An article in this weekend's Wall Street Journal notes the sad fact that most time capsules are never recovered. -Editor
One day in March 1963, as workers were building Houston’s Astrodome, politicians and business leaders gathered at the construction site.
They held a brief ceremony and placed a time capsule of mementos into a hole. Workers then covered it over and resumed construction of the 9-acre
Earlier this year, Ed Emmett, the top elected official in Houston’s Harris County, saw a photo of the event accompanying a newspaper
article. He asked his staff about it. “They all went, ‘What time capsule?’” he says.
Mr. Emmett sent in the sheriff’s bomb squad with ground-penetrating radar to find the capsule. Their hypothesis: it is likely buried
under a concrete support. But digging for it could structurally damage the dome, they say.
“Basically we don’t have any idea” where it is, Mr. Emmett says.
Many people, from small town mayors to the late Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs, have felt the need to memorialize the present by
sending a love letter to the future. But most time capsules are lost, says Paul Hudson, a 64-year-old history professor at Georgia
Perimeter College and president of the four-member International Time Capsule Society.
“People seem to forget about them as soon as they bury them,” he says. “They move on to other things.”
Even the time capsule that inspired the society’s creation—the “Crypt of Civilization” at Oglethorpe University outside Atlanta—was
itself forgotten for decades. Mr. Hudson was an Oglethorpe undergraduate in 1970 when he stumbled on the crypt’s sealed door in a basement
hallway crammed with text books and junk. It was one of the most famous time capsules in the world when it was sealed with fanfare in 1940.
It isn’t supposed to be opened until the year 8113.
“I saw this large stainless steel door and there were cobwebs on it,” says Mr. Hudson on a recent visit to the basement. “I read the
plaque and I thought, ‘What is this?’ ”
In 1990, on the 50th anniversary of the crypt, Mr. Hudson and three other men launched the society to spark interest in time capsules
and teach best practices. Many capsules are lost to poor record keeping or forgetfulness, says Mr. Hudson, who students once called “the
crypt keeper.” Others are stolen, vandalized or so poorly made they collapse into a “soggy mess” when recovered, he says.
The society estimates 9,000 of the world’s 10,000 time capsules have been lost.
“Lots of people just poop out,” says Will Jarvis, 70, author of a book on time capsules and another society co-founder.
In 1983, actors from the television show “M*A*S*H” decided to bury a medical chest full of souvenirs—dog tags, a rosary, surgical
clamps—on the Hollywood set where the show was filmed, according to Alan Alda, a star of the show. They were taking a cue from an episode
in which the characters bury a time capsule, he says.
The actors hoped the capsule would stay buried for 50 or 100 years, he says, but about a month or two later the land was sold off for an
office building. A construction worker found the chest and called to ask what to do with it. They told the man he could keep it. “And it’s
the last time I’m going to have anything to do with a time capsule,” Mr. Alda said in an email.
To read the complete article, see:
Trying to Capture a Moment, Many Lose
Track of Time (www.wsj.com/articles/trying-to-capture-a-moment-many-lose-track-of-time-1438372899)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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