Message in a Time Capsule

By Mona Malacane

On October 9th, 1964 Reed Nelson’s parents wrote him and his two brothers a letter and sealed it in a time capsule in the city near their farm – Salem, Indiana. The time capsule was scheduled to be opened on the city’s bicentennial, 50 years later.

For the past few years, Reed has been reminding his family of the approaching opening of the time capsule.  Although his brothers didn’t share his enthusiasm about the letter, Reed continued to look forward to the day the time capsule would be unearthed. Well that time finally came, and on September 27th at 4pm on a warm Saturday the capsule was opened and Reed got the letter.

But before I talk about that letter, please indulge me a few sentences to reflect on how cool time capsules are. They are literally pieces of history (of communication!) that are wrapped up and stored like presents to be opened in the future. Yes, museums are also full of historical artifacts that communicate … but they aren’t wrapped up like gifts and  hidden away. The feeling on being reminded that you can open the gift soon, after having forgotten about it, is so exciting! Like finding money in your winter coat that you haven’t worn in a year, but times 100. And now think what if that artifact was specifically for you, put away and preserved for FIFTY years. Is it just me, or is that not one of the coolest things ever?? Ok thank you for your patience, now back to Reed’s story.

The whole day was filled with bicentennial activities, a parade, a 5k, fireworks … but Reed was there for the time capsule. Slowly but surely, the concrete slab that capped the earth over the capsule was jackhammered away and the names of those who had letters were read out loud. Reed’s parents still live near Salem and were also there for the opening of the time capsule, which added an extra special touch to the day. “My mom made the comment in the letter, ‘when you’re reading this you will be older than I am right now,’ and that was amazing.”

The letter addressed to Reed and his brothers, Mark and Paul.

The letter addressed to Reed and his brothers, Mark and Paul.

Reed with time capsuleFor Reed it was an immeasurably special moment when he read the words his mother wrote 50 years ago.  Reed says it brought back memories from when he was 10 years old and it felt like it was yesterday. Unfortunately, one of those memories was that of his Aunt passing away. There was the lighter side too. “The previous night [my mom] had taken us three boys to the elementary school fall festival, which was a big deal. But the … and the …  girls got into a fight that night at the festival … And when they started fighting, they started fighting. [My teacher] came out and grabbed their hairs and separated them, I remember that, and then I took off!” Of course Reed had heard at school earlier that day that the two girls were going to fight at the festival, but his mother wasn’t privy to this information and she was naturally surprised by it. In the letter she wrote, “My, my, those two girls fought.” She also wrote a few complained about Reed’s younger brother, which made him chuckle.

The city of Salem has put another time capsule into the ground to be opened in 2064 and this time Reed put a letter in for his kids and grand kids. “That’s a hard letter to write to your children who are 30ish and who will be 80ish when this capsule is opened, and to my [five] grand kids, so listing everybody on that envelope – my first son and his son and his wife; my second son, his 3 sons, and his wife; and my wife’s daughter and her daughter – it got pretty full,” He explained. “I was writing that last paragraph with tears, I wasn’t crying but they were just tearing in my eyes … it was incredible the finality of the feeling that you have when you’re writing 50 years into the future and you know you won’t be around to read it.” Even so, Reed created a little piece of history for his grandchildren that I’m sure they will appreciate when they receive it.

Here’s something to ponder for the rest of your Monday: if we were to bury a Telecom time capsule before moving to Franklin Hall, what would YOU want to preserve for the future?

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