Time capsules reveal the past, but only if they're not forgotten

Thursday, October 21, 2010 | 5:53 p.m. CDT; updated 4:33 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 22, 2010
Various MU items are going to be placed in a time capsule in the new student center and sealed for 50 years. The time capsule is meant to show what it means to be an MU student in 2010.

COLUMBIA — Roughly 10 years ago, the owners of University Place Apartments near campus were finishing up a landscaping project.

Digging in a flower bed, they hit something solid with a gardening tool. It was a plaque indicating that a time capsule had been buried there in 1966, not to be opened until 2066.

MU Student Center dedication

When: 3 p.m.

Where: 911 E. Rollins

Full schedule: Tailgate from 11:30-1 p.m.; Traditions Lounge dedication from 1:30-2:30 p.m.; time capsule dedication from 2:30-3 p.m.; official MU Student Center dedication from 3-3:45 p.m.; Mort Walker signs books from 5-6 p.m.

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Without that discovery, who would have known that it was there, waiting to be opened?  Thirty-four years after it was buried, the capsule had already been forgotten.

Time capsules have stories to tell but only if there is a record. Neither Campus Facilities nor the University Archives keeps track of capsules on campus.

So, history could be underfoot where we least expect it.

This week, to mark the dedication of the new MU Student Center, a time capsule has been put together to show what it means to be a Mizzou student in 2010.

Because a capsule is only relevant if eventually opened, the organizers are placing it in a prominent location behind a public marker in the center.

To fill the tube, the Student Union Programming Board gathered T-shirts, photos and essays from campus organizations. The members made a DVD to show the fashions, facades and faces of MU in 2010 and are collecting signatures and notes from students at the dedication ceremony Friday.

The capsule is intended to be opened in 50 years, and Board President Saskia Chaskelson hopes MU’s rituals will still be recognizable.

“I think they will see there are a lot of similarities, like the neat traditions of MU, and they'll be reminded of those things,” she said.

Amelia Sherinski, president of the Nursing Student Council, said it is important for every council to be recognized.

“I’m hoping nursing students are present when they open it,” she said. “Sinclair is an excellent nursing school. I would hope that it would grow a lot (in 50 years).”

The concept of a time capsule is riddled with contradictions. It is intended to pass on a legacy, but the meaning of the items inside can often be ambiguous.

“After the capsule is discovered, its author, just like anyone else, is slowly forgotten,” Brian Durrans, a time capsule scholar who helped found the International Time Capsule Society, wrote in an essay on the subject.

“Considered logically, this is an inadequate reward for the often substantial effort of compiling a time capsule.”

The few known capsules buried on campus are known because they were documented by the media.

One was under Sanborn Field, buried by the Future Farmers of America in 1979 as part of the 50th anniversary celebration. Excavated during the organization’s 75th anniversary in 2003, it contained predictions for the future of agriculture and materials from various chapters and the state association.

A time capsule was placed in the 1991 addition to Laferre Hall as well. Mechanical pencils, a calculator and a VHS tape of campus life were meant to “leave engineering students of the future a trail of what is going on now,” according to the Savitar from that year.

The capsule at the student center will serve as a “time stamp” of the creation of the student center, said Elaina Frede, public relations coordinator with Student and Auxiliary Services, who helped organize the capsule project.

If opened in 50 years, it will offer a glimpse into the past, a snapshot of the moment in time that a campus landmark was created.

“When they started planning the new student center, it was kind of a celebration of traditions and students, so it was perfect for a time capsule,” she said.

The brushed silver canister, about a foot in diameter and roughly 4 feet tall, will be stuffed with artifacts from more than 30 campus organizations.

“I think it's a lot about the organizations and looking at what kinds of things they did, but I also think it's about what our attitudes are about Mizzou,” Chaskelson said. “We bleed black and gold; will the other people?"

Other time capsules around mid-Missouri:

Location: Southern Boone County R-I High School in Ashland

Buried: April 16, 1980

Contents: Teddy bear, pennies, a copy of National Enquirer and a piece of charred wood from the razed gym.

To be excavated: 2030

Location: Eldon’s Airport Park

Buried: Sept. 26, 1982

Contents: Smurf dolls, a Rubik’s cube, magazine and catalogs.

To be excavated: 2082

Location: Hallsville City Park

Buried: July 8, 1984

Contents: 10-gallon Stetson hat, Michael Jackson T-shirts and Cabbage Patch and E.T. dolls.

To be excavated: 2034

Location: Stephen’s College

Buried: May 2008

Contents: Small items from students and faculty.

To be excavated: 2033

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