By Zoe Fraley The Bellingham Herald
BELLINGHAM — One hundred years ago, the graduating class at Western Washington University started a school tradition by burying a time capsule on campus.
But what they intended for the future to find remains unclear.
University workers opened the 1912 time capsule — along with the 1913 one — Thursday to find that a century underground had left most of the contents disintegrated.
But the discovery wasn’t necessarily a disappointment.
“I think we found a lot more than we had anticipated,” said Daniel Boxberger, professor and chair of the Anthropology Department. “We didn’t expect anything in there but dust. It looks like we have some materials we can identify.”
Though there was much dust, there also were aged papers, stuck together and discolored almost beyond recognition. The professors hope to have a specialist come in to analyze the papers, and if they’re readable, they may be able to search for words or even phrases in 1912 issues of the campus magazine Klipsun or The Western Front.
The time capsule, made out of a tin box that had rusted through in spots, was lodged inside the concrete base of the 1912 walkway marker outside Old Main. When workers unearthed the marker Feb. 3, they weren’t sure whether they’d even find a capsule for that year, but they drilled and chiseled carefully to discover the box.
At the same time, they also removed the 1913 marker and its box because it was in a similar deteriorated condition. Both had been wrapped in plastic and placed in concrete after being dug up sometime in the 1980s when the walkway in front of Old Main was replaced.
Tamara Belts, who works with special collections in the university’s library, wasn’t certain that the 1912 time capsule existed until she saw it for herself. Starting in about 1906, classes planted ivy each year, and she wasn’t sure whether the class of 1912 had just marked their ivy, rather than making a capsule.
“We didn’t have a clue what we were going to find, so finding anything is pretty cool,” Belts said.
She hopes that the time capsule and its contents, no matter how battered, can be displayed around the time that students are graduating in spring.
“You kind of wish you could just meet someone from the class of 1912 and tell them what they started,” Belt said. “Could they really have known this was going to start something that would last 100 years?”
Belt wondered if the students ever really thought that their belongings would be dug up again.
“Were they thinking time capsule,” she said, “or were they thinking of leaving something of themselves behind to be part of the campus?”