Photo reveals hidden history in conservation center’s walls
On a recent warm summer day, employees at Sierra Conservation Center gathered to crack open a time capsule that had been sealed for 50 years.
Jerry Hathcoat, with Plant Operations, used a drill and cutters to open the sealed metal box.
“This is so exciting,” said Warden Heidi Lackner. “It took some work to get it out of the wall.”
Slowly, Warden Lackner reached inside the jagged edges to remove items placed there during the 1965 dedication.
She and Chief Deputy Warden Joel Martinez described the items to the dozens of employees.
What was inside?
- Signed copies of legislation related to the conservation camps
- Department biennial report
- Newspapers with stories about the planned opening of the facility
- A tube of microfilm of the original architectural plans.
- A list of all the activation staff and an invitation to the 1965 dedication ceremony
- A list of the first citizens’ advisory council members.
“This is so cool,” Warden Lackner said. “These are original signatures on this Senate Bill.”
Uncovering a forgotten time capsule
The time capsule may have remained hidden in the wall of SCC if the wife of the first superintendent hadn’t dropped off a box of mementos her husband had squirreled away.
“Zelpha Comstock, the wife of Howard Comstock who was our first warden, gave me some items she had in her attic,” recalled Lt. Robert Kelsey, SCC’s Administrative Assistant and Public Information Officer. “While looking through some old slides, I saw what appeared to be a time capsule being filled with items.”
He took the slide to Warden Lackner and Office Technician Darla Haggerty.
“They saw the 1965 plate in front of the institution was removed and there was a hole in the wall,” Kelsey said.
In February, they extracted the solidly embedded metal box.
“We had Plant Operations come up,” said Lt. Kelsey. “They thought they would remove screws, but it was mortared into the wall.”
Hathcoat and Warden Lackner spent an hour chipping away at the wall.
“They alternated hitting it with a sledge hammer,” Lt. Kelsey said. “It was quite the show.”
History informs future generations
The items inside the 1965 capsule, as well as historic photos, will be displayed at the institution.
“We need to share our story,” said Warden Lackner. “We are very proud to work here. … When planning for our 50-year re-dedication, we had to dig through boxes to find photos. They should be on display.”
Later this year, they plan to tuck away a new time capsule during a re-dedication ceremony in the same spot they found the original.
“The build the time capsule, the welding department is using stainless steel from an older washing machine,” said Lt. Kelsey. “Once it’s done, our auto body shop will be putting a vinyl wrap on it with the date and SCC logo.”
Warden Lackner said they plan to add various items to the box, including coins, but things are still in the planning stage.
“What we put in the capsule,” she said, “will be for our future correctional partners.”
Story and photos by Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Learn more about the history of conservation camps.