Monday, September 16, 2013

Making A Time Capsule

My blogging friend Steve, of An Urban Cottage, has been renovating the kitchen of his beautiful Greek Revival house, and recently solicited advice for what to put in a time capsule to mark the occasion.

I love the idea, and back when I was repositioning the front door of my own house, I did the same thing. I made my time capsule from a PVC pipe, which I also capped at both ends with PVC. Just to make sure that the eventual find was not mistaken for debris, I tied a red ribbon around the capsule, making it look like an old-time scroll case.

A time capsule fires the imagination of people of all ages, so by all means include your family, neighbors and friends. The process can have a magical effect for all involved.

An important consideration is to show the original view of the house; I'm fortunate to have an image of my house from when it was only two years old (it's 65 now).

So that the finder might know something of previous owners, I placed this self-caricature, along with a long, chatty letter. I mentioned four citrus trees in my back yard, and they're already past history!

I also added a photograph of Rosemary, a colorful belle and prior owner who lived in the house for more than 36 years.

I included letters from family members, my immediate neighbors (who wrote down things I had never known about the neighborhood), and friends. The friend who installed the new door wrote a note. I also asked my friends to contribute small items of significance to themselves, and to talk about the symbolism.

One friend, who is a stained glass artist, put in a piece of Kokomo glass. Friends added a Sea Urchin spine and Allamanda flower, both typical of this area.

A friend who spent years in advertising contributed a tear sheet of his commercial drawings and a coded message!

Another friend, proud of her Celtic heritage, put in a brass rubbing inspired by the Book of Kells.

If you found a time capsule, you might want to know as much as possible about what was happening in the world at the moment the capsule was hidden. So I included a complete edition of the day's newspaper, as well as a magazine celebrating the city's centennial.

I also put some personal effects into the capsule, and then, just to make sure its discovery was an exciting moment, I added a 1921 silver dollar.

If you're a homeowner, there are numerous opportunities to create time capsules. What would you include?


  1. Dear Mark,
    What a great thing to do. When the time comes for AGA and I to build our house, I shall make a time capsule too.
    I would put in a photo of the land before the house is built, a photograph of us, a newspaper, and I think a letter addressed to the open-er. I think that as the time came to close the capsule I would think of all sorts of other things to put in as well.

    Actually this reminds me of an article I read from somewhere in America where they recently found a note placed by some workmen in a building during the prohibition period. They lamented the law and asked that if it had been repealed when the note was read, that the reader would go and have a beer for them. I hope they did!

    1. Hi, Kirk,

      I love that story about the Prohibition era workman who wanted his beer. I don't know if you're aware of it, but after Prohibition was repealed, there were still counties — particularly in the South — that were either "dry" or "wet." My parents lived for a while in Tennessee when I was small, and would go over to the next county to buy their liquor.

      Of course Prohibition ultimately failed because people focused on the forbidden all the more, and found ways to get around it. The Chicago gangster Al Capone once said, "When I sell liquor, it's called bootlegging; when my patrons serve it on silver trays on Lake Shore Drive, it's called hospitality."

  2. Hello Mark, When we were fixing up our old house for selling, we made no formal capsule, but left a few surprises hidden, some valuable, some amusing.

    When I visit old houses, what gives me the greatest time-capsule feeling is the old cans and bottles that are often still lined up in the hidden reaches of the basement and garage. Often these are for products that haven't been made in 50 years, and the old graphics on the labels can really take you back to an earlier day in the house's history.

    1. Hello, Jim,

      One of my friends in Pittsburgh discovered such a treasure in the basement of an old house he bought — an early 1900's Heinz crock with a lithographed label. It was a beauty!

      Now that you mention it, I think a great thing to include in a time capsule (if you had the space) would be several staples of the day, or at least their packaging. I think changes in prices are so interesting, which is why I included a complete newspaper in my capsule.

  3. Wish we had included a time capsule when we renovated our old home, which dates to 1916. Maybe I'll hide one in our attic. Hmmmm....what to include? These come to mind: renovation plans (before and after), definitely photos, paint chips, magazine clippings of our home.

    1. Hi, Loi,

      A bunch of great ideas there! Every time I've painted my house (and the colors have changed), I've mounted the paint chips on stiff illustration board and noted what colors went with which house details. Wouldn't a future owner find that fascinating?!

  4. Mark,
    You included so many wonderful things. I'd be thrilled if I found any one of those in my walls.
    One of my followers had the most interesting idea to include a balanced article on global warming. Many of my friends laughed at the idea that there could be a balanced article but I did manage to find one that listed both had listed pro and con arguments for human causality.
    Anyway, you just gave me the idea to include a little painting of my own in the time capsule so they'll have something made by the former owner.

    1. Hi, Steve,

      It's lovely to think that a future owner might one day find your painting and bring your energy back into the house.

      I had the honor of meeting Rosemary, whose photograph I've included, at a neighborhood party, long before I moved into my current neighborhood. In her 80s she was still coquettish, and I was absolutely charmed by her.

      When I bought the house, many of her possessions were still there, as she had no kin, and I was asked if I wanted anything. Her taste was not mine, but I did save one small figurine of a dog, and it's on a shelf in my living room. I like to believe that her energy, which was so delightful, is still part of the house.

      I'm sure the person who finds your painting will regard it much the same way — infusing the house with good energy.

  5. I love this whole idea, Mark. Unfortunately I'm not a home owner, I rent the bottom floor of an old Victorian house. But I still think it's a wonderful idea. I'm sure your selections as well as your neighbor's contributions will mean a lot to whoever finds them in the future.

    I planted a tree across the street (where I used to live) and I always think that once I'm gone, that tree will be proof that I passed this way. :) Not a time capsule, but the back yard of that particular house was pretty empty until I showed up. Now there's a lovely tree still there these twenty or so years later.

    1. Hi, Yvette,

      I think everybody should plant at least one tree! Some years ago I went for a hot air balloon ride, and it was a real eye-opener. First, from certain altitudes lower than what an airplane would ascend, we could clearly see the ozone as a brown line (and this was more than 25 years ago). Second, whenever we passed over trees, even a small copse, we could feel a wonderful updraft of cool air. It was so apparent how important trees are to our environment.

      You have indeed made an important contribution by that one planting!

  6. Dear Mark - I can just imagine how wonderful it would be to find a time capsule in a property along with all the fun and excitement that it would engender.
    For me, I would want to include the garden - a photo of how it looked in the beginning, and all the different steps taken on the journey to its completion. The drawn plans, and photos of the completion of the paving, walls, pond etc before any plants had been incorporated. Then photos of the maturing plants eventually filling in all the spaces and climbing up the walls.

    1. Dear Rosemary,

      When I think of your time capsule with the plans for your beautiful garden, I think of all those great English gardens that have been kept true or restored to the original designs of people like Capability Brown. Perhaps some day you could put a garden time capsule into a special garden niche?

  7. Dear Mark, Such a clever idea and what wonderful objects you have included into your time capsule.
    We live by a large Spring that in earlier times was a stop over for Native Americans. I would give anything to have a peek into the past and visit one of their rendezvous.

    1. Dear Gina,

      The spring sounds quite romantic. I often imagine time machine travel, and spots like yours are what trigger those thoughts. It's the knowing when you're in a certain place that only one dimension separates you from a vastly different experience.

  8. Dear Mark,
    What a treat to come back to your blog-- I've missed reading it for all these weeks!!! I hope you are well-- I see that the great posts have continued to flow-- this one is wonderful! I think all of your additions to the time capsule are fantastic, especially that great caricature of the great MR! If we had the chance, we'd include some of the classic things: a newspaper, photos, information about the family, drawings by family artists... I also love the idea of some small treasure: a coin, or a gold charm, perhaps... If we get the opportunity to make a time capsule, we'll definitely come back to this post for inspiration!

    Warm regards,

    1. Dear Erika,

      Welcome back to the blogosphere! I hope and trust that being so busy can only mean good things.

      There's a quality about time capsules that's a little like a messages in bottles, in that the contents can sometimes reach back to one. My brother had a neighbor who renovated a house in New Orleans and discovered a newspaper article that mentioned one of his ancestors.

      I'm a great believer that there is residual energy in houses, and I've gone out of my way to incorporate many tokens of good intent into the structure of my house.

  9. When the castle where we stay in Scotland was being renovated, they found a half bottle of Bollinger, a playing card and a fragment of a glass. Not earth-shattering, but it amused them, and these items and others have a space dedicated to them in the library. Your endeavours are wonderfully creative, and one only hopes the house, should it be renovated, doesn't get demolished, and the time capsule lost in the process. But I suppose that's the risk in these things.

    1. Dear Columnist,

      Thank you for that kind hope. I like to believe that I am creating a small jewel of a place, but in this day of ill-proportioned McMansions, I'm sure my rather spacious lot will eventually see a building that nearly fills it. My own hope is that I'm not around to see that!