The Technium

How Not to Do a Time Capsule


A buried time capsule is a popular way to mark an anniversary for a school or community. Hundreds of thousands of capsules have been buried in the last 50 years. Every now and then one is remembered and resurrected. In 1957 the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma entombed a brand new 1957 Plymouth Belvedere, stuffed with momentos, as a time capsule to celebrate the state’s centennial.

A few days before the time capsule was opened, Robert Lauer, a local reporter set the scene:

The Plymouth was sprayed with cosmoline, wrapped in plastic, and buried in a concrete tomb, placed on a steel plate so the wheels were off the ground. Stuffed in the trunk were five gallons of gasoline in glass jugs, oil, a case of beer, and other artifacts. Placed inside the glove compartment at the last minute were the contents of a woman’s purse containing fourteen bobby pins, a ladies compact, plastic rain cap, combs, a tube of lipstick, pack of gum, facial tissues, $2.73 in money, and a pack of cigarettes. Also placed in were unpaid parking tickets and a bottle of tranquilizers which the winner of the car may need. During the party in 1957, residents were asked to guess the population of Tulsa in 2007; the guesses were sealed in a steel container and placed in the car. The winner or their heir will receive the Plymouth and a $100 trust fund which was accruing interest since 1957, (reportedly now containing $400). The car was buried in downtown Tulsa with traffic cruising nearby; some were concerned that vibrations may have cracked the concrete tomb allowing moisture to enter. Will the 1957 Plymouth be in mint condition or will it require itself to come back to life like its sister car Christine? I will be there for the unveiling on 15 June 2007 for either a pristine 1957 Plymouth with 7 miles on her or a pile of rust with four dried out rubber tires!

It will be the event of a lifetime!

When the capsule was opened, the prize was not what everyone wanted.

Swimming

Engine

2007-1

I kind of like the gunk covering the car. It’s unique and transforms it into an art piece. One could see it in an museum gallery. As this page make clear, the same car was better preserved outside the capsule by ordinary buffs.

One conclusion from this mishap is that time capsules should attempt to preserve not popular items, but things that have no fans, no enthusiasts, no one to care for them. You should stuff them with artifacts that people currently find dumb, stupid, worthless, and insignificant. That’s the stuff that won’t be saved, and will therefore be of prime interest in 100 years.

If you are making a time capsule today don’t put in an iPod, a copy of Lost, a Prada bag, or a Nike sneaker. And for goodness sake, waterproof it.




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