Time capsules are an expected part of our civic rituals these days. But what's behind our urge to freeze time and bury these treasures for future generations to find?
In the attic of the James J. Hill house, where you already feel the weight of Minnesota's history, Nick Sarnicki is packing a low cardboard box the size of an under-the-bed storage box. Sarnicki is with the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission, a group created to oversee Minnesota's sesquicentennial celebrations.
"The number one suggestion from everyone has been SPAM, so we actually have a can of SPAM," says Sarnicki. It's just the can. The sesquicentennial folks didn't want to risk a mess inside the time capsule.
Sarnicki also has e-mails, notebooks, DVDs and books people have sent in. They all want something they've touched to live on in this group memory project.
"There's something primal about time capsules," says Paul Hudson, a historian at George Perimeter College in Atlanta. "It's like buried treasure. I, as a child, would bury things and quite often dig it up in the afternoon so excited to see it.
Hudson still feels that excitement. In 1990, he co-founded the International Time Capsule Society at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. The society is trying to register the estimated twenty thousand time capsules we've stashed away.
We love to gather the ephemera of our times; the Wonder Bras, beer cans, and newspapers. But our memories are short.
"What happens to most time capsules is they become lost or forgotten," says Hudson.
He thinks the fate of time capsules reflects the foibles of human nature. We have the best of intentions, but we're disorganized and forgetful.
And some time capsules, even if they're found, are disasters.
Tulsa, Okla., unearthed its 50-year time capsule in 2007. There was a lot of excitement because the city had buried a car.
It came up covered in rust and nearly destroyed. Tulsa's next time capsule will stay above ground.
Minnesota's will be shelved at the history center. And it's likely some of the people who contributed to Minnesota's sesquicentennial time capsule will actually be around when it's opened in 2058.
But some time capsules will outlive everybody.
Paul Hudson says the Crypt of Civilization at Oglethorpe University is considered "the granddaddy of all time capsules." Oglethorpe's president, Dr. Thornwell Jacobs, sealed it in 1940--not to be opened until the year 8113.
"And people used to ask Dr. Jacobs, 'What will life be like in 8113?'" Hudson says. "And he said he could no more envision life in 8113 than Cro-Magnon man could envision the skyline of New York."
Even though we can't envision the future, we humans still try desperately to insert ourselves into it.
The European Space Agency is planning to launch a satellite into space containing messages from all humanity. They have four pages reserved for you. KEO will return to earth fifty thousand years from now. They picked 50,000 because that's how long ago humans invented art-- cave paintings.
"In thousands of years, your own message will be read by someone in the earth. So someone will think to you at that time," says Patrick Tejador with the European Space Agency.
It's a nice thought. But 50,000 years from now, will they find our messages? Time capsule historian Paul Hudson doesn't make one feel too encouraged about that. And outer space seems like an even bigger place for something to get lost, forgotten or ruined. But we have to keep hoping. That's what humans do.