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.