University of Washington Time Capsule Surprise

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This week, the University of Washington opened up a five-decade-old time capsule, in preparation for an alumni event this weekend. They were surprised by what they found.


This week, the University of Washington opened up a five-decade-old time capsule in preparation for an alumni event this weekend. They may have been expecting a little nostalgic trip, but NPR's Martin Kaste tells us, a funny thing happened on the way to the 1950s.

Dr. CRISPIN THURLOW (Alumni; Department of Communication, University of Washington): So we're standing around in a circle around this box like some ancient sacrificial ritual.

MARTIN KASTE: Crispin Thurlow and Victoria Sprang were part of the delegation that pulled the 1956 time capsule out of the wall on Thursday.

Dr. THURLOW: It's like a scene out of "Indiana Jones…

Ms. VICTORIA SPRANG (Alumni; Development Director, Department of communication, University of Washington): (unintelligible)

Dr. THURLOW: …and Raiders of the Lost Arc," I think. It was, sort of, not quite sure what was going to jump out of the box.

KASTE: They probably should have paid more attention to that orange smiley face sticker that they found on the lid of the box.

Dr. THURLOW: So we lift it off, and the first thing that struck us - are we allowed to say?

Ms. SPRANG: It was a centerfold.

Dr. THURLOW: A centerfold.

Ms. SPRANG: Yes, a centerfold.

KASTE: Besides copies of Penthouse, Hustler and Playboy, the delegation found LP's, a P(ph) sticker and a paperback edition of "I'm Okay, You're Okay." The artifacts were carbon dated back to the late Carter administration and suspicions immediately fell on the Daily, the student newspaper located just down the hall.

Assistant director Bon Kelly claims not to know what his predecessors might have been up to, but it clearly pleases him.

Mr. BON KELLY (Assistant Director, The Daily): They had to remove 34 or 38 vaults to open this thing up in addition to taking the plaque off. I've been picturing it like the Watergate plumbers.

KASTE: So these guys didn't get trapped?

Mr. KELLY: No. And you're right. G. Gordon Liddy(ph) was not here. They didn't get caught. They're better than the plumbers.

KASTE: School officials have been good humored about the situation. Crispin Thurlow, who's been working on a new time capsule with his students, says the pranksters in the '70s knew how to choose items that really bridged the decades.

Dr. THURLOW: I would just like to point out my personal favorite from the prank era.

KASTE: He gingerly holds up a pair of what can only be described at tidy whiteys(ph).

Dr. THURLOW: I'd like to meet the young undergraduates from our 1978, 1979. A few actually were seriously wearing these with any sense of dignity.

KASTE: In fact, the communication professor in Thurlow finds all of these very fascinating.

Dr. THURLOW: Most of the prank content is at least 30 years old, which is itself an interest history, an interesting…

KASTE: Do you realize what a bummer it must be for whoever is listening to this who did this…

Ms. SPRANG: I don't know…

KASTE: …to hear you, academicizing(ph) this, to making this intellectual?

Dr. THURLOW: Actually, if they could have seen the looks on our faces, they would have got what they wanted.

KASTE: The 1970s artifacts will be on display at the university this afternoon, alongside the original material from the 1950s.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle

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