Time Capsule Reveals Treasures of 1871

Frank Sciacca, right, prepares to open the 1871 time capsule.
Frank Sciacca, right, prepares to open the 1871 time capsule.

A time capsule buried by Hamilton’s class of 1871 was opened at the Emerson Gallery on Sept. 15. The event was in conjunction with the Gallery’s new exhibit, Time Capsules and Cornerstones: 200 years of Collective Memory at Hamilton.

Armed with hacksaws, picks and pliers, exhibit organizers Associate Professor of Russian Frank Sciacca and Gallery Associate Director and Curator Susanna White chipped away at the lead box containing the time capsule. Gallery visitors were invited to take turns snipping at the container.

As expected, the capsule contained copies of the catalogues and Hamilton Literary Monthly, as well as invitations to a variety of awards events, and brochures relating to various competitions. However, Sciacca remarked, “There were a few unexpected items: A note jotted in pencil that the 1871 time capsule was unearthed in 1928 ‘by order of Elihu Root.’” Sciacca said the note was tucked next to the lead box before being wrapped in brown paper.

A brochure for a comic event, "Exhibitio Pig-Rorum!!; At the Stye!,” featured a cover with a humorous etching of a fist fight and a sow with suckling pigs. The original printing block for this was also found in the time capsule, as was a small block of a chamber pot, also used in this booklet.

Other flyers included “Songs and Toasts ’71,” “Slimy Fresh,” and “Show at Deserted Gambling House.” A page of “Honors of the Class of ’71” listed the names of the valedictory, salutatory, ethical and political speakers.

Inspired by a 19th century campus tradition in which classes created and buried time capsules, the exhibit explores how devices such as mementoes, scrapbooks and monuments have been used by generations of Hamiltonians to create a shared experience. The exhibition features an array of items from the college archives and concludes with an invitation to contribute ideas and content for a 2012 time capsule to be sealed at the conclusion of the Bicentennial celebration.

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