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Time capsules through time, '57 Belvedere bides time in Oklahoma, Department of obscure information

February 13, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 7

Credit: ACS Photo
Credit: ACS Photo

Time capsules through time

Time capsules have been popular for as long as anyone can remember. The problem is, people tend to forget about them. There are an estimated 10,000 time capsules in the world, and most of them have been misplaced, according to the International Time Capsule Society, headquartered at Oglethorpe University, Atlanta.

In 1991, the organization established a list of "10 Most Wanted Time Capsules," but so far only two of the items have been found. Since then, the society has set up a registry of time capsules to better preserve knowledge of their whereabouts.

One of the sought-after capsules still at large is from the hit comedy television show "M*A*S*H*," which depicted the trials and tribulations of an army hospital unit during the Korean War. In a secret ceremony when the show ended in 1983, cast members placed props and costumes in a cylinder that was buried at 20th Century Fox studios in Hollywood; it may be under a Marriott hotel now. Also making the list is the original cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol, which was dedicated by George Washington in 1793; after successive renovations, no one is sure where the original cornerstone is located or even if there is a time capsule in it.

The American Chemical Society is not without time capsules. To celebrate the ACS centennial in 1976, a time capsule was entrusted with microfilm copies of ACS journals; copies of the ACS constitution, bylaws, and national charter from Congress; the April 6, 1976, centennial issue of C&EN; and various other ACS memorabilia. The capsule was placed at New York University at the site where ACS was founded in 1876. An aluminum seal bearing the ACS centennial logo marks the spot, along with a plaque placed there in 1951 on the 75th anniversary. The time capsule is supposed to be opened in 2076.

There is at least one other known ACS time capsule, this one placed in the cornerstone of the ACS headquarters building in Washington, D.C., when it was built in 1959. ACS officials, including 1959 President John C. Bailar Jr., 1960 President-Elect Arthur C. Cope, Secretary Alden H. Emery, and Director of Membership Activities Bradford R. Stanerson, ceremonially stuffed the time capsule. The capsule holds a history of ACS; photographs; a copy of the Dec. 7, 1959, issue of C&EN; and a penny for good luck. The cornerstone apparently was covered up when the building was renovated in 1994, but presumably the time capsule is still there and waiting.

'57 Belvedere bides time in Oklahoma

A brand-new gold and white 1957 plymouth Belvedere Sport Coupe was buried in an underground concrete vault nearly 50 years ago at the Tulsa County Courthouse in Oklahoma. The car was entombed along with 5 gal of gas, 5 qt of motor oil, and other odd items. The burial was part of "Tulsarama," a city festival celebrating the state's golden anniversary. At the time, it was envisioned that the vault would be opened in 2007 as part of Oklahoma's centennial festivities.

No one knows for sure how the items were prepared or how they may have held up over the years. The car itself is the grand prize of a contest that was held to guess what Tulsa's population will be in 2007 (it's currently about 400,000 in the city limits). The winner, if still alive, or his or her heirs will receive the car and a $100 savings account, now worth about $650.

Department of obscure information

◾ The world's longest lit lightbulb, a 4-W job with a carbon filament, has been burning as a nightlight in a firehouse in Livermore, Calif., for 105 years.
◾ Degussa Feed Additives' acrolein plant in Mobile, Ala., currently with 700 employees, has gone 10 years without a lost-time accident.
◾ A Canadian study has shown that Internet users make decisions about the quality of a Web page in just 50 milliseconds.

This week's column was written by Steve Ritter. Please send comments and suggestions to


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