ARNETT, OKLAHOMA — Offer a free lunch and a lot of people will show up regardless of the occasion, but on a Saturday afternoon in Arnett people from miles around gathered on the town square to center themselves. The old Ellis County Courthouse turned 100.
That same year, described the event MC, “Jim Thorpe won two gold medals at the Olympics. The Boston Red Sox won the World Series, and William Taft was President.”
The town won a close election to get the Ellis County seat. Builders at the time must have wanted to make sure in never moved. Arlene Hixon works at the assessor’s office and says there isn’t a soft wall in the whole place. “It never creaks or groans in the wind,” she says. “The walls are solid cement so if you hang a picture you better be sure you want it there forever.”
T.J. McNeely didn’t want to miss the big party either. He grew up in Arnett and on the spreading courthouse lawn. His grandfather was here too. R.R. McNeely had a tin shop just up the street.
When county leaders asked him to build a small, metal box for a time capsule he said yes. “His daughter,” says T.J. “She told me when I was a little kid, she said, ‘now remember your grand dad made that box that’s in the cornerstone.”
So there were still hundreds of people who waited through a long Mason ceremony to dedicate a new cornerstone. Most of them wanted to see was the box. McNeely just wanted to see the box, to make sure that what his grandfather built was still in good shape. “I thought the box would be copper,” he said, “but they tell me it’s galvanized.”
The head Mason pulled everything out, old newspapers, a few coins, some business cards. All of them came out dry as the day they were put in. “Your grandfather did very, very well,” said one of the historians handling the artifacts.
Under the big elm trees planted a century ago, the residents of Ellis County centered themselves around this solid structure, and even around an old metal box that held up beautifully, just like everything else on the square.