There are far more ceremonies commemorating the burying of a time capsule than those built around the opening of one. Many time capsules don't make it to their final destinations. They are lost, misplaced, stolen, or damaged over time.
Mossback has long been fascinated with time capsules and as a co-founder of the International Time Capsule Society at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Ga., I helped compile a list of most-wanted capsules. It's a catalog of technical, temporal, and semiotic misadventure. How, for example, would one ever expect to recover a time capsule that's buried under a 13-ton cyclotron? The engineers at MIT were stumped by that one.
I remember back in 1989, then-Gov. Booth Gardner's wife, Jean, traveled to the Yakima Valley to help open a time capsule. Turned out it hadn't been safe from the elements. Water had leaked in, and when the treasure was opened in front of the community it turned out their great legacy was a pile of green slime on the First Lady's hands.
All of this heightens the anticipation of the opening of a 50-year time capsule at the University of Washington School of Communications. A capsule squirreled away in 1956 will be opened and a new one to be opened in 2057 (about the time we figure out what to do about the Alaskan Way Viaduct) will be interred on April 28.
Students in a class called "Thinking Outside the Box" have been planning what to put in the next time capsule. One suggestion: Technology moves fast enough that you shouldn't expect today's computer discs to be playable tomorrow. And an iPod may not yet be a sacred relic five decades hence. Many capsule creators tend to over-estimate the durability of present-day electronic technology. They also often over-estimate the rarity or preciousness of relics placed in time capsules. Coins, magazines, newspapers: The dirty secret of most time capsules is that the stuff inside is pretty mundane, usually available in thrift shops or even your own cluttered closet. They are of ceremonial importance, but rarely consequential beyond that – except, perhaps, to an anthropologist.
The real trick is placing unique content of what is inside people's minds and hearts at burial time. It sounds like they did that at the UW in 1956: an audio tape including student impressions is said to be one of the items inside and, if playable, should be a fun listen. Podcast it please!
UW Communications School alum Timothy Egan, the Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning New York Times correspondent who lives in Seattle, will keynote the time capsule ceremony. Hopefully, Tim, no green slime.
UPDATE: There's a new (published mid-March) Da Vinci Code-stye suspense novel out by bestselling author David Morrell called "Scavenger" which, believe it or not, features the hunt for a lost time capsule and the International Time Capsule Society. A must-read for time capsule nerds. Dig it.