102-year-old time capsule opened at Utah State Capitol

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SALT LAKE CITY — Donning a white lab coat, gloves and power tools, Gov. Gary Herbert opened a 102-year-old time capsule at the patriotically-decorated Utah capitol building rotunda Monday, Oct. 3 before dozens of anxious Utah citizens.

The opening of the capsule is one of the many events planned for the capitol building’s week-long centennial celebration.

The capsule, which was extracted from a column last week, contained artifacts from the past: copies of several newspapers, coins, a two-cent stamp, a trolley ticket, business cards from the contractors, photographs of the original Capitol commission at the building’s dedication, commemorative dedication programs and two books entitled “Church Chronology” by Andrew Jenson and “L.D.S. Biographical Encyclopedia.”

Utah State Capitol time capsule artifacts

An old faded copy of the Salt Lake Tribune from the Utah Capitol time capsule sits on a table after the capsule is opened October 4, 2016. (Laura Spilsbury)
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The capsule was first placed inside the capitol on April 4, 1914, while the building was still incomplete. The capitol was later finished and dedicated on Oct. 9, 1916.

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Members of the Utah Capitol Commission pose for a picture just before the time capsule was placed on April 4, 1914. (Utah State Historical Society)

Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, R—Utah, started the ceremony out with some humor directed toward some centenarians who were present.

“You’ve all aged better than that box,” Cox said to a chuckling crowd.

Cox invited a few of the centenarians who attended the event to share their memories of the capitol building. One 100-year-old woman shared a memory of singing in a group while standing on the steps of the capitol.

Governor Gary Herbert, R—Utah, then addressed the crowd with praises for predecessors who contributed to Utah’s history before opening the capsule.

“Those who have gone before have put us on the right pathway. They gave us principles and values we built upon,” Herbert said. The success of Utah really relies upon our ability to stand upon the shoulders of those who have gone before us.”

Community historian Ron Fox was surprised at the well-preserved condition of the artifacts. Fox has attended the openings of other time capsules with different results.

“In 1960, when a truck hit the Eagle Gate, they opened up the cornerstone that was in it,” Fox said. The papers had turned to mush because of the water and heat over the years and they basically were looking at flaked-up pieces of paper. These are in good shape.”

Joseph Soderborg is an independent researcher who was dressed up like former Utah Gov. William Spry for the event. Soderborg said placing time capsules in buildings was a common practice at the time the Utah State Capitol was built. According to Fox and an article on the Harold B. Lee Library website, there was even at one point a time capsule in the BYU Maeser Building. It was removed at BYU’s centennial celebration in 1975 and the contents are now available at the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at the Harold B. Lee Library.

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President Joseph F. Smith lays the cornerstone of the Maeser Building in 1909. (Deseret News Archives)

Soderborg takes special interest in time capsules and has found many in Utah, including one at the Tenth Ward building in Salt Lake City.

Laura Spilsbury
Independent researcher Joseph Soderborg dresses up as former Utah Gov. William Spry at the Utah Capitol on Oct. 4, 2016. (Laura Spilsbury)

“I know there’s a chapel in Provo that was dedicated in 1916. Now it’s an apartment house,” Soderborg said. “(It) has a time capsule in it, and if I can find where the cornerstone is on that, we might be able to talk to the owners and convince them to pull it out.”

Fox also expressed the importance of the millennial generation learning about history and his worry they won’t leave a legacy behind for their descendants.

“The question is what will remain from the millennial generation that will be looked at in 1,000 years or 10,000 years,” Fox said. “Our generation is no longer teaching cursive in our schools, so someone from there doesn’t understand anything that isn’t printed. So it’s an appreciation. It’s just like doing genealogy, say, in Sweden and looking at something in English in 1900. A person from the millennial generation might not be able to read that.”

The week-long celebration for the capitol’s 100th anniversary of completion will culminate in several events Friday and Saturday, including a performance by the BYU Ballroom Dance Company, a gala and fireworks.

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