Time capsules among us

A recent research request led to explorations of archives’ holdings about building dedications and the tradition of placing time capsules in cornerstones.

Until this point, only the contents of Hedding Hall’s time capsule were available in the archives. But our research showed there was also a time capsule in the cornerstone of Sheean Library. When the demolition of that building was announced in July 2011, that box was removed.

Now Sheean Library’s artifacts have been revealed and much of their content is also available in the archives (see further description below and the inventory we created of items removed).

Initially we found newspaper coverage related to five buildings with such artifacts. Since then, a few more have become evident as we learn more about what to look for: the naming variations for this tradition range from time capsules to just “boxes” or “articles” being placed in cornerstones.

The following are descriptions and links out to related information for the nine time capsules we have found to date:
Hedding Hall (1870)
In 1965, almost one hundred years after it was set, a time capsule was recovered from the Hedding Hall arch when both the arch and the building were being demolished. The simple metal box contained money, now held in the archives, as well as a Bible, a Methodist Almanac, university catalogs, newspapers, and more (see the Wesleyana yearbook story on this time capsule removal).

Science Building (1910)
When this building was constructed, only three others existed on campus: Old North, Old Main (aka Hedding Hall) and the Behr Observatory (predecessor to the Mark Evans Observatory). A dedication program for the event is all the evidence we have that the building known today as Stevenson, home to the School of Nursing, contains a time capsule. The document notes that student Vice President R. O. Graham was “Placing Articles in Corner Stone.” [Photos of this event have not been found yet.]

Memorial Gymnasium (1921)
The building we now know as Hansen Student Center was first dedicated on November 5, 1921. The only records that indicate a time capsule is contained within its cornerstone are a photograph and a line in the dedication program for “Depositing Box in Cornerstone.”
The box is pictured at the base of the crane in this photograph.

Shaw Hall (1954)
A time capsule was placed behind this building’s cornerstone when it was being constructed in June of 1954. The records on this event include a letter that was sent to Dr. Shaw’s family by President Holmes describing two photographs of the placement that he sent to them. The family donated the letter and photographs back to the university at some point. The letter mentions that a “box containing articles sealed in the cornerstone” which can be seen in this photograph. The building was formally dedicated during Homecoming of that year and programs of that event along with a list of contents for the time capsule are held in the archives.

Dolan Hall (1955)
The Argus reports on the time capsule contents of the new Men’s Dormitory (later known as Dolan Hall) on February 9, 1955. Representatives of the Student Union presented the box to President Holmes with items including, among other things, a “Freshman Beanie,” contemporary student artwork, photos of significant people, and programs of events on campus.

Memorial Center (1946 and 1947 dedications and1965 addition)
Records of a committee comprised of members from all campus constituencies are held in the archives. This group selected items and designed a program for placing the cornerstone and time capsule in one 1946 event and then dedicating the building a year later. The 1946 article linked above describes time capsule contents such as lists of veterans and Gold Star men, a copy of the Pantagraph, and a history of Wesleyan. A refrain of “Wesleyan Will Remember” was invoked for the occasion and was drawn from a 1944 Homecoming speech, the text of which is reprinted in the dedication program. The 1965 addition also contains a time capsule and events surrounding its dedication are reported on in the Argus as well. This is believed to be the only campus building with two time capsules.

Sheean Library (1967)
A dedication program contains details of this time capsule which was sealed in a cornerstone on October 14th, 1967. For the first time on record, student works were included including a two-track stereo recording of the concert band, choir, orchestra, chamber singers, and soloists performing a variety of works in many genres. The box also contained novels, magazines, plays, and a book published by Mary Shanks and Dorothy Kennedy, two faculty members of the School of Nursing, “The Theory and Practice of Nursing Service Administration.”

  • When the box was opened during Homecoming 2011 more items were found than had been previously recorded.
  • Photographs of both events are also available by searching for “time capsule” and “cornerstone laying”at http://tinyurl.com/7jus7k9

Mark Evans Observatory (1969)
This 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. On March 18, 1969, the astronaut Frank Borman, commander of the Apollo 8 space mission (the first manned flight to orbit the moon), received an honorary degree at Founders’ Day Convocation that year, a highlight of which was the cornerstone laying. One photograph shows Borman holding the time capsule.