for the Gatesburg Lutheran Church’s big centennial celebration — except for one thing.
Nobody knows what’s in the time vault.
One cornerstone of the brick church contains the vault, planted there in 1913, as the inscribed date outside confirms. That was the year the congregation, formed in 1816, dedicated its third church after two previous wooden ones.
A century later, anticipation builds. What will this coming Saturday reveal when the cornerstone, as part of the celebration, is pulled out and opened?
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“You hear rumors about this or that,” said Sue Campbell, a lifetime member who grew up two doors from the church and now lives a few miles away in Baileyville. “Nobody knows for sure.”
A few stories have been passed down. Some say there’s a 1913 buffalo nickel, maybe a rare version, placed by a generous girl. Some predict a Bible.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess what church members chose 100 years ago to represent their place of worship back when a dirt road ran through Gatesburg and the farming village had its own school and stores.
No records exist so it’s pure speculation. Documents? Newspapers? Clothing? Photographs? Personal items of Henry Gates, the village founder buried in the church cemetery?
Just what has rested in a concrete crypt since a year before World War I erupted?
“That’s the $64,000 question,” said Gatesburg resident Connie Moore, who, like her sister-in-law Campbell, was raised in the church.
Whatever sees daylight Saturday likely will fall many coins short of the sum made famous by a 1950s game show expression. But riches aren’t the point.
For congregation members such as Campbell and Moore — both of whom were baptized, confirmed and married in the church — even humble contents will be beyond worth. Any relics will help tell the tale of Gatesburg’s cornerstone, a stained glass sentinel witness to generations of joy and sorrow.
“This building represents a lot,” Moore said. “It’s family, home, history.”
Noted Campbell: “It’s stayed our little country church.”
Back in 1913, after a furnace fire doomed the second church, it took 45,000 bricks shipped by rail from Mill Hall to rebuild in three pigs fashion. From the station in Marengo, horse-drawn wagons hauled the bricks to Gatesburg.
A festive afternoon and evening, open to the public, will celebrate the achievement.
At 3 p.m., an hour after the opening service, the church bell will chime 100 times — regardless of whether enough ringers make a small donation for the privilege.
“We’re going to ring it 100 times even if I have to do it myself,” said Ernie Harpster, of Gatesburg, the church historian and head of the centennial anniversary committee.
Around the same time, David Clyde Siphron, a Californian with family roots in the church and village, will talk about the church’s history.
As the sun begins to sink, starting at about 5:30 p.m., out will come the covered dishes and salads for a free potluck supper. The church is providing hot dogs, corn and drinks. The Tuesday Night Jammers, a local group, will supply the entertainment.
Throughout the party, commemorative mugs, jars and plates from Halfmoon Pottery will be on sale as a fundraiser for the church. Capping the all-American day, at 7:30 p.m, the Pine Grove Mills VFW Honor Guard will pay tribute to Gatesburg’s veterans at a memorial across the road from the church.
Harpster said the annual picnic has become a popular event since its debut in 2009 for the community’s bicentennial bash.
“For a lot of people, that will probably be as much of a draw as the time capsule,” he said.
But before anybody digs into a heaping plate, church leaders will chip away at concrete. Starting at 4 p.m., the vault’s mysteries will finally come to light.
Eventually, the contents — whatever they are — will go into a permanent display. But beforehand, witnesses to this historic moment will be invited to sign a guest book to be placed back in the vault along with, space permitting, appropriate contemporary items for another century.
As with rural churches elsewhere, Gatesburg’s congregation grows older and smaller with each passing year. But parishioners like to imagine their descendants standing around in 2113 marveling at the precious and maybe puzzling artifacts before them.
“We hope the church is here,” Campbell said. “What we’ve preserved and kept going, they’ll keep going.”