A promise made at age 10 comes due next year for hundreds of thirtysomethings, who will fulfill their mission and then hand it off to a new crop of Washington kids.
Their work, however, won’t be fully appreciated for another 375 years.
That’s when a time capsule created in 1989 and intended to be added to every 25 years will be opened. That is, if the experiment succeeds and the people of the future know where to look — just inside the entrance to the state Capitol, if the place is still standing.
Inside, the people of 2389 will find artifacts likely both interesting and puzzling. They might not have anything that can read the Microsoft Bookshelf software on CD-ROM, though it was state of the art for its time. But they might enjoy:
- Thousands of notes on microfilm from Washington residents of 1989.
- Messages from local science-fiction writers.
- A Frederick & Nelson Christmas catalog.
- A banner from a trip into space by local astronaut Bonnie Dunbar.
All of that was locked up in 1990 with a sealing system created at Hanford. Earlier, on Nov. 11, 1989, then-Gov. Booth Gardner had given an oath to about 300 Keepers of the Capsule who had been recruited through the media, schools and groups such as the Boy Scouts.
The idea for the Keepers grew out of the work of an advisory committee that helped create the capsule. They were to be stewards of the capsule, to guard against it being lost to time.
All the volunteers were turning 10 on or around Nov. 11, 1989. They and their successors were to return every 25 years to add a new set of items.
“It was kind of this thing in the distant future,” said Amy Condon, recalling when she came to the Capitol ceremony from Annie Wright School in Tacoma. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be so old.’”
Now a Tacoma lawyer, Condon turns 34 Wednesday. On Tuesday, she and other Keepers will start deciding what to add to the capsule next year.
“I keep thinking about music,” said another of the Keepers, Jennifer Estroff, formerly a lobbyist for a children’s advocacy group. “I want everything in there from Nirvana and Pearl Jam to Macklemore.”
She acknowledges that more weighty events also have shaped the world since 1989. “Sept. 11 has happened. We’re a generation who has seen incredible change,” said Estroff, who chairs the Keepers board.
The Keepers also are charged with recruiting their successors.
Ask tour guides at the Capitol where to find the time capsule, and they will reply: Which one? There are at least four in and around the building, each created to mark an anniversary of the state or country.
This one, though, has the unusual ability to capture life in Washington at different moments in time.
There are really 16 capsules in the green safe that is known as the Washington Centennial Time Capsule in honor of the state’s 100th birthday in 1989. A new one is to be filled and sealed every 25 years.
It also contains an extra drawer, designed to be emptied and refilled every 25 years. Knute Berger, a Seattle writer who helped plan the centennial celebration, said the idea of the drawer is to satisfy the curiosity of people who might otherwise be tempted to open the sealed capsules prematurely.
No one seems to remember exactly what’s in the drawer — except some finely aged contents that wouldn’t have excited the Keepers as kids but might be welcome to their adult selves. “We put some beverages in there for the Capsule Keepers in 2014,” Berger said.
They will find out more next year. For a moment, it looked like the bigger drama would be whether they could open the safe — after Berger said he lost the Rolodex that contained his copy of the combination. But Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s office tracked down another copy.
Wyman’s office now is trying to find the remaining Keepers. For the first time since they were 10 years old, the group will gather as a whole at noon Tuesday in the Capitol rotunda to start planning what they will preserve for the future.