Lost Lancashire time capsule missing for 130 years remains a mystery to US experts
Experts at a university in Atlanta, Georgia are scrambling to record and map time capsules across the world so they are not lost but mystery still surrounds one Lancashire capsule thirty years on.
The International Time Capsule Society is based at Oglethorpe University and a time capsule buried at the Blackpool Tower features on its ‘top ten missing’ list.
A search ensued before building works in 1991 but the capsule could not be found by either metal detectorists or clairvoyants.
Its burial on September 25, 1891 is chronicled in a Blackpool Gazette article. It details a ‘most elaborate ceremony’ that took place to mark the completion of the ‘Blackpool Eiffel Tower’.
Blackpool’s Mayor was present as was Blackpool MP Sir Matthew White-Ridley. It was White-Ridley who laid the tower’s foundation stone but, before he did so, a contractor named T.H Smith buried something below.
Inside were ‘several interesting souvenirs’ including a bottle with the day’s newspapers, coins, and a ‘sealed metal vessel’, which we would today recognise as a time capsule.
The metal vessel is said to have contained a wax cylinder for a phonograph which had a ‘recording’ of Sir Matthew White-Ridley from the day before and other local dignitaries.
A piece of parchment detailing the contents was also included and started with: “Whoever finds this leaden case be careful in opening as it contains a record, through Edison’s latest phonograph, of the laying of the foundation stone of the Blackpool Eiffel Tower.”
The mystery of the missing artifacts is not an isolated one as many are unaware of an American team’s effort to track and record capsules.
A member of the International Time Capsule Society (ITCSOC) contacted The Post after reading about Eldon Primary School’s capsule which is due to be opened in 2071.
“The Society maintains a knowledge of the industry and we view ourselves as a clearing house for all knowledge and information on time capsules around the world,” said Adrienne Waterman, ITCSOC chairwoman.
One of the society’s goals is to maintain a publicly available directory of time capsules.
“We want to make sure people’s stories survive and people’s memories survive,” says Adrienne.”
But this is no mean feat as the society has been collecting and manually filing written records for decades .
This, says Adrienne, is ‘hardly accessible to the world’ and NotForgotten, the company she co-founded with American businessman Paul Waterman, stepped in to help.
“We use our blockchain technology to digitize all of those records and make them searchable for the public,” Adrienne said.
“If you don’t catalogue your time capsule it has a 90 per cent chance of being lost or forgotten.”
“Time capsules are sometimes lost simply because they sank and they’re lower down than people expected when they try to find them.”
She says this is the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and unknown numbers of capsules are being lost or forgotten.
Time capsules are also not just physical anymore, digital time capsules are increasingly important.
“Bear in mind that a picture of your dinner, the 50,000 photos on your phone, or your emails might not capture history though!” says Adrienne.
“Record the things that matter and make a digital time capsule- but remember to register it with the Society!”
“Physical time capsules are wonderful but digital ones are in technicolour and people are increasingly doing this during COVID.”
The ITCSOC has seen an increasing number of people registering digital and physical capsules during the pandemic in order to ‘capture a moment in history’.
The society could not give exact numbers of time capsules buried in Lancashire, Preston or Blackpool because it is only 20 per cent of the way to digitizing its physical records.
“We have this giant warehouse full of records,” says Adrienne, “So the numbers would be wrong.
“From the numbers we have, around 12 per cent of the world’s time capsules come out of the UK.”
But what has happened to the Blackpool Tower capsule?
Adrienne says it is still a mystery but many capsules are valuable to collectors and are ‘often stolen’.
“I can’t speculate but capsules are often historically valuable to collectors and are quite often stolen,” she said.
“Time capsuling in Lancashire in the 1800s was quite a business.”
The International Time Capsule Society was established in 1990.
It is based at Oglethorpe University due to the institution's connections to capsuling.
In 1937, professors there buried a capsule known as ‘The Crypt of Civilization’.
It is the size of a swimming pool and includes everyday items and artefacts.
“It is filled with everything to do with civilization at that time, sealed in a vault at the university,” said Adrienne.
“As a result the university became known worldwide for its work in time capsuling.”
It is viewed as ‘the original time capsule’ but is the source of some controversy as it contains some items considered racist by modern standards.
The sealed vault is due to be opened after 6,000 years in the year 2537 and the ITCSOC continues with its work.
If you are thinking of burying a time capsule or creating a digital time capsule, you can register it via the International Time Capsule Society’s website.