An acorn, a Bible, a moose nickel, a watch fob with a picture of Woodrow Wilson, a pine burr and a copy of The Daily Herald's special Mississippi Centennial issue were among 33 items sealed in a time capsule and placed in the then-unfinished Gulfport Carnegie Library. The date was Nov. 20, 1916.
The building was one of 2,800 free public libraries credited to Andrew Carnegie, the immigrant Pennsylvania philanthropist who made his millions in the steel industry. Carnegie's own rags-to-riches saga convinced him that education and reading were the keys to getting ahead, and with that in mind, he opened his wallet for towns that proved they would maintain a library.
Gulfport officials provided proof by donating land for a building and by voting for an annual $1,000 library maintenance fee, which by 1916 standards was substantial. Carnegie then wrote a check to pay for a new library building on 24th Avenue.
"Mayor Geo. M. Foote was advised this morning that the Carnegie Corporation had made an appropriation of $10,000 for the Carnegie Library for Gulfport," the Herald announced in March, 1916. Within three months, the Carnegie Corporation had approved the design of architects Noland & Torre of New Orleans. Bids were let for the work, and in September, the building contract was awarded to C.O. Eure of Hattiesburg, who bid $7,855. A $1,087 plumbing, heating and gas contract was awarded to a local firm, Cooper-Greer of Gulfport.
Construction took about six months, and on April 3, 1917, the library officially was opened with little pomp and less circumstance. The reason for quietude on such a joyous occasion was twofold: townsfolk felt little like celebrating since six days earlier the United States had declared war on Germany, and a well-attended timecapsule ceremony had been staged five months earlier.
That Nov. 20, 1916, ceremony had taken place on a typical, Mississippi Coast fall day. A nip in the air brought out the hats and jackets, although bright sunshine staved off the chill. Several hundred citizens stood patiently as city, county and state VIPs hailed the advent of the new library and set the time capsule in place. School children in knickers and high-buttoned shoes sang patriotic airs, ministers showered prayers on the building and the people, and civic leaders espoused the wonders of reading.
That ceremony signaled yet another accomplishment for the port city, which at age 18 was fast becoming a state economic leader. In fact, one of its biggest accomplishments was reflected in the special Herald Centennial issue secreted in the time capsule. Young, upstart Gulfport had won for itself the site for Mississippi's 100th birthday party scheduled to begin Dec. 10, 1917, and to run for the next six months. To celebrate the victory, the Herald had published a special issue that touted South Mississippi from the Coast to the piney woods. It was mailed across the country to lure fair-goers and potential exhibitors.
A scroll with the names of the Centennial commissioners also was tucked into the time capsule, along with other lists of names, including city commissioners, supervisors and assorted organizations that had helped the library become reality.
Today, the capsule remains hidden somewhere inside -- or possibly outside -- the tan brick building that is now home to the Investigation Division of the Harrison County Sheriff's Department. When a new, beachfront library was built in 1966, the Carnegie Building first was used by the county Board of Education and then by the sheriff's department. The jail is conveniently located next door.
A marble tablet, which was said to have been installed the same day as the capsule, has disappeared. According to the Herald, which reported that Nov. 20, 1916, event on the front page, the tablet was inscribed with the words "Carnegie Library, erected in 1916 through the efforts of the Gulfport Library Association and the beneficence of Hon. Andrew Carnegie."
That same day, Mayor Foote accepted the library for the city and proclaimed that it would benefit greatly the moral and religious tone of the community. Civic leader and library board president M.P. Bouslog stood on the wooden platform and further stated:
"This day there is opened a new chapter in the history of Gulfport. It is not unusual for us of this city to write new chapters of the industrial and commercial growth, but today we chronicle a great achievement in civic growth, and it is possible that with the passing of the years this free public library may itself be recognized as the cornerstone in civic and social activities."
Although Gulfport was not the first Coast town to have a library, it was the first to take advantage of Carnegie's philanthropy. Earlier, the benevolent King's Daughters had maintained a small subscription library in Gulfport, but the public library was not born until 1911 when Mrs. H. A. Jones and Miss L. E. Hawkins of the Women's Literary Club lobbied for one. The Public Library Association was formed, and soon men and women who ascribed to the admonition that "knowledge is power" were members. Some of Gulfport's biggest political and civic leaders were among them: Dr. H.A. Jones, Mrs. John L. Heiss, Mrs. Newton H. Hewes, George P. Money, Mrs. D.M. Graham and Mrs. W.A. Griffith.
The mayor gave the association a room in City Hall (some old-timers recall it was under the stairwell), and donations of books and magazines came in by the hundreds. By June 1916, there were 1,701 books. The largest donation came from the King's Daughters who turned over their entire collection. The Young Ladies Study Club and the Beauvoir chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy were also large contributors.
When the books out grew the space, association members decided to take advantage of Carnegie's generosity. For their part, it took persuasion and political acumen to satisfy his land and budget requirements. Pat Harrison, popular U.S. congressman destined to become senator from South Mississippi, eulogized the philanthropist at the fall ceremony: "The spirit that prompted the people of Gulfport to work for the library was the same spirit that prompted Andrew Carnegie to give the library."
The 24th Avenue land originally was donated by Capt. Joseph T. Jones, the Pennsylvania millionaire and Gulfport co-founder who poured his own money into the making of the port city. Jones had given land to county supervisors to erect a courthouse -- which they did. The Library Association thought the left-over land was a perfect site for the proposed library, so with Jones' permission, the county donated the property. On Nov. 20, the site, complete with the spanking-new Carnegie Building, was officially turned over to the city.
All such wheelings-and-dealings already were in place by the time of the time-capsule ceremony, and a bright future lay ahead for the Gulfport Public Library, which was later moved and incorporated into a countywide system. The Carnegie Building has withstood the change, and today at age 70, it is one of the city's oldest public buildings.
"The library... donated by Andrew Carnegie, the corner stone of which was laid today, is a thoroughly modern concrete foundation and press brick front building of classic architecture," the Herald reported in 1916. "It is lighted by electricity, using the eye comfort system of lighting fixtures and heated by hot water. it is plastered throughout.
"Its ground floor will contain a very spacious lecture room, trustees, staff and club room, store room, heater room and toilet room. The first floor will be devoted entirely to the librarian's room, stack room, reading room and children's room, and this floor will be decorated in ornamental plaster and mill work. The entire cost of the building and fixtures will be $10,000. The building, when complete, will be one of the most artistic in design and complete in appointment of the Carnegie libraries in the south."
At the time of the November ceremony, the building was half completed. A wooden platform had been built to hold dignitaries in front, and Old Glory was placed as a backdrop. Classes were canceled so school children could attend the morning affair and entertain with religious and patriotic airs such as "Nearer My God to Thee" and "Red, White and Blue."
Dr. H.H. Sneed and the Rev. A.C. Ormond, both ministers, put the marble tablet in place and said the proper prayer. The Herald story indicated that the time capsule was placed behind the tablet, which apparently was also the cornerstone placed that day. A trowel for cementing it in place was donated by the Norvell Shapleigh Co. of St. Louis, Mo., and the box for the time capsule was made and donated by A. Lemasson.
Author's Note: "What has happened to that box? Its location was not revealed in the 1916 story. County officials I contacted this month were unaware of its existence. But a move is now underway to locate it, and readers will be kept informed of the progress."