Time in a capsule

An email arrived at the Missourinet from Arcola, Illinois a few weeks ago.

I wanted to get a message to Robert A. Priddy and tracked him down to this website. Today I found a message Bob left in a 1916 issue of the archived Arcola Record Herald newspaper. The message was written in 1961 when Bob was working there over the summer. The note said he was home for summer from University of Missouri. The message said, “The last person to gaze upon this page was I, on this day, July 13, 1961.” Just wanted to let him know I found it and left it there but added my own message for the next person to find.

Thanks, Nancy Rairden, Arcola, IL

Nancy Rairden on April 17 had opened a little time capsule I didn’t realize that I had created a long time ago. The Arcola Record-Herald is a weekly newspaper in a small town south of Champaign and about half an hour from my small home town of Sullivan.  An graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Harry Stonecipher, was the owner of the paper then and as a member of the fabled “Missouri Mafia” had hired the college kid who walked into the office one day hoping to get some experience in a newspaper office before starting his journalism classes that fall at the University of Missouri.  One of my jobs was to compile the weekly historical column—you know, the 10, 25, 50 years ago thing.  I don’t recall why I was looking at only 45 years.  Maybe we didn’t do 50.

The note left in the 1916 bound volume had been long forgotten.  But since getting Nancy’s message, I seem to recall putting the note there and wondering when the next time would be that somebody would be reading the newspaper from so long ago.  Now I know. Fifty-four years.

All I had said was that I had been there.  Time capsules are kind of like that.  “We were here,” they say to the unknown figures who will open them decades later.  That’s the basic message in all of them.


The big copper box installed in the state capitol cornerstone was removed the other day and will be opened before the centennial observance on July 3 of the cornerstone laying a century ago.

Organizers of the centennial event think they’ll draw a better crowd and the event will be better-staged if it’s held in conjunction with Independence Day activities in Jefferson City. The old things won’t be put into the new time capsule that will be placed somewhere in the Capitol, probably, not back in the cornerstone.

New stuff will be put in the new capsule and the old materials will be cared for by the state archives after being displayed for a while.  As this is written, we don’t know specifically what’s in that box. We do know there were some newspapers and a book of Missouri history and a copy of the bill authorizing the bonds for the new Capitol.  But the folks who lifted the box out of the cornerstone thought it weighed about sixty pounds, indicating there’s a lot more than those things in there.  It will be opened in a sterile state health lab in case any dangerous mold has grown inside it.

The actual cornerstone laying date was June 24, 1915, a huge event in Jefferson City. The centennial of the event is unlikely to attract the kind of crowd that gathered a century ago although it would be nice to see a good-sized gathering.

The state is asking Missourians to suggest what should go into the new time capsule, which gives rise to a discussion about why we have them. If you could put something into the new Capitol time capsule, to be found 100 years from now, what would you put in it?  If you could leave a message for your Missourian descendants to read in 2115, what would you tell them?

In one form or another, you would say to them, “I was here.  I was as alive as you are now.”  Even if it is only a note that says I was the last person to look at this page of this bound volume of old newspapers until you came along, that’s the basis for what we would put into a time capsule.

Sometimes families create their own.  A friend many years ago bought a couple of trunks, one for each of their children, and put things in them from the family’s past and the then-present future.  The trunks are to be opened in fifty or a hundred years by descendants these folks will not live to see.

Sometimes the time capsule is nothing more than a shoe box given by one generation to another to just hang onto because it has some things in it that the giver considered important to them.

Some people in Georgia in 1940 created the Crypt of Civilization.  If the wishes of the creators are carried out, it won’t be opened until 8113.  By someone.  Or some thing.  Pessimists and Optimists alike might wonder if it ever will be opened because by then mankind, or whatever mankind has become, will have fled the dead, contaminated, resource-depleted earth for a habitable planet light years away.  At the same time, the mere presence of the Crypt of Civilization makes one want to be there when it’s opened just to see what life is or what life is like in 5998 years.

What’s in it?  Microfilm.  About 800 books including several novels show everything from the way we amused ourselves to humankind’s historical record to descriptions of our industries, our medical procedures, patent documents, sound movies of great men and women, recordings (on record) of important speeches made on the radio (radio did a lot of that then—speeches, not just talk)—even what one source calls “an apparatus for teaching the English language.”  Who knows what people will be speaking in 8113?  Seeds of flowers and trees and vegetables and other plants are in there. All of this is in a room ten feet high, ten feet wide, and twenty feet long under Phoebe Hearst Hall at Ogelthorpe University in Brookhaven, Georgia.  (Phoebe Apperson Hearst was a Missouri girl who married a California miner and became one of the world’s wealthiest women.  She was a great philanthropist and the mother of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst.)

Organizers of the crypt hope it survives six millennia.  It is lined with porcelain enamel plates embedded in pitch, is sitting on bedrock and has two feet of stone above it.  A big stainless steel door has been welded shut.

Amazing.   But will the beings that open the crypt in 8113 have the technology to play the records. Will they have 35 mm sound film projectors?  Will the microfilm survive or will it have turned to jelly?  We know from the ancient Egyptian tombs that seeds can survive thousands of years.  But will Hearst Hall?  Or Ogelthorpe University?  Or Georgia?   Or the earth?

Time capsules are best if not boastful of the generation they seek to preserve. Instead, it is best that they reach out to those who will come after, leaving a record of a moment in time and a presence.  We may be proud of what we are today but we know that what we consider modern will be antiquated by the year the capsule is opened and that’s okay. We have left a record that says, “We got this far in 2015.”

In 8113, someone or some thing might discover the Crypt of Civilization and will know that Twentieth Century Homo Sapiens reached out to them and tried to leave something more substantial behind (perhaps) than Mount Rushmore’s by-then weathered faces that said, “We were here.  And in our time we were thinking, creative creatures.”

And, oh, how we wish we could see your world in 8113 when the capsule is found. .

The Missouri Capitol time capsule will be a message from 2015 to the great-great-grandchildren of this generation.  It’s a lot easier to be confident there will be people here in 2115 than it is to imagine how the Crypt of Civilization will be opened or by whom. And what should we say to those to open our time capsule?  Maybe something like—

We who think we are advanced today nonetheless recognize that we live in an imperfect world, one that is too much divided, too often ridden with greed, fear, hate, and quests for power, We recognize that we as Americans and Missourians have retreated from an era in which nothing seemed impossible, even walking on and exploring the Moon, to an era where we look inward, guarding ourselves against the perceived evils of those who are different—as mankind has done for eons.  We live in a world where we have friends on the other side of the earth but do not know the names of our next-door neighbors.  But beneath it all, we have hope and in clinging to hope we make painfully slow progress in resolving the issues that divide and therefore limit us.   We hope that a century from now that wisdom and peace are more certain parts of life, that bigotry toward some is no longer masked as the protection of rights for others, that rediscovered and vigorously exercised voter responsibility has long ago replaced the deleterious effects of term limits on our political system, that you still value and protect the outdoors as a breathing place for the public lungs, a place  where the different species that give beauty and perspective to our own existence still flourish, and where the sights and sounds of running streams still calm a stressed spirit.  We hope that a century of medical and scientific developments have destroyed diseases that lessen and shorten life, and that society has found a way to make longer lives valuable and beneficial to those who live them. We hope children and families are no longer uncertain about their next meal, their opportunity for education, their chances for meaningful work and loving families, the safety of their streets and homes. We hope this great building remains the Temple of Democracy that its designers and builders intended for it to be, the symbol of the best that we can be to one another, a structure symbolizing the hope that all may share for fruitful lives.  Our generation has sometimes let the building fall into a disrepair that regretfully represents our state as a place of sometimes unmet needs, unfulfilled responsibilities, ignored conditions, and reduced hopes. We hope your generation honors and strives for the good that this building represents. We hope that you have learned the virtue of looking outside yourselves, and that Americans have again discovered the spirit that nothing seems impossible.

There would have to be a theme of optimism in our message, wouldn’t there?   If there isn’t, why would we want to send a message to the future?    And if we do send one, why can’t we begin to live it now?


Let me know what you think......