I love time capsules. But more often than not, they're extremely boring. Most American time capsules from the 19th and 20th centuries contain a Bible, some stamps, a few coins and plenty of newspapers. Some throw in an American flag for good measure. But every once in a while there's something fascinating inside — something that makes you feel like you're not wasting everybody's time going through the pageantry of unearthing these incredibly low-tech time machines.
I first became interested in time capsules when I discovered that they often contain predictions about what life will be like when they're opened, but even when they don't have predictions for the world of the future, time capsules can still offer a fascinating peek into how past generations lived and how they wanted to be remembered.
Following is a list of some of my favourite time capsules that (as far as we know) are still sitting in cornerstones, hiding in vaults or buried underground.
George Lucas Time Capsule
- Buried at Skywalker Ranch circa 1997.
- Lucas says he doesn't even know all of the things that are inside, but years ago he told Wired that it contains "a lot of artifacts from Star Wars and from the company."
University of Pennsylvania
- Buried 1940, scheduled to be opened in 2040.
- The time capsule itself weighs 450-pounds and contains a speech that President Franklin D. Roosevelt made at the school. While it's unclear what else might be in there, weighing in at 450 pounds one hopes it could be a cryogenically frozen President Roosevelt himself.
Billings, Montana Campfire Girls Adventure Group Troop 23
- Buried 1976, scheduled to be opened in 2076 (America's Tricentennial).
- Contains a “Princess” telephone, digital watch, box of bullets, tapes of music and news programs, and Bicentennial stamps with a 1976 postmark.
Bunker Hill, Los Angeles
- Buried 1961, and was supposed to be opened May 9, 2011 though I've found no record that anyone has bothered to dig it up.
- Contains antique telephone equipment like transistors, solar batteries, and operator’s headsets.
National Millennium Time Capsule in Washington, D.C.
- Buried in 2000, scheduled to be opened in 2100.
- The time capsule includes important objects from history, including a piece of the Berlin Wall, a Hostess Twinkie, a helmet from World War II, a mobile phone, and Louis Armstrong's trumpet.
English High School, Boston
- Buried in 1970, but has no scheduled opening.
- The time capsule is said to contain hockey legend Bobby Orr’s sweatshirt, but the other items remain unknown.
Crystal Lake, Illinois
- Sealed in 1976 and planned to be opened in 2076.
- Contains a $US1,000 government bond.
Martin Luther King Jr. Time Capsule
- Buried in 1988 at the Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. and scheduled to be unearthed in the year 2088.
- The capsule contains some of Martin Luther King Jr.'s personal possessions along with audio cassettes people of the 1980s recorded.
Bell County Kentucky Time Capsule
- Sealed August 19, 1967, instructed to be opened August 19, 2017.
- Said to contain more than 240 items, including tape recordings from the era.
Los Angeles Bicentennial Time Capsule
- Buried 1976 and scheduled for a 2076 opening.
- This time capsule couldn't be more 1970s L.A. if it tried. The capsule contains a dress worn by Cher, a pet rock, a skateboard, and the Laker’s Jerry West’s No. 44 basketball jersey among other memorabilia. The capsule itself is a propellant tank designed for the Mariner 9 mission to Mars.
Pershing Square underground garage (Los Angeles)
- Assembled 1951, with a scheduled opening of 2951.
- It’s not clear what’s in the time capsule, but given that it’s 225 pounds and built to last 1,000 years, it could be good.
Steve Jobs Time Capsule
- Buried at a conference in Aspen in 1983, but remains lost.
- The time capsule likely contains an early mouse and other audio recordings from Steve Jobs.
Great Bend, Kansas Centennial Capsule
- Buried 1972, opening date not scheduled.
- Contains audio tapes, a $US1,000 check, and things that people of Great Bend threw in haphazardly from their pockets. It was a minor scandal in the town that people didn’t prepare more by bringing things that had some value (sentimental or otherwise) to the time capsule burial. But the impromptu assembly and largely unknown contents makes this one a capsule I’ve always wanted to uncover.
Prudential Insurance Company, Los Angeles
- Sealed in a cornerstone in 1948, scheduled to be opened 2021.
- Contains microfilm and other items unknown. The cornerstone was made out of a two-ton piece of the Rock of Gibraltar, presented to the company by the British government.
Drake Well, Pennsylvania
- Buried in front of "Today Show" cameras in 1959, this time capsule was supposed to be opened in 2000 but remains lost as far as I can tell.
- This time capsule contains seeds from 33 states, a film (probably 16mm) by the National Petroleum Institute, and a letter from President Eisenhower.
Seward, Nebraska “World’s Largest Time Capsule”
- Sealed in 1975, supposed to be opened July 4, 2025.
- This time capsule is a 45-ton vault which includes a Chevy Vega car, clothing from the 1970s and over 5,000 other items.
Crypt of civilisation, Oglethorpe University
- Sealed 1940, and supposed to be opened in 8113.
- Includes contributions from high profile people and groups including the King of Sweden and the Kodak company. The crypt includes many books, an original movie script of Gone With The Wind, seeds, typewriter, a sewing machine, and some other high-tech gadgets of the day like two TV receivers.
Westinghouse 1939 Time Capsule
- Sealed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and is supposed to be opened in 6939.
- The time capsule contains microfilm, newsreels, seeds and fabrics.
- 3,000 copies of the book documenting the time capsule were distributed to museums and libraries around the world.
Westinghouse 1964 Time Capsule
- Sealed at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and it's supposed to be opened in 6939.
- Electronic watch, electronic toothbrush, among hundreds of other items compiled as a sequel of sorts to the first Westinghouse time capsule in 1939.
Images: Library of Congress and the book Time Capsules: A Cultural History by William E. Jarvis