That One Time I Found a Time Capsule From 1969

Did you bury a time capsule in St. Paul in 1969? Because I found it. Well, technically my friend found it. But he knew I was the only person in his life who might care about this nondescript plastic bottle that was buried in his backyard. Most people would easily mistake the thing for trash. And I guess it kind of was. Nature is not terribly gentle with things we put in the ground.

Back in early September of 2011, I was helping my friend dig up his yard to put in a new patio. We were digging for hours, constantly hitting rocks in the soil with our shovels — a sharp clanging noise reverberating through the neighborhood with each push into the ground. But then my friend hit something a bit softer. Turns out, it was a time capsule.

At first I didn't believe it. Could my friend be playing a joke on his weirdo friend who was obsessed with time capsules? Judging by what was inside, this would've had to have been a joke over forty years in the making.

Unscrewing the top, I found a soggy, rolled up piece of brown paper inside. The tiny pages were sticking together and I was terrified of destroying it. Of all the words mashed together in a wet crumpled mess, the only things I could make out definitively were a name: Barbara. And a year: 1969. It wasn't much, but it was enough to establish that this little bottle was probably intentionally buried in that backyard. Probably by a woman named Barbara in 1969, if I had to take a wild guess.

My mind wandered and I started to imagine what possessed Barbara (if that was indeed the name of the time capsuler) to bury this in the backyard of her St. Paul home. The ground in Minnesota is frozen for much of the year, so I started to speculate that it was probably buried in the summer. Could this have been in commemoration of the moon landing on July 20, 1969? I truly have no idea, but people really enjoy burying time capsules during historic events.

I wish I could've deciphered more of the writing in the time capsule, but the water damage was irreversible. Putting something in the ground is literally the worst thing you can do for any object you'd like to preserve for the future. And yet, something tells me we'll continue burying our time capsules for generations to come. Which is fine by me. But if you can afford it, there are plenty of fancy, commercial time capsules available for purchase. The spendiest capsules can set you back $4,000, but let me gently suggest you get a cheaper one (or build your own, if you know what you're doing) and invest the difference in something more worthwhile than a diamond-encrusted tomb for your newspaper clippings.

Make sure to register your time capsule with Oglethorpe University, where they maintain an international database of time capsules through their International Time Capsule Society. If you care about someone finding your capsule (and historic markers are no guarantee they will) it's probably your best chance of ensuring that people of the future can locate your time capsule.

And with all due respect to Barbara, if you decide to build a time capsule, maybe include something more clever than a piece of crumpled brown paper with your name on it. Future time capsule nerds will thank you.

That One Time I Found a Time Capsule From 1969