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Encapsulate those memories!
Umies urged to weigh in on
Time Capsule 2000

Photo: Whitbourne and Story in Chapel crypt

Velcome to mein crypt: the hundred-year home planned for the time capsule is checked out by co-chairs Susan Whitbourne and Ron Story.
 


The past will be on the outside, the present on the inside, and the future – well, the future should be all around by then. The shell of UMass Time Capsule 2000 will be made from brick rescued from the tower of Old Chapel and soapstone countertops salvaged from Goessman Chemistry Lab. An interior copper box, about the size and shape of a footlocker, will house slices of life from UMass 2000 and "how it got that way" - which slices to be determined by the suggestions of people like you.

     Dick Nathhorst '79, who saved about 500 original bricks from last year's tower restoration, is project manager for the university's facilities planning division, and his intimate knowledge of the campus's buildings has made him a perfect advisor for the committee planning the time capsule. The copper box will be soldered shut, hermetically sealed, and probably purged with nitrogen, says Nathhorst, to make it airtight and eliminate any trouble-making water-vapor inside. The entire unit will be set in the crypt of the Old Chapel on massive granite slabs, the 110-year-old footings that support the tower. "These footings will survive just about anything," says Nathhorst.

     That's the physical part of the project: straightforward, relatively uncomplicated. Now for the hard part: figuring out what's going to go inside.

     One of the originators of the time-capsule plan is professor of psychology Susan Whitbourne, now a co-chair of Chancellor David Scott's committee to spearhead the project. Whitbourne specializes in the self-concepts of people as they age. Her research makes her especially interested in "discussing what we value, what we'd like to be remembered for," she says. She has no preconceptions about what will wind up in the capsule, says Whitbourne, but she does want students, as well as alumni, faculty, and staff, to be fully involved. She'd like to showcase the university's strengths, to incorporate student accomplishments, and to somehow encapsulate "all that student vitality and energy." And she has a hockey puck from the opening game at the Mullins Center she'd be willing to donate. Chancellor Scott, whose enthusiasm for the project led him to appoint the thirty-five-member committee late last fall, agrees with Whitbourne's emphasis on process.

     "The millennium allows us a special focus," he says. "We can engage different groups and communities to reflect on our history, on what we value." Who knows what people might come up with – oral histories, a list of all alumni, speculations on what life will be like when the capsule is opened? Pondering the potential contents of a time capsule, says the chancellor, encourages people "to think from the heart," to "express what's near and dear to them."

     Historian Ron Story, Whitbourne's co-chair, is a little more opinionated about what should be included in the capsule. He'd like to see objects, photographs, and documents representing what's "normal" today – leading us to examine our assumptions about just what that is. Dormitories for young students? (Maybe sophomores will be eighty a century from now.) Faculty standing up and lecturing to students? (Teaching may be totally electronic in the year 2100.) Eating pizza? (This strange flat food may, or may not, survive.) The normative, of course, should represent some things we're especially good at. (Plastics?)

     Nathhorst, for his part, would like to see photos that describe the campus and the activities that take place here: "People, activities, buildings, grounds – I find those fascinating." Show how the campus runs, he says, with "ephemera of the year," such as flyers, programs, and copies of publications not likely to survive in conventional archives. And he'd like to see interviews not just with dignitaries but also with "the rank and file."

     What will make the capsule fun to fill and interesting to unearth, the committee members agree, is the memories and mementos of as many UMass people as possible. Story says a box buried by students in the 1870s was dug up not long ago more or less by accident. (It was uncovered by a backhoe when a large pine tree came down near the Chapel.) That box, says Story, really had very little in it. There were some large mammal bones, perhaps belonging to a cow; some shell casings, someone's father's business card, copies of student poems; the twelfth annual report of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, and the graduation program for 1878. The hope for the current time capsule is that students and faculty opening it in 2100 will find items that truly illuminate a moment in time.

     One of the most widely publicized twentieth century time capsules was created by Westinghouse for the 1939 World's Fair. It encompassed both material and spiritual content: a woman's hat, a slide rule, synthetic rubber, 10 million words on microfilm from books, magazines and newspapers, and messages from Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. A 1965 Westinghouse time capsule included a bikini, a Polaroid camera, ball-point pens, birth-control pills and a Beatles record.

     According to the International Time Capsule Society, the greatest problem associated with time capsules is that once they are buried, they are often forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind: Nine out of ten time capsules are never found. Which is another good reason, says Dick Nathhorst, for giving the university's millennial year time capsule a nice dry room of its own: a crypt rather than a grave.

– Marietta Pritchard '73G

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