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Local Column

Schrader: Time capsules opened during NIU homecoming

Northern Illinois University Archivist Cindy Ditzler and Dean of University Libraries Fred Barnhart examine contents of the Douglas Hall time capsule.
Northern Illinois University Archivist Cindy Ditzler and Dean of University Libraries Fred Barnhart examine contents of the Douglas Hall time capsule.

Two time capsules sealed a half-century ago were opened during homecoming last weekend, and the contents appeared rather mundane in my opinion.

I have been a part of five time capsule projects over the years and have tried to fill them with historic artifacts of the era, sort of a snapshot in time of the fads and trends from that year. But NIU archivist Cindy Ditzler pointed out that there are two types of capsules – one commemorating the construction of a new building and the other marking a special event such as a Centennial or Bicentennial.

Cindy said there were two items people found intriguing among the dozens of paper products inside the Douglas Hall capsule: one was the 1962 dorm cafeteria menu, with food choices students would probably turn up their noses at today; the other showed the cost of tuition, board and room for the 1962-63 school year – a paltry $1,200. Younger alums can probably calculate if the rate of inflation over 56 years would add up to college costs today.

Most of the other contents were the kind of documents you would expect: a college catalog, handbooks about housing and conduct, budgets, a city map, dorm floor plan, construction photos, etc. Items from the other capsule, Stevens Building, were similar.

I was upset to find out they included three newspapers, but no Daily Chronicle.

I can understand issues of the Northern Star, but why would the Rockford Morning Star and Bloomington Pantograph take precedence over the local newspaper? Could some college administrator have had issues with the Chronicle? I was on the Star staff at that time and if any newspaper would have been excluded for its critical reporting on the administration it would have been the Star. Editors at the time like Joe Distelheim and Al Erisman really knew how to get under the skin of university officials.

Cindy said they would like to display the contents of the copper box from Douglas Hall in one of the glass cases on the first floor of the Founders Memorial Library, then retain them in the university archives. Disposition of the Stevens Buildingl capsule’s contents has not been decided.

I might suggest in the future that the official time capsule of documents be placed in a dorm at its opening, then a year later let the students who reside there assemble a collection of their choices to be placed alongside the original container.

If there was a student time capsule placed in Neptune Hall back in the late 1950s, I can just imagine what might be included: a package of NoDoz pills used for staying awake while cramming for final exams, a beer glass from McCabe’s Tavern, a pack of Camels, an Elvis Presley vinyl record, tickets and a list of movies for the DuVal Drive-in, a Pizza Villa menu and maybe a stolen DeKalb Ag winged ear field sign. I could even have added a protest sign from one of the student demonstrations we organized.

The International Time Capsule Society based at Oglethorpe University in Georgia, which maintains records of capsules from around the world, reports that some 80 percent of those buried or put into cornerstones are lost because of a lack of record-keeping and clear marking, so when a school building, church or lodge hall is demolished it would be wise to check behind the cornerstone and there might be a surprise hidden in there.

• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or through P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. An archive of his past columns cannot be found in a time capsule, but are online at www.dekalbcountylife.com.

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