The 10 Best Time Capsules Opened In 2015

The 10 Best Time Capsules Opened In 2015

Time capsules can be pretty boring. But time capsule nerds like me live for those rare capsules with something really cool inside. This year we saw time capsules filled with the weird, the rare, and the surprising. One thing that so many of 2015’s time capsules had in common: Lots of booze.

So without further ado, here are the ten coolest time capsules of 2015. It was a pretty good year for time capsules. Arguably it wasn’t as cool as 2013, when they dug up the long lost Steve Jobs time capsule, but it was still pretty swell.

Art by Sam Woolley

10. The 71-year-old punchline capsule

The residents of Lebanon, New Hampshire, recently discovered a time capsule hidden under the steps of their City Hall. Dated 1944, the capsule was in the form of a brown whiskey bottle. But sadly, there wasn’t any whiskey inside. Instead, it seems like it was just the set-up for a punchline 71 years in the making.

The time capsule was placed there by former city surveyor Samuel Stevens, who has since passed away. And the note that he included, along with a lone penny and some newspaper clippings, apologised for the lack of whiskey.

“Whoever finds this bottle may keep it,” the note from 10 June 1944 read. “Sorry there is no liquor in it, but I drank it all up.”

The note said that Stevens had hidden other whiskey bottles all around town. But for all we know that might be another joke that Stevens was playing on the future. Good joke, Sam. You’ve got to hand it to a guy who delivers a punchline from beyond the grave.

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Images via YouTube

9. The artillery shell and the case of the missing brandy

Volunteers at the American Legion Post 76 in Arlington, Washington, finally decided that the artillery shell sitting in the lobby should probably get glued down. But they were surprised to find out that the shell was actually a time capsule from 1934. They were also surprised to find that someone had gotten to it first. Whoever it was left a note: “Thank you for the brandy.”

There were plenty of other items in the shell, including a trove of documents, magazines, a menu from a local hotel, and a trench lighter from World War I. But it seems 2015 was the year for alcoholic pranksters. Hats off to this anonymous time capsule drinker.

Next time, leave a little left for the next guy. It’s just good time capsule etiquette.

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Photos by Kirk Boxleitner/Arlington Times

8. Message in a bottle returned 44 years later

On 15 January 1971 a young boy in Carlisle, England chucked a glass bottle in the North Sea. It contained a note scrawled in blue pen with the boy’s name, the date, and his address. Forty-four years later that bottle was found by an Australian couple, washed up in Scotland. And after a bit of internet research, the bottle was returned to its creator.

There have been plenty of old time capsules discovered over the years. But few make their way back to the person who created them. Especially after four decades.

Without the help of the internet (and Facebook in particular in this case) the holidaying couple who found the old bottle probably never would have found its creator. Or if they had, it would have been quickly adapted into a 1980s Lifetime movie. Either way, thank you Internet — this is one of the few times this year that you proved not to be total garbage.

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Images via Facebook

7. Paul Revere’s own time capsule from 1795

Back in January construction crews in Boston made an amazing discovery: A time capsule from 1795. Not only was the capsule nearly as old as the United States itself, it was created by some pretty famous Americans. (For those of us not as well versed on American history, Paul Revere was the guy who alerted the Colonial militia that the were coming.)

The capsule was first interred in a cornerstone by Revere and Samuel Adams in 1795, and many news outlets played up the idea that the contents were a complete mystery. Except that they weren’t. Because it was already opened at least once before back in 1855. Sure, it may have only been some newspapers and coins — but they were really old newspapers and coins.

The contents of the capsule now rest in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Newspapers from the cornerstone capsule can be seen below on the left. The silver plaque inscribed by Paul Revere himself is on the right.

Read the full story here and here.

Images via Getty

6. The century-old whisky bottle time capsule

Construction crews in Scotland discovered a time capsule from 1894 this year containing a bottle of alcohol. And unlike the artillery shell capsule in Washington and the empty bottle capsule in New Hampshire, this one actually had some whisky in it.

The capsule, a rusted metal box that is clearly showing its age, was found inside a cornerstone in the Ruthven Road bridge just outside of a town called Kingussie. And, of course, the box contains plenty of the things we’ve come to expect from time capsules, like old newspapers and even a paper scroll. But the whiskey is obviously the real wild card.

“The changes which have occurred since it was placed there are extraordinary,” Robert Ogg of the construction company working on the bridge told the BBC. “If you think that the bridge was being used by horses back then, it gives you a sense of the time which has passed.”

OK, so now you time capsule nerds are faced with a question. When finally confronted with a time capsule with actual alcohol, would you drink it? Even if it was 121 years old? Either way, I’m inclined to call you a liar.

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Photos via Highland Folk Museum

5. The Napa Valley earthquake capsule

The Napa Valley region experienced a devastating earthquake in 2014 that left one person dead and about 200 injured. Some buildings were severely damaged and as part of repairs to the Napa County Courthouse, construction crews dug up a staircase. And what did they find? A time capsule from 1979.

“It wasn’t one of those steel box affairs, but rather an assortment of ephemera from the courts during that period; business cards, newspaper clippings, matchbooks, two live rounds of ammunition, and a bottle of rosé,” John Thill from the Napa County Library told me.

“Since 1979 was only a few years after the Paris Judgement that brought Napa wine to prominence, the high-end wine industry was only just getting started,” Thill said.

As for the two live rounds of ammunition? Thill speculates that it was perhaps a bailiff at the courthouse’s contribution to the capsule.

But time capsule nerds are again confronted with the hypothetical question: Would you drink the wine? Frankly, since it wasn’t exactly high quality stuff even in 1979, you probably wouldn’t have wanted to drink it when the time capsule was sealed either. But it’s still a pretty cool find, despite the macabre circumstances of the earthquake.

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Images via John Thill

4. The oldest message in a bottle ever discovered

Back in April, a retired postal worker named Marianne Winkler discovered a message in a bottle that had washed up on a German beach — and her find may be the oldest message in a bottle ever recovered.

Between 1904 and 1906, George Parker Bidder, a researcher for the UK Marine Biological Association (pictured above) tossed about a thousand bottles into the North Sea. Bidder was studying ocean currents and each bottle contained a note inside promising a small reward (one shilling) for anyone who mailed it back. The note included a survey in English, German and Dutch that would help researchers learn when and where the bottle was found.

When Winkler and her husband found the bottle this past spring, they followed the century-old instructions inside and mailed the survey and bottle to the Marine Biological Association. Needless to say, researchers at the organisation were shocked.

But it’s tough to say whether this one is the oldest. A number of incredibly old bottles with messages have been found in the past couple years. Back in 2013, a beachcomber in British Columbia, Canada found a message in a bottle from 1906 — 107 years old. And just last year, fishermen off the coast of Germany found a message in a bottle from 1913 — 101 years old. If this latest find was from 1906 it would be roughly 108 years old. But we may never know for sure.

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Images via Marine Biological Association

3. The 1950s mental hospital film

Construction crews in Indiana were shocked to discover a time capsule from 1958 at a former mental hospital. The most exciting part? It contains a film with a message to the future — a message about electroshock therapy and psychiatric drugs.

Frustratingly, much of the audio from the film has been lost. What were they saying in the damaged parts of the film? That’s lost to history. But we do know that they were very aware that they were speaking to the future. And they were optimistic that psychiatry would have progressed considerably by the time that the capsule was opened.

When the psychiatrists of the future open this time capsule, only they will be able to tell how well we’ve solved our treatment problems, not only today but in the future. We are sincerely appreciative…


…they will have cameras at that time that they can run this film.

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Screenshot via YouTube

2. The 19th century telescope factory time capsule

Back in March crews were demolishing a former telescope factory in Pittsburgh and were surprised to find a 19th century time capsule in the cornerstone. The capsule included what they claimed was “one of the first pieces of optical glass made in America”. You can see this remarkable item pictured above.

The time capsule included the photo below, dated August 1894, showing workers from the Brashear Telescope Factory. The Brashear Company, founded by astronomer Dr. John A. Brashear, manufactured not only telescopes but other scientific equipment from the 1880s until the early 20th century. By the 1940s the building was being used to make bombsights for the U.S. military.

While most time capsules have little more than a few newspapers, some photographs, and maybe a book or two, this one also contains some pretty unique items from the 1890s.

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Top photo by Al Paslow

1. The MIT time capsule for the year 2957

This time capsule from MIT might not be the oldest, but it’s certainly one of the coolest discoveries of the year.

When construction crews began digging to construct a new building at MIT they had no idea they’d find a time capsule. Which is why they inadvertently cracked the large glass capsule when it was first uncovered. But now the folks at MIT plan to restore the 1957 time-travelling tube, and since the directions clearly state that it shouldn’t be opened until 2957, MIT might even rebury it soon.

“The tentative decision is to repair/reseal the current capsule which was cracked during the excavation,” Deborah Douglas, the Director of Collections at MIT told me over email. “Contrary to some reports, the capsule has not been opened but it does have a crack, which means that the contents are now exposed to the atmosphere.”

Those contents were expertly sealed using blowtorches and by filling the glass container with argon gas. The tube includes everything from the boring things you’d expect like newspaper clippings, a university mug, and some coins. But it also has some weird and wonderful 1950s cutting-edge tech like a cryotron and a vial of penicillin. Definitely one of the coolest capsules of the year, even if it won’t be opened properly until the year 2957.

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Images via MIT