Regulations take the fun out of buried treasures

August 01, 2011

As a new day dawns in Hagerstown, I think we’re all on the edge of our seats to see what they’re going to dig up next at the new/old library site. A brontosaurus? An ancient Indian grave mound? Jimmy Hoffa?

Seems as if every time they sink a backhoe, they hit treasure. Treasure being in the eye of the beholder, of course. Last week, they discovered an “undocumented underground fuel storage tank.”

Undocumented? Lord, I hope no one tries to give it in-state tuition. The 10,000-gallon tank held fuel oil for the library before it switched to natural gas, the heating source preferred by homeless winos 3-to-1.

It had been filled with concrete and abandoned decades ago, so construction workers just let it be and moved on.

Ha ha, no, that is what would happen in Anyotherstate USA, but here in Maryland (Motto: Proudly Regulating the Way You Wind Your Watch Since Lord Calvert Was a Pup), the tank and adjoining soil had to be sanitized and destroyed at a cost of more than $40,000.

Whew. Couldn’t they have just made it into a modern-art sculpture like the housing authority did with the H.L. Mills gas station cupola at its new senior towers?

And speaking of older things, this brings us to the next thing those crazy backhoe operators dug up at the library: An actual time capsule. (If they ever find one of these at The Herald-Mail, it’s going to turn out to be a mini fridge with a yogurt that expired in 1972.)

The capsule was actually discovered in April, and library poobahs have been trying to figure it out ever since. They say there is a record of one being placed, but not in the spot where this one was found. You know those time capsules; they’re always in the last place you look.

The evidence shows that it was stashed away in 1966. What do you put in a 1966 time capsule? An electric percolator, his and hers orlon Perma Prest houndstooth slacks and a six-pack of Stroh’s? They might have wanted to pick some other year.

But then things got more interesting, because the library arranged to have the time capsule zapped by hospital see-through equipment. That offers a lot more intrigue than just opening it, I guess.

And safer, too, if the time capsule has some Ghostbusters-like apparition inside, just waiting to pounce. For the record, I would root for that outcome, since time capsules have always been a bit of a letdown for me.

I mean, what can you put in one that’s going to knock off anybody’s socks 50 years from now? We already know what was around in 1966. All we need is a museum or an old Montgomery Ward catalog. “Hey, here’s a bottle of Doan’s Pills, let’s put that in the time capsule. In a hundred years, they will be astounded that we had a convenient solution for back pain.”

Anyway, the hospital gizmo showed the library time capsule contained sheaves of paper.

Well? It’s a library. What were you expecting, sporting goods? They say they will open the capsule during a ceremony sometime after Labor Day. So I guess that’s something to which we can look forward.

As long as the state of Maryland doesn’t make us destroy it.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at Tune in to the Rowland Rant at, on or on Antietam Cable’s WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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