A second chance to turn back time
October 16, 2012 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Today, a time capsule was opened after 20 years buried in the Denton Town Square. It was not what we expected.

A list of what was in the capsule is mentioned in the comment below the linked article. In short, it was all old business stuff specific to the bank that buried it, and no city-wide or pop culture items, despite the capsule being buried in the public square, and the plaque displayed for 20 years indicating they'd open it last September. A friend commented that it seemed like they just grabbed all the promotional materials they had at the time and shoved them in the capsule without much thought.

After that disappointment, my friends and I are trying to figure out if we can make our own, and think of things we'd bury in a capsule to be opened in twenty years. Also, where to bury it, how to get permission and have it protected by the city, etc.

I've seen previous time capsule MeFi topics before: here, here, here, and here, but those don't seem to be quite the same as what I'm asking, and they're a few years old.

What kinds of things would you include in a city-wide capsule for a small-ish city filled with college students?

I thought it would be neat to have menus from the local restaurants and cds from local bands (music is big here). Other friends suggested theater playbills, photos from the outdoor events on the Courthouse Lawn, video interviews showing the style of the city at the time, a day-in-the-life list of things to do (which may be laughable in twenty years). What would YOU put in it?
posted by evolvinglines to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Well you couldn't go wrong with a copy of "All Hail West Texas" by the Mountain Goats could you?

Hail Satan, tonight!
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:51 PM on October 16, 2012 [9 favorites]

Put a smaller time capsule to be opened in 100 years inside... because really, 20 years is an absurdly short amount of time to have any significance.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:59 PM on October 16, 2012 [18 favorites]

- a list of what basic things cost, anything from rent to a gallon of milk to internet service
- copies of local and national newspapers
- pictures of random people from the town to show fashion trends, could combine this with pictures of popular stores and restaurants
- anything showcasing the latest technology, if not the particular gadget then the marketing materials for such items
- a list of available courses from the college
- maybe talk to someone at admin to gather basic college stats (cost, enrollment, degrees offered, etc.)
- list of popular blogs and websites
- list of online and in-person slang
- I would interview as many people as I could and ask a series of maybe 5-10 questions about, in their opinion, what is the most pressing social issue today, economic issue, who is most influential politician, most popular actress, best thing about being a college student today, worst thing, etc. etc.
posted by click at 6:01 PM on October 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

filled with college students?

List of college courses available, as in a course handbook or something. In 20 years kids taking 'Bionic cryogenics with Skynet 101' are going to look at 'Intro to Microsoft Word' and boggle. Maybe.
posted by jacalata at 6:03 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Pictures of the main street, a newspaper from the day the capsule was buried, maybe a Newsweek or Economist too.
posted by gjc at 6:05 PM on October 16, 2012

What you want to preserve, that cannot be gleaned from the relics of society 20-odd years down the line, is perspective.

Put an ad in the paper for people to submit stories from their life, or somehow otherwise solicit the perspective of representative members of the community. A classroom's worth of young kid's thoughts about the President. An Important Story Illustrating Change from an elderly person. A love letter from some newlyweds. A pastor's sermon. Etc.
posted by carsonb at 6:07 PM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Lots of photos of people, with their name, the date, and the location on the back. It'll document fashion and style, and in 20 years will be fun for those people (or their children) to see.
posted by erst at 6:08 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lots of photos of people, with their name, the date, and the location on the back. It'll document fashion and style, and in 20 years will be fun for those people (or their children) to see.

...preferably posed in front of landmarks, whatever they may be in your neck of the woods.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:15 PM on October 16, 2012

An iPhone! (With charger.) I think it's going to be really interesting to see where cell phones go in the next 20 years.
posted by something something at 6:17 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

A handful of paper garbage. I'm serious! I was an archaeology major, and we love the stuff. Get some trash that won't rot or discolor anything else in the capsule, and some of it will be interesting.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:51 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

What would YOU put in it?

To answer your question, I wouldn't put anything in a time capsule because I don't think that time capsules do very much. This perspective may come from two history degrees, but a time capsule just isn't very historically useful. Historians don't know about 13th century Europe, Tang China, or the pre-Columbian Yucatan because people buried time capsules. An old campsite from several hundred years ago found under the dirt is far more informative than a time capsule. This is funny because it is true.

The question for you is, what do you want to accomplish with your time capsule? It likely isn't for serious historical reasons. For example, people in 2032 wouldn't need an iPhone in it to know about iPhones because Apple sells over 100 million per year, making an iPhone one of the least rare things in America. This is going to be more along the lines of looking at your high school yearbook and laughing about the hairstyles. The question is how do you do that on a scale that is of interest to the city at large? We have something like this in my local courthouse where they have a glass display of things like old menus from a notable local dinner and hotel (both now closed), a few pictures of famous old downtown businesses (all closed), and pictures of a few old people who had some downtown streets named after them. So, you are on the right track with restaurant menus. Do you want to just have a collection of mementos for future residents, or something that has broader appeal to outsiders that tells what Denton is about? That will tell you what to put in the capsule.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:54 PM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Well you couldn't go wrong with a copy of "All Hail West Texas" by the Mountain Goats could you?

First time I ever wanted to hack metafilter to add extra favorites to something.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:11 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

A jar of raw, local honey. It will probably still be good in twenty years, and if the denizens of the future feel so inclined, the honey can be analyzed to provide a lot of information about the local environment.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:23 PM on October 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

You are planning a party to be held 20 years from now.

20 years is not far away. More than likely, those that contribute will still be around to see it unearthed. Therefore, involvement is key. Walk around town and sell "contribution comments" for .25 cents. The person can stick in there what ever they want (within reason). But, they have to agree to pay $5 to have their comments returned to them, or there next of kin, when it is opened. Offer VIP "unearthing passes" to the three highest contributors and then have all the proceeds go to some charity you imagine will still be around in 20 years.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:33 PM on October 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

A year's worth of the college newspaper.
posted by pearlybob at 8:47 PM on October 16, 2012

When renovating my house I found, under the floor boards, a promotional pamphlet promoting indoor heated water. So future folk may find ads for our modern comforts interesting; e.g. programmable thermostats, gas powered furnaces, iRobot vacuum cleaners, GPS units, dish washers.

If your municipality has separated garbage pick up then a list of the rules for recycling, organic pick up, garbage and yard waste, or just note if your municipality has only garbage pickup.

Actual samples of the latest and greatest in personal grooming; 5 bladed electric razors, electric toothbrush, hair removal cream, hair dye.

During another renovation I found a bit of a newspaper which advertised tickets to the Metro Hockey playoffs at the Maple Leaf Gardens, the Ramblers v.s. ? at 8:30pm tickets were $0.15. So any ad for or ticket stub from a local sporting, musical, theatrical or cinematic event.

In grade school someone found part of a mail order catalogue stuck in the bottom of a set of drawers which never closed properly. Winter coats were $0.25 IIRC. So if you can find a modern mail order catalogue

All the predictions you can find; net, print, local, global, political, scientific, agricultural, oil reserves. These will probably gather the most interest since it be about the recipients.

An apology for global warming. With a grab bag of explanations from anyone around for why we aren't acting on it.

Any modern piece of sports equipment that will fit; include both a traditional sport and any modern fad sport

Samples of modern materials which may be viewed as harmful in the future; Styrofoam food containers, coke bottle, anything made of carbon fibre, the latest and greatest version of a liquid bandage, Teflon coated clothing, 5 hour energy drink, a pack of cigarettes.

A nice bottle of wine or spirits.

If you're feeling rich enough, 100 shares of some random company's stock which has a chance of surviving.
posted by ecco at 10:19 PM on October 16, 2012

Perishables: an old iPhone, the oldest computer still in use you can lay your hands on, preferably cheapo toys still in their boxes, that kind of thing.
Buzz-stuff that you know will be wiped off the globe come next spring.
Printouts of facebook activities...

Take care of to-be-leaking batteries, though.
posted by Namlit at 12:25 AM on October 17, 2012

A twinkie.
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:10 AM on October 17, 2012

Any way you could make this AT LEAST 30 years instead of 20? As others say above, 20 is really pretty short. Even better would be 50 years. The problem with 20 years is, you could just shove a box in your basement or a rented storage unit to do that: it's not really a 'time capsule', it's just stuff you put away. (Example: I can pull shoes out of my closet, right now, that I've had that long --- does that make them historic? No, just ignored.)

As for contents:
*a complete issue of the local newspaper;
*a current fashion magazine;
*photos from around town (with notes about where each was taken, so it can be compared with how that same spot looks when the capsule is opened);
*this year's Must-Have Christmas toy, in its original packaging;
*recordings of local performers, especially anybody who looks likely to hit it big!
*recordings of local residents, particularly older people talking about decades past.

Food might be interesting, but you'd have to package it air- and bug-tight; you don't want any way it can leak or spill on the rest of the stuff. Ditto for batteries!
posted by easily confused at 2:32 AM on October 17, 2012

20 years is an absurdly short amount of time to have any significance.

This was my initial reaction to the post, until I got to the part about it being a college town. Maybe it's my limited experience, but it seems to me that there's more turnover in businesses in a college town than in most locations. It's been just about 20 years since I was in college, and most (probably >80%) of the businesses near campus that were there in my day are gone now.

But I also agree that 20 years is pretty short in terms of larger-scale changes—technology, national/international events, politics, etc. Hardly a day goes by that I don't see a picture of some 1970s/80s-era technology (rotary-dial phones! manual typewriters! Atari 2600s!) on my Facebook feed with "click 'like' if you remember this." So I don't think it's really necessary to include current technology, national/international news, etc. Stick to the local stuff: pictures of campus and popular hangouts, menus or other souvenirs from restaurants/bars, etc. A campus newspaper, or series of them, would be good if there's enough local stuff in there: What local/campus issues are still being debated 20 years later? Which ones have been resolved?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:53 AM on October 17, 2012

I was living in Denton going to UNT in 1992! This story made me all excited and then sad!

That's also the year I discovered the internet, and while there's probably not a 2012-ton of ephemera online from the early 90s, I can find all kinds of photos of Denton and people in Denton from that time. Possibly there are not any photos of First State pens and hats, so there's that. It just seems like the internet is our time capsule now; if you were going to bury a physical thing, I'd say listen to the anthropologists and go for textiles and dirt and analyzable things, because Facebook etc will contain anything that can be photographed, scanned, or written.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:52 AM on October 17, 2012

I'd add predictions on the state of the world as well as personal predictions from kindergarten, middle grades, high school, and college students. Where do these kids think they'll be?
posted by Talia Devane at 6:54 PM on October 17, 2012

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