When Albuquerque Public Schools decided to tear down one of their deteriorating facilities, demolition crews ceased their work after they found a time capsule. So staff broke the tiny glass bottle to read the letters inside, and they discovered a terrifying message from a student who once roamed the halls of the old school.
On Arbor Day in 1968 the staff at Montgomery Elementary School had decided to plant a few new trees on its grounds. And, with the earth already tilled around the trees, they came up with another idea – they could sow a few time capsules into the dirt beneath the fresh foliage.
Students at the school then penned letters to future readers and detailed their lives in the late 1960s. Multiple classes participated in the project – sealing their messages into glass, cork-topped milk bottles. But not all of the time capsules would come to light when crews tore up the same earth in 2016.
In fact, the team uncovered only one of the 1960s capsules. They popped the cork off of the container but struggled to pull the messages out of the bottle. So, they cracked the glass and started to remove the letters hidden inside. And one of them stood out for all of the wrong reasons.
We’ll discover exactly what was discovered in that letter a bit later, but first let’s learn a bit more about the school and the area in which it was discovered. The end of World War II in 1945 kicked off a population boom in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As such, the public school district in charge of the state’s biggest city had to add multiple new institutions to keep up with the sheer amount of new students. By 1956 nearly 40,000 children attended schools under the Albuquerque Public Schools system.
In the same year, Montgomery Elementary School opened, but by the early 1980s the school had closed its doors – to students, at least. APS used the facility as a training center for teachers, the fine arts and special education. However, by 2016 the building had become too run down to serve its purpose anymore.
The district then decided to tear down the old Montgomery Elementary School buildings that year. In its place, they would eventually construct a brand-new facility for teacher training to continue. A new school on the same site was also considered, but the original structure had to go first.
When news spread of APS’ plans to tear down Montgomery Elementary School, though, they started to hear from former students. They didn’t reach out to oppose the demolition, but to let officials know to be on the lookout for something as they leveled the building. That’s because, as we explored earlier, they had buried time capsules on the grounds in the 1960s.
Time capsules have, of course, been around much longer than Montgomery Elementary School. Experts estimate that they could have been used long before the oldest examples they know of. For instance, Faneuil Hall in Boston had a time capsule hiding in its grasshopper weathervane with artifacts from the 1760s inside.
In another more famous incident, a burst pipe inside of the Massachusetts Statehouse led repairmen to a surprise. They found a time capsule stuffed into the cornerstone by revolutionaries Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. They had placed the container there in 1795 – filling it with coins, newspaper and a silver plate etched by Revere himself.
More recently, the use of time capsules has proliferated in a major way. Indeed, the moniker for these containers was only coined in 1938. William E. Jarvis explained at least one reason for their popularity in his book Time Capsules: A Cultural History. He wrote, “We all ‘want to be here’ in one way or another.”
Jarvis went on to write, “That’s why some of us [try to] freeze ourselves alive to be thawed and revived in the era of our choice. That’s why people construct crypts, ‘time bombs,’ time capsules and cornerstone deposits.” Still, Jarvis also admitted that time capsules rarely provide historians with anything of great value.
Rather than appearing with valuable relics of the past, most time capsules end up revealing junk, Jarvis argued. Typically, the contents say little about the people who buried them, and historians derive little value from them. The Montgomery Elementary discovery might fall into this category for experts; but for the school’s former students, it meant something more.
As such, pupils from multiple classes had gathered at their former school when word spread that a single time capsule had been found. They didn’t know to which class the glass bottle belonged – many of them had participated in the 1968 time capsule burial event, which had taken place on Arbor Day.
Former student Brad J. Clement told the Albuquerque Journal in 2016 that school officials had decided to plant new trees on that Arbor Day in 1968. With the earth already moved, they realized it would be the perfect time to bury some time capsules on the site. And multiple classes participated in the project – including Clement’s.
The only way to figure out who had buried the capsule was to open it – but even that wasn’t a straightforward process. Former student Cindy Linke had the honor of opening the cork-topped bottle, and she told the newspaper that she “[remembered it] being much bigger.” Clement did, too, but he knew it was because “when you’re a child everything seems bigger.”
Linke couldn’t pull the letters through the thin neck of the container. So someone handed her a piece of rebar and she cracked the glass open instead. Then, everyone began to read the letters inside to figure out which class they came from.
As it turned out, the messages came from a Montgomery Elementary fourth grade class – of which Clement had been a part. Leafing through the stack of about 25 letters, the man found a message that he had written when he was ten. And in a video made by the official channel for Albuquerque Public Schools and uploaded to YouTube, he’s seen reading it to the gathered crowd.
Clement’s message began by introducing himself to the future reader – little did he know it would be himself orating the letter. He wrote in 1968, “My name is J. Brad Clement, my age is ten years. I am in fourth grade, Montgomery, Room 15. My teacher’s name is Miss Hoffpauir.”
The next line made Clement question the veracity of the claims made by his fourth-grade self. As a ten-year-old, he wrote that his friend was Brian O’Conner. In the clip of him reading out the message, the retired music teacher counters, “I don’t recall that.” Then, the video shows both Clement and the crowd listening to him breaking out in laughter.
Next, the younger Clement shared his favorite TV shows at the time – Lost in Space and The Monkees. He had more personal ties to the latter because, he wrote, “My aunt taught Sunday school to Micky Dolenz, she worked for Micky’s father, and she knew Mike Nesmith.”
After finding his letter, Clement told Albuquerque Public Schools in 2016 how much the message meant to him – he had always loved such relics of the past. He explained, “I have kept journals most of my life. I’ve always been interested in my history and the history of my community, so this is pretty special.”
Plus, re-reading his letter conjured up happy thoughts of his childhood for Clement. He continued, “I remember school being idyllic. I have great memories. I enjoyed walking to school in the mornings.” Then, he recalled one thing he didn’t miss about being a kid. Clement said, “I don’t have great memories of homework, though.”
Clement’s wasn’t the only letter in the time capsule, of course. Amid the other 25 notes was one from nine-year-old Pamela Sue Reinman, according to the Albuquerque Journal. She had dated her message first – February 14, 1968. Then, she shared a bit about her life as a kid growing up in that era.
Reinman described herself, saying, “I collect dolls and play the piano. I am Jewish and we speak Hebrew.” Then, the young girl penned the Hebrew word for “mother.” She also gave a tip to future letter readers about how to decipher the language, explaining, “It goes from right to left.”
Linke, the woman who smashed open the time capsule, wasn’t in the class which created the container. As such, she didn’t find her letter amongst the stack. But she did tell KRQE News 13 that one of the messages inside was still special to her. In a video uploaded by the news outlet to YouTube, she explains, “I was able to read one of my girlfriends’ from a long time ago who lived down the street from me.”
Still, one of the most noteworthy of all of the messages came from a boy named Greg Lee Youngman. His letter wasn’t as cute as Clement’s or as earnest as Reinman’s, though. Instead, Youngman’s message from 1968 began in the creepiest way. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the fourth grader began his letter with the line, “I am dead.”
Youngman then shared a few more details about himself that made the message even stranger. Unlike his classmates, who would have been born in the late 1950s, he declared that he was born in 1900. He also called his school by a different name than his classmates.
Youngman wrote, “I go to Montgomery School. That is the olden school name.” He went on to reiterate the message’s creepiest declaration once again, adding, “You auto now I dead.” Then, the fourth grader apparently shared a list of hobbies that could very well have been a scary ghost’s interests, too.
Youngman wrote, “My favorite subject is spooking the police.” The fourth grader then shared what seemed to be a genuine interest, saying, “I play the guitar. In case you don’t know what it is, it is [a] board with strings on them.” And with that, he was ready to conclude his message to the future.
Youngman concluded his message by writing, “See you later, savages.” To the Albuquerque Journal, it seemed as though the fourth grader thought someone far in the future – perhaps living within a dystopian society – would find his note. But his eerie message could have come from a ghost, Gizmodo claimed.
According to the website, no one on the team could confirm if Youngman was alive or dead at the time of the letter-reading. Either way, his message had made an impression on readers and the press – it was widely shared in the wake of the time-capsule discovery. And those who read it online had a lot of thoughts about Youngman’s note.
One online commenter on the Gizmodo article felt particularly moved by Youngman’s “See you later, savages” sign-off, describing it simply as “epic.” Another person made a joke that the ten-year-old’s letter fit in perfectly with modern internet culture. They wrote, “Horrible grammar and fictional ways to identify himself? Spot on.”
Others tried to explain why Youngman wrote what he did. One user thought that he might’ve been referencing the book Brave New World, saying, “Some kids back then were very well read.” Another reader said that Youngman was pointing out that he might not be around for the capsule’s discovery, but didn’t quite explain himself clearly.
The commenter wrote, “My interpretation: An inarticulate kid trying to communicate that the capsule would not be opened in his lifetime – he would be dead to those reading. Presumably he didn’t expect it to be recovered and opened so soon.” Still more people lauded Youngman’s creativity – with some theorizing that the imaginative writer had become successful as a writer later in life.
Unfortunately, unlike Youngman’s and Clement’s letters, not all of the messages written by Montgomery Elementary students would ever come to light. Linke told Gizmodo that she thought that her message and the other classes’ time capsules still sat underground, and that they’d be lost forever beneath the new school-system structure to be built.
Of course, one of the major problems with time capsules is that they can easily get lost or destroyed. Without exact coordinates, it can be tough to relocate them in the future. On top of that, natural elements, such as groundwater, can destroy these containers in a matter of years.
Luckily, one of the Montgomery Elementary School time capsules survived the elements and happened to be re-discovered. Other, similar containers – even those buried more recently than theirs – have remained missing beneath the earth. In southwestern Michigan, for instance, former students gathered at Coloma Junior High in 2018 to try and dig up their 30-year-old time capsule.
In 1988 the kids had sewn their own flag and written their own constitution to put inside the time capsule. They also added some pop culture artifacts of their time – including a Michael Jackson cassette. And yet, after they’d searched for it decades later, they couldn’t find it anywhere. Teacher Sandi Sanders told KOB 4, “We are all kind of in the dark trying to remember what was in it and where it is.”
When the former Coloma students and other adults find their childhood time capsules, though, they’re in for a treat. In a video, Robert Lazar, a former Montgomery Elementary School student, tells KRQE News 11 that the letters taught him a valuable lesson. He says, “It just brought back to me that kids are kids, whether it was 60 years ago, 50 years ago or today.”
So, finding a time capsule appears to be more of a common occurrence than you might think – and it’s happening all over the world, too. In 2018, for example, Shenandoah University students unearthed one that had been buried underneath a concrete slab, and the retro goodies inside filled them with nostalgia.
The newly unearthed time capsule filled Shenandoah University staff and students alike with excitement. But what had the class of 1993 left in the container for the people of 2018 to find? Well, as the box’s lid came off, the assembled crowd caught a glimpse of its colorful contents. And the college kids realized that the capsule was stuffed with treasures from yesteryear.
Of course, movies such as Back to the Future make the notion of time travel an exciting concept. In the absence of a DeLorean, though, the real-world time stream only moves forward. But there are actually ways in which we can interact with the future and give those who dwell within it an insight into the past.
Time capsules, for example, normally contain significant objects or personal items for future discoverers to explore. You may have even contributed to – or opened – one of these caches yourself at some point. It’s a practice that has quite a long history, after all, as recent findings prove.
In 2017, for instance, preservationists unearthed a time capsule that dated all the way back to 1777. In this case, the capsule itself, found in Burgos, Spain, was a hollowed-out wooden Jesus Christ statue. The figurine had actually concealed two letters penned by a Burgo de Osma Cathedral chaplain called Joaquín Mínguez. The documents included descriptions of historical details relevant to the chaplain’s time.
So time capsules may sound like a great way to preserve the aspects of a certain time for future societies to discover. Yet at least one authority has put forward a contrary argument. William E. Jarvis, a historian specializing in time capsules, has indeed described the contents of purposefully created containers as mostly “useless junk.” His argument, expounded in his book, Time Capsules: A Cultural History, is that these capsules don’t actually carry much information about the people who buried them.
Jarvis reportedly believes, then, that illustrative capsule items that inform discoverers about everyday life in the past would hold a lot more historical value. He also had an issue with many time capsules suggesting a specific date upon which future discoverers are recommended to open them up.
That’s because if people open a capsule on its specified date, Jarvis argued, the intervening generations will inevitably lose out on potential historical information. The author also expressed doubts regarding the effectiveness of capsules in preserving artifacts. The conditions the containers are exposed to underground, coupled with their tendency to get lost, are the main reasons for this, Jarvis wrote.
But that being said, there are notable cases where time capsule discoveries were beneficial. In 2018, for instance, the North Sydney Historical Society found a time capsule in the ruins of the now-demolished Thompson Middle School in Nova Scotia. The organization’s members actually unearthed the time capsule after having heard local rumors about its existence.
On October 11, 2018, the Historical Society’s own Joe Meaney spoke to CBC News about the discovery. “We knew there was something there,” he said. “But we didn’t know exactly what it was, how big it was, or anything of that nature.” Nonetheless, the society recovered the metal container from inside a block of cement.
So what was inside the cache? Well, for one thing, there was a preserved newspaper that dated the time capsule back to 1949. In addition to this, the historians discovered several documents naming important members of society at the time. Lastly, there were some well preserved, low-value notes and coins inside a leather wallet.
Alex Gilchrist, a former principal of Thompson High School, was present for the inspection of the capsule’s contents too. He told CBC, “You never know what you’re going to find in it. And there was a lot of history in that time capsule, there’s no two ways about it.”
But that was far from the only time capsule discovered in 2018. In fact, a construction crew found another container in a school in Michigan. Builders actually found this cache hidden in a hollow brick at Kenowa Hills’ Central Elementary school. The principal, Dr. Cherie Horner, and a pair of students then opened it up.
Touchingly, the capsule contained a newspaper article dedicated to the memory of David Michael Raap, who passed away aged 10. The paper came from 1967 – a time when the school had been called Walker Junior High. The tube also held four other documents, including a class program list and a student handbook.
Dr. Horner, however, found the Michigan Association of School Boards paperwork particularly fascinating. After all, it seemed to focus on the importance of retaining middle school values in education. And since this discovery, there’s also been rumors that Central Elementary might be concealing more treasures.
Dr. Horner even told Michigan Live as much on November 15, 2018. “Our entire building is going to be undergoing construction until basically 2020,” she revealed. “So if there are additional time capsules, I’m sure we’re going to find them in the next few years.”
But while there’s no word on any other time capsules from Central Elementary, Shenandoah University in Virginia presented another story in 2018. Back in 1993, you see, the college’s students left a gift buried in the ground under a concrete slab for future attendees. The inscription on block read, “Class of ’93 time capsule, open in year 2018.”
And on October 17, 2018, that’s exactly what students and faculty members did on their homecoming weekend. The university also uploaded a video to YouTube of the grand opening. The clip begins, appropriately enough, with staff prising the slab up and lifting the cache out of the ground.
But before faculty crack open the time capsule, a spokesperson for Shenandoah University addresses the audience that has assembled. “Welcome, thank you for joining us for our 1993 flashback,” the speaker says. “I also want to say thank you to the class of ’93 for thinking of us 25 years ago.”
“We have not opened this,” a second official clarifies. “This is not a joke; we have not opened it so we don’t know what’s in it.” And it seems that the ’93 students had sealed their ornate white container tightly, so it initially offers resistance when the event host lifts the lid. But it soon comes open, accompanied with a cheer from the crowd.
As can be seen in the video, the contents of the capsule have undoubtedly been affected by moisture over the years. Yet the artifacts have by no means been totally destroyed. The first thing that the university representatives pull out, then, is a piece of sheet music called “Sketches & Reflections 1993.” Apparently, Bachelor of Music in composition graduate Jena Marie Root had written it by hand.
And although the piece’s exact origins are unknown, Shenandoah University staff suspect that Root had also been its composer. That’s not the only music-based treasure included in the time capsule, though. The next item staff reveal is, in fact, a vinyl record called Introducing… The Beatles. The disc features classic hits including “Twist and Shout,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Love Me Do.”
Elsewhere, the time capsule’s contents span many different subjects. One item even appears to be an acting award. The little statue is labelled “Best Actor,” after all, and adorned with an earlier version of the university’s pin. It also has a cross-stitched message saying, “DANE, single and in love in America, Dec. 1992.”
Other 1993 students, meanwhile, left keepsakes in the time capsule to represent their time at university. For example, one anonymous attendee left a plastic dinosaur as tribute to Jurassic Park, which was released that same year. Another left a pack of condoms – though these had unsurprisingly passed their expiration date.
A stone hippo carving with a now-illegible name on it and pacifier toys designed to blow bubbles are also among the collection. Other preserved personal items actually came with the names of their contributors on them too. Take the musical recital program provided by Tobie Norwood Robinson, for instance.
It seems that Robinson had been the lyric baritone of the performance, but the document also provided the names of the students who’d assisted him. These included pianist Karen Keating and sopranos Vera Massarotto and Barbara Hartsell. What’s even more amazing, though, is that Robinson’s program had come with a functional cassette tape recording of the performance.
The cassette then seems to resonate with the crowd’s nostalgia and causes a big cheer. And one of the spokespeople even gives a big thank you to Robinson for his time capsule gift. The next discovery – a yearbook from 1993 – isn’t quite as well preserved as the tape, however.
In fact, groundwater had damaged the book so much that website Science Alert described the document as “mush.” Fortunately, though, the 2018 hosts announce that the university has an intact copy anyway. So another paper addition to the time capsule is revealed to be Shenandoah University radio listings, featuring songs by Queen, Aerosmith and Michael Jackson.
The time capsule contributors also indirectly provided information on another medium: television. Alongside the radio information, you see, university staff found a 1993 issue of a newspaper called The Winchester Star. And the publication’s TV listings page offered an insight into what students could have been watching between May 8 and May 14 that year.
These blasts from the past include The Wonder Years finale, Saved by the Bell and Baywatch. The Winchester Star’s headline reads, “Serbs Will Collapse If Belgrade Stops Arms.” This is noteworthy as a reminder of then-current events – but there is more to come.
University teachers reveal that Mike L. Kelly, a Bachelor of Science in communication graduate, had supplied a political campaign badge from 1992 too. At the time, you see, Bill Clinton was competing with his opponent Al Gore for the presidency of the United States. Yet other students seemingly had much more personal events on their minds.
Several students had in fact placed a collection of notes inside the time capsule relevant to their private lives. These are arguably the most touching of additions to the eclectic cache. Graduating Bachelor of Music in performance student Marvin Everette Grice Jr. left, for instance, a particularly poignant note for a fellow Shenandoah University peer.
Grice Jr. wrote, “Request: Gloria Warner, To dance with Marvin Grice on 5-6-93. 8-?” Not even the university knows whether Warner accepted his invitation or not, but it’s nice to imagine that she did. And a trio of other students left their hopes and dreams in the time capsule for the class of 2018 too.
After all, a photo inside the container shows three students from the university’s 1991 choir tour to Zurzach, Switzerland. They are voice performance student Vera Massarotto and Bachelor of Science in arts management graduates Barbara Ellen Hartsell and Catherine Ann Via Burzio. Notes from all three accompany the picture as well.
The messages focus on what the three women had hoped their future would some day hold. Hartsell’s note, for example, reads, “In 25 years, I see myself as an executive in a performing arts or visual arts organization. I hope to be happily married and have two or three healthy, well-adjusted children.”
“I will have gone back to school and received a master’s degree,” Hartsell continued. “Perhaps in accounting, and either have received or be working towards a doctorate.” Burzio, on the other hand, wrote, “In 25 years, I see myself as Dr. Cathy, directing choral ensembles and theater productions at a small college.”
Burzio went on, “I hope to be happily married with three or four children, possibly one adopted. I see myself living in the Midwest, waiting for grandchildren to come along any time.” Massarotto likewise wished to see herself settle down with a family and a successful career.
“In 25 years, I see myself either at the Met or traveling in Europe performing in opera houses,” the student explained. “I definitely see myself singing my dream role Mimi and possibly some operatic music theatre roles. Hopefully, I will be married to a wonderful man and be blessed with at least two children who are not tone deaf!”
“I see myself as a happy and successful opera diva,” Massarotto concluded. To some people gathered for this event, of course, the ’90s probably don’t seem like they were that far in the past. Yet others might not have even been born then. But a lot can change in 25 years, and there’s evidence of that all over Shenandoah University.
In fact, a great deal of the buildings now on the campus weren’t even built in 1993. The university has various new facilities too, including a theater, a health professions building and a sports stadium. The college has also more than doubled its enrolment figures from 1,563 in 1993 to 3,688 in 2018.
So perhaps some time capsules aren’t ideal methods of preserving historical artifacts, as one expert claims. Yet plenty offer us insights into how people lived their lives – and can be fascinating. Let’s hope that in the future, then, people continue to find these treasure troves so that we can learn even more about our past.