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Tapping into Time Capsules

March 3, 2015

It seems that time capsules never really leave the news these days. Both nationally and closerto home, people are discovering, opening and placing time capsules in a constant cycle of anticipation,excitement and occasionally disappointment. Many a news story tells the tale of a wet or decayedmass of papers removed from a time capsule that leaked, stealing away the fun of learning what ourancestors left for us to discover. Recent time capsule stories from Boston, however, illustrate thewonder and satisfaction that a community can share when objects from the 1790s are carefullyremoved by conservators and found to be in a remarkable state of preservation. In the case of theBoston time capsule, the group that originally deposited the items under the cornerstone of theMassachusetts State House included famed Revolutionary War patriot Paul Revere.

The Massachusetts State House example is also a good way to learn more about time capsuleterminology. Technically speaking, a time capsule is placed with an end date when it will be opened.Time capsule specialists

prefer the use of “foundation deposit” when objects are placed with no setdate for the materials to be rediscovered. Informally, however, many people use the term “timecapsule” to cover both circumstances.

Closer to home, and our own century, we find time capsules everywhere. Hoosiers are no lessresistant to the time capsule bug than people in Boston. In late 2014, a road construction project inRichmond, Indiana revealed a time capsule inside a monument marking the location of Civil War-eraCamp Wayne and dedicated by the Sons of Union Veterans in 1926. Current members of the Sons ofUnion Veterans of the Civil War later gathered at the Wayne County Historical Museum to open thetime capsule and reveal its contents. The discovery of a roster of the organization’s officers and anewspaper from the day of the time capsule’s sealing reminded everyone present that many Civil Warveterans were still alive and attended the dedication ceremony in 1926. The act of opening the timecapsule and the plan to re-seal it when the monument is restored created an instant connectionbetween the past and the present in a way that only meaningful objects can.

Here at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, we have our very own timecapsule sealed in July 1999 and set for reopening in the year 2100. County historians were invited toask their communities what they would like to add to the IHS time capsule as a way to represent theircounty in the future. A small, acid-free box from each of the state’s 92 counties now resides in a placeof honor in the building, safe from the effects of the weather and possible water leaks. So, if youwould like to try a time capsule project in your own town or county, ask your community what theywould like to have included, and make it a fun event for everyone. Even better, coordinate your timecapsule event with the Indiana Bicentennial celebration – visit the Indiana Bicentennial Commission’swebsite to learn how to have your event officially endorsed as a Bicentennial Legacy Project. And,when you visit us here at the History Center, see if you can find the plaque the marks the location of our timecapsule!

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Alan Rowe is the coordinator of the Local History Partners program for the Local History Services department at IHS. As a museum and historic building nut, he gets to indulge his passion for exploring the attics, basements and other out-of-the-way spots in historic buildings while working with IndianaÕs local history organizations as they care for their collections and plan for their future.

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