Aug. 18, 1957 was a big day for North Riverside Community Presbyterian Church. Since 1952, the nascent congregation of about 230 had been worshipping over at Komarek School, at first in the basement and then, by 1953, in the newly built gymnasium.
By late summer 1957, however, the bones of a new church were visible at the northwest corner of 8th Avenue and 24th Street. Around 4 p.m. on Aug. 18 of that year, the Rev. John C. Talbot, the church’s 28-year-old pastor, stepped up to the microphone – the new church’s dramatic A-frame timbers jutting skyward behind him — to lead a prayer prior to pretending to seal a time capsule, encased in copper, behind the cornerstone bearing the year of the church’s construction.
More than 100 members of the congregation sat on folding chairs arranged in rows along 8th Avenue. It was pretty big news for the small suburban church, and reports announcing the cornerstone laying ceremony were published in the days preceding it in Chicago’s American, Chicago Daily News, Chicago Tribune, the Proviso Herald, the Suburban Life and a publication called the North Riverside Star, published by Riverside News.
The time capsule lay sealed behind that cornerstone for the next 63 years, unremembered, except by Steve Thinnes, who grew up in the house across the alley from the church.
Thinnes’ father, Arnold, was the maintenance man for Community Presbyterian Church from 1964 to 2004 and young Steve, now 57 years old, said he would visit his dad at work on Saturdays and wander through the church.
One day as a kid he stumbled across photos from the cornerstone laying ceremony. Arnold Thinnes, who still lives in the home he bought in 1958, told his son that the plan had been for the time capsule to be opened in 2057.
Those old photos were on Steve’s mind recently when he was paying a visit to his 85-year-old father, and he spotted a North Riverside public works employee outside the church.
“I wanted to be sure to let them know about the time capsule and get into that wall before they tore it down,” Thinnes said.
Earlier this month, a public works crew retrieved the briefcase-size copper box, along with its mid-20th century artifacts, preserved in pretty much mint condition.
It’s clear the time capsule was sealed in place sometime after the Aug. 18 ceremony, since the copper box included an envelope containing roughly two dozen black-and-white photos, a bit curled at the edges now, from the event.
One of the photos shows Talbot placing the capsule in its designated spot behind the church’s façade. A label on the back of the photos appears to indicate they were taken by Kenneth Luehr, who lived over on 3rd Avenue.
Apart from those photos, there are others of a groundbreaking ceremony that took place in March 1957, along with photos of architects’ renderings of the exterior and interior of the church.
Appropriately, there is a three-ring binder containing a detailed history of the church along with short descriptions of groups like the Women’s Association, choirs and youth fellowship.
There’s even an original, signed copy of the congregation’s 1954 contract with its first pastor, the then 25-year-old recent seminary graduate, John C. Talbot, who would be paid $3,900 annually to lead the flock.
In addition to copies of newspapers from the week of the cornerstone ceremony, the congregation also included a brand new Bible, still in its box, and a hymnal. The Women’s Association made sure to include a copy of its cookbook, and the church also included a couple of purely secular artifacts – an August 1957 summer sale catalog from Sears and a 45 rpm record of “Love Letters in the Sand” backed with “Bernardine” by pop star Pat Boone.
“Love Letters in the Sand” was a huge hit for Boone that summer, reaching the top of the Billboard chart in June and early July. At the time of the cornerstone ceremony, the record had slipped from the top spot, but it’s understandable, really, why the church elders might have looked down on placing the No. 1 hit of Aug. 18 in the time capsule.
It was “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” by that swivel-hipped corrupter of church-going suburban teens, Elvis Presley, who had knocked Boone’s recording off the top of the chart five weeks earlier.