100 year old time capsule

dedication day

(click to enlarge)

This photo shows a large crowd gathered on November 5, 1921 to place the cornerstone in the Memorial Gymnasium. Look to the left of the man standing below the tip of the flag and you will see a small box resting on top of the stone. That time capsule will be opened this fall by members of Student Senate.

Anyone who came to IWU after 2002 would know the building as the Hansen Student Center. The building was originally dedicated to the memory of IWU personnel who died in World War I, hence the name Memorial Gym.

This post is dedicated to honoring the efforts it took to locate that small box in a stone that’s 30″ wide x 18″ high and 17″ thick. The thickness of the cornerstone was unknown up until this week! There is a program for the event with a line that says E. Mark Evans would be “placing box in cornerstone” (pictured below).

dedication stone

The photo of the crowd (at top of this blog post) and another one from the same vantage point but without people are the only visual clues about the time capsule and stone in the University’s archives.

view with no crowd

Director of Physical Plant Jim Blumberg assigned the work of pinpointing the time capsule’s location to John Zmia, a mason with Western Specialty Contractor. After testing the thickness by removing bricks at the top of the stone on the outside of the building, Zmia determined that extensive brick removal would be needed. In consultation with our Physical Plant personnel, they concluded that the best approach was to work from the back of the stone.Memorial Gym time capsule removal

Blumberg said the effort to find the box’s location in the stone took about 12 hours over two days and then 3 hours of chiseling the cornerstone to get to it. Blumberg took this video of Zmia removing the time capsule removal from the stone on August 31, 2021.opening the box

This is the third time capsule we’ve recovered since 2011* and it is our tradition to pre-open the box for safety reasons and then hold a public event to remove the contents. This time the work of opening fell to Manager of Maintenance Kenton Frost (on the left) and Supervisor of Building Trades Matt Gentes.

Because the building is now a student-centered space, Student Senate is conducting the opening event. Stay tuned for an event announcement!

*The other two were removed from Sheean Library and the Mark Evans Observatory, which was named for the person who placed the time capsule in the Memorial Gym!

Evans’ time capsule contents

Although many more are known to exist, only three time capsules have been opened in IWU’s 169-year history. One was discovered accidentally when the iconic arch that still led into Duration Hall, last remnant of Hedding Hall/Old Main, was torn down. All that remains of the contents of that box are pieces of bank notes it contained and the description of its other contents as reported in the 1966 Wesleyana (p. 23).

The second was a much more purposeful removal from Sheean Library.The contents of this box were in excellent condition and are reported on in previous blog posts. The third was also a planned removal, this time in honor of the 50th anniversary of its placement rather than being due to the building’s destruction. This post describes the discoveries made as a result of this recent unveiling.

As previously reported, when the Evans Observatory’s time capsule was opened in preparation for the official unveiling at Homecoming 2019, much of the content was too deteriorated to salvage. Moisture interacted with a battery and food inside the copper box and the to the other material damage was extensive!

poster of damaged objects

A poster of several of the damaged objects (clockwise from top right): the thermal battery, a microfilm reel with the Bloomington phone directory (rolled and unrolled), close-up of a rolled map (enclosed in a plastic sleeve and closed by a metal snap; unrolled map in center), a long shot of the capsule’s damaged contents. (click any image in this blog post to enlarge)

Everything that was paper-based was congealed into a solid mass but fortunately, most of these were all widely distributed publications from the University and local businesses. We were able to separate two unique paper items:

Several unique objects survived their 50-year odyssey and one even went on the Apollo 8 mission, circling the moon ten times! Astronaut Frank Borman personally added the medallion picture below before placing the capsule in the Mark Evans Observatory.

Other items found in the capsule were donated by the Bloomington branches of several companies. Noteworthy among the survivors are a miniature engine, supplied by Caterpillar Tractor Co.; a vacuum tube and circuit board from the Admiral Corporation; a selection of electric relays from General Electric; and an integrated circuit, the kind which made putting a computer on the Apollo 8 flight possible, supplied by General Telephone.

Other views of the objects contained in this post are available in our Historic IWU photo collection. The objects themselves will be on permanent display in the Mark Evans Observatory.

list of time capsule contents

Contents list that was read by President Eckley on the day of the time capsule’s placement.

Apollo 8 and IWU

Earth rising above the lunar horizon

Earthrise, December 24, 1968. Photo by Apollo 8 Astronaut Bill Anders. (credit: NASA)

December 21st marks the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Apollo 8 mission–the first manned orbit of the moon. Just three months after that on March 18, 1969, the three Apollo 8 astronauts–Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders–were awarded honorary PhDs at the 1969 Founders’ Day Convocation (the latter two in absentia). During his time on campus, Borman, who was Apollo 8’s commander, laid the cornerstone for the new Mark Evans Observatory and spoke at a luncheon for the Board of Trustees.
Towards the end of the Founders’ Day recording Borman speaks and has some pointed and interesting comments about education in direct response to the event’s main speaker William Arrowsmith, University of Texas Professor of Classics and University Professor in Arts and Letters. A March 21, 1969 Argus article (p. 15)  describes the event.
Astronaut Frank Borman and a crowd of onlookers at the Evan's Observatory dedication

A sizeable crowd watches as Frank Borman gets ready to place the time capsule in the Mark Evans Observatory. [click to enlarge]


The University made an an audio recording of the cornerstone laying at Mark Evans Observatory and the University Archivist added the sound track over three brief (and silent) home movies that were donated in 2016. One of the films shows Borman placing a time capsule in the observatory’s wall. The photo on the left shows just part of the crowd that this event drew; several other photos are available online.
The time capsule included many items that were not connected directly with the campus such as a package of space food, the Apollo 8 astronaut’s Christmas Eve tape, a road atlas, the Illinois Agricultural Association (IAA) Record and fifty-year history, and the Bloomington-Normal Phone Directory on microfilm.
In President Eckley’s remarks at the dedication, he says he intends to open the time capsule in seven years, but the University’s archival holdings do not contain evidence of that happening. With the 50th anniversary of the observatory’s dedication coming up, Physical Plant personnel are examining the building to see if the time capsule is still there.
After the dedication, Borman gave a presentation to the Board of Trustees in which he shared details of the Apollo 8 mission and displayed a great sense of humor!
The Winter 2011 IWU Magazine story “Star Attraction” offers additional details on the history of the development of this observatory.

Check out the Museum class exhibits!

Four groups of students prepared exhibits for ANTH 270 this semester. This project required them to become familiar with artifacts on a topic, research it using primary and secondary sources, and create a visually appealing and informative display.

One of the groups used ethnographic material collected by Dr. Rebecca Gearhart. Their exhibit, titled Rhythms of the East African Coast is located in a display case by the Anthropology department on the second floor of CLA.

The remaining three groups used materials from the University Archives. The exhibit titles and locations are as follows:

The Long Lost Fame of the IWU College of Law, 1st Floor, John Wesley Powell Rotunda

     –photographs and documents related to the Bloomington law School and IWU College of Law.

Turbulent Titans: Student Issues from 1970-1971, 1st Floor, across from Circulation

     –an analysis of issues tackled by the student publication “Rhetoric and Propaganda.”

The Center of the University: Its Rise and Its Demise, 3rd Floor, outside Thorpe Center

     –photographs, an architectural plan and documents surrounding the history of Old Main/Hedding Hall/Duration Hall.

Great job, ANTH 270!