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History Corner By Pat Ross & Fran Snead


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March 01, 2015

Recently in the news a copper box was discovered in the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House in Boston.  It is believed that when the construction of the building began in 1795, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams placed this time capsule in the cornerstone.  This capsule was first discovered and removed in 1855 from the State House cornerstone and its contents were taken out of the original cowhide container, cleaned, and then reburied.  Several additional items were believed to be added at this time.  The time capsule was found a second time in 2014 when it was spotted while a water leak was being repaired.  Silver coins were dislodged from plaster surrounding the copper box believed to be ones that public officials threw in the mortar for good luck during the rebuial in 1855.  When the copper box was opened there were newspapers, coins dating from 1652 to 1855, an engraved silver plate, a copper medal with George Washington's impression, the title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records, and an impression of the seal of the Commonwealth.

Time capsules have been around, according to history, since at least medieval times and maybe even before.  Preserving documents and artifacts for future generations to discover and placing them in such places as cornerstones of buildings has been done throughout the ages.  Fancy ceremonies and rituals commonly accompany the burying of time capsules.  However, the term time capsule only came to light in the year 1939 and was used by the Westinghouse Company when it buried a fifty foot torpedo shaped time capsule under the grounds of the World's Fair in New York City.  According to Wikipedia, a time capsule is "a historic cache of goods or information, usually intended as a method of communication with future people and to help future archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians".  However, if items included in a time capsule are not preserved correctly, they may be of little value, significance, or worth when opened or discovered.

To me time capsules take on an additional meaning and do not necessarily have to be buried in mortar or under layers of dirt.  The Bassett Historical Center, for example, is a time capsule in its own right.  When walking through the Center, the past literally comes alive and time is somewhat frozen.  This one of a kind "capsule" includes several uniforms once worn by actual soldiers, pieces of the World War II plane crash at Bull Mountain, the first piano in Henry County, a safe from the Henry County Courthouse, the Jacob Koger basket that traveled with him in 1728 from Deal, England, and much MUCH more.  If you stop to consider what is inside of the Center, the artifacts and displays here are the epitome of a true time capsule.  The list of items is never ending!  Each time something is donated to the Center it is a type of time capsule in itself.  Cedar chests, scrapbooks, photo albums, yearbooks, home movies, and the like are all examples of time capsules just waiting to be opened.  Another example of what I consider a time capsule to be is my Christmas tree.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Ornaments covering my tree include ones passed down through our family, ones that were carefully hand made in school, and even ones that were gifts that I received before I could walk or talk.  So each year as I put up my tree and decorate it, I am transcended back through time remembering the history of each ornament.  Look around Grandma's attic or in a box in the basement that has been there for awhile and you have a time capsule at the tip of your fingers.  This year the time capsule that was buried on October 28, 1990 at Pocahontas Bassett Baptist Church is supposed to be opened.  I can't wait to see what is inside.

Time capsules throughout history have been synonymous in large part with centennial and bicentennial celebrations but certainly are not limited to these.  A time capsule is a window to the past; it is not only a reflection of HIStory but of HERstory as well.  What will you leave in your time capsule?

A few time capsule fun facts:

-The International Time Capsule Society estimates that there are over 10,000 time capsules in existence today, the vast majority of which have been forgotten or even lost.

-In 1999 President Bill Clinton included Twinkies in the millennium time capsule as an icon of American food culture.

-There are currently four time capsules in space.

Fran Snead










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