Time capsule was most historic item at event

September 21, 2011|By TIM ROWLAND |

That was it? That was the contents of the time capsule buried under the Washington County Free Library? A stirring list of artifacts that included a city directory and a phone book from 1965 — be still my heart.

Not to appear underwhelmed, but you can find those items in two out of every three desks in The Herald-Mail newsroom.

Apparently, this particular time capsule was placed at the time of the library's construction, and it was discovered by demolition crews stripping the building down to its bare bones as part of an extensive renovation project.

The time capsule was opened before a live audience in downtown Hagerstown last week, with expectations running — I wouldn't say high; this is Hagerstown, after all. No one was thinking in terms of Stonewall Jackson's left arm, but I think we'd set the bar a bit higher than a city directory.

Or maybe a city directory was good; it reminded us of a time when the downtown had actual businesses. (I am now, as we speak, putting my phone on voice mail to handle the estimated 78 consecutive messages from Hagerstown Mayor Bob Bruchey.)

Maybe the problem was with the elapsed time involved, or more specifically the lack of it. Forty-five years isn't a whole lot of time for things to have dramatically changed. As history goes, it was a little like opening a time capsule that had been put together last March.

To that point, I think we all might have been a little more impressed with a phone book from, say, 1750.

And we might have been a little like kids before Christmas — just got a bit ahead of ourselves.

For example, I couldn't swear to you that they still make phone books. I think they do, but I'm not 100 percent sure. I know it's been years since I've cracked one, and you can bet that a decade from now there will be no such thing.

So if we had waited around another 50 years and then opened the capsule, it might have had a stronger effect. To our great grandchildren, page after page with nothing but alphabetized surnames and multiple-base, 10-digit subsets with no apparent order or codification is going to look like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

But today?

And to be quite blunt about it, our forefathers, or our forelibrarians as the case may be, just didn't put the thought into this project that you like to see in your standard time capsule.

I mean, a phone book might be tantamount to the naughtiest sex toy of the entire library universe for all I know, but sheesh, would it have killed them to have thrown in a little something from the time period, like a tube of Brylcreem or a pair of Playtex Living Gloves?

Yeah kids, true story, your grandma thought soap caused lizard-like skin known as "dishpan hands," while your pap thought dry hair caused baldness.

Or maybe the whole premise of time capsules has become flawed. There just aren't any surprises left. There's nothing in a time capsule that you couldn't find in 20 minutes on eBay.

And what could we possibly put in a time capsule that would impress people a hundred years from now, with the possible exception of James Carville?

You can't swing a cat these days without hitting a museum, so the idea of a time capsule is pretty much a redundancy. Until you can put human decency or proper manners into a metal box so people in a modern age can see what they were like, what's the use?

Matter of fact, that might be the ultimate time capsule. Open it up a century and inside they will find — a time capsule. How quaint.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at Tune in to the Rowland Rant at, on or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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