We ARE a Time Capsule, Aren’t We?


That was pretty exciting, the opening of that time capsule in Boston.

It was assembled in 1795 by no lesser celebs than midnight-rider Paul Revere and failed brewer-turned Governor Samuel Adams (190 years before his name was finally attached to a successful beer).

The time capsule was actually a cigar-box-sized container made of copper, embedded in the cornerstone of the 1798 statehouse on Beacon Hill.

It took a team of supremely patient professional chiselers seven hours to chisel the ten-pound box out, and four more hours just to loosen the screws holding it shut. And before opening the box, the team X-rayed it — maybe they were concerned about a booby-trap?

But finally, the time capsule was opened, and the world learned of its inventory.

Revere and Adams had jammed the time capsule with so much stuff — and the conservators had to be so careful with the possibly-fragile contents — it took another hour to meticulously lift out all the items, using a porcupine quill and an old dental tool.

“It was like brain surgery,” said Malcolm Rogers, director of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, although hardly anybody does brain surgery with a porcupine quill anymore.

To tell the truth, some of the thrill of opening this time capsule was diminished by the fact that this wasn’t the first time it had been unearthed and opened. In 1855 (when, by the way, the Governor of Massachusetts happened to be from the Know-Nothing Party), officials took the stuff out, cleaned it all up, put it all back, and then jammed in a few 1855 treasures for good measure.

Ultimately, the stash turned out to include five folded newspapers (the Chronicle not among them), a seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a title page from Massachusetts colonial records, a couple dozen coins, and a silver plate (probably made by silversmith Revere).

I’m a history fan, but I confess, I was disappointed.

I was hoping for some shockers: an embarrassing cartoon of Sam’s cousin John (who happened to be President at the time), or some Congregationalist’s secret Catholic church membership card, or a section of Mrs. Revere’s bodice.

I do believe Ipswich can do better today than Boston did back then.

I’ve begun a list of items for a time capsule, which I believe should be buried under Old Town Hall. We’ll need something significantly larger than a cigar box, however. Perhaps an official Town of Ipswich garbage bag?

Here’s what I have in mind so far:

  1. As a symbol of dedication to public service: Shirley Berry’s sunglasses and baseball cap — the implements that enabled her to persevere for so long as our duly elected selectman even after her unfortunate accident and wretched subsequent impairments. (Label to be affixed to the artifacts: “Devices of Democracy!”)
  2. One (1) green crab, representing the 147 quintillion destroying our aquatic ecosystem — with instructions to destroy the little monster.
  3. To position Ipswich as cutting-edge, if only in its cuisine: One (1) serving of Salt Kitchen’s “fried milk” (where the menu description actually says “Trust us” and nothing more). I imagine a Star Wars-type hologram of Salt’s mad-scientist chef Chris Tighe jumping out of the time capsule in his kitchen hat and apron, crying, “Eat this, Obi-wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.”
  4. To demonstrate our commitment to the rule of law: One (1) enormous million-terabyte hard drive containing the Ipswich building code and all Ipswich public health regulations — plus maybe a smaller thousand-terabyte thumb drive containing only a comprehensive listing of this past year’s violations.
  5. To certify the veracity of all the stuff in our time capsule: One (1) official Ipswich Town Historian Gordon Harris bobble-head doll.

Please, please: Contact me via TimeCapsule@DougBrendel.com if you have other ideas. I don’t want people opening the Ipswich time capsule 200 years from now to say, “Aw, how lame.”

One (1) final note: I’m not convinced that opening the time capsule every century or so is really adequate. If we can make the Ipswich time capsule big enough, it would be great to dig it up twice a year, and have Town Moderator Tom Murphy jump out of it, crowing, “Hellooooo, Ipswich! It’s time for Town Meeting!”

This could make Town Meeting more of an event, and attendance at Town Meeting more like attending, say, the Oscars.

Doug Brendel lives in an enormous 2-sq.-mi. time capsule known as “outer Linebrook.” His latest book, “Diggin’ Ipswich,” is available at Ipswich Greetings & Gifts on Market St.


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