South Campus demolition unearths two time capsules
A tiny booklet given out at a school dance. A well-used campus dining punch card. A plush cat with a Redbird in its mouth used for an event giveaway.
These are just a few of the items found this month inside two time capsules unearthed by demolition crews tearing down Hamilton-Whitten and Atkin-Colby residence halls. These items plus dozens of others—some as pristine as the day they were boxed up—tell the story of student life around 1959–1961, when the South Campus halls were built. The buildings have been empty since 2012.
The first time capsule (from 1959) discovered at Hamilton-Whitten was waterlogged, though Anderson expects to be able to salvage around 75 percent of its contents. The second capsule was found one week later in a cornerstone at Atkin-Colby, thanks in part to a watchful demolition foreman, Ron Wert.
That second capsule, sealed in October 1961, was in pristine condition. As Anderson and her Archives colleague Ross Griffiths, M.S. ’13, examined the materials, they were amazed by how well-preserved everything looked. Ink on the front of a Chicago American newspaper from 1961 was still bright red.
Also inside were original versions of the Whittilton newsletter for Whitten Hall residents; a weekly arts and entertainment events calendar, advertising the Harry Simeone Chorals and Chad Mitchell Trio; a yearbook from 1961 (with its edge sliced off to fit inside the capsule); and an ISNU newsletter.
“So many of these materials haven’t seen the light of day since Kennedy was president,” said Griffiths, director of preservation and university archives at Milner Library.
Alumni have been eager to share their stories about the time capsules’ contents.
Annis (Moss) Guenther ’60 and her husband, Ron ’60, were surprised to see Ron’s 1955 Oldsmobile on the front of The Pantagraph newspaper in Bloomington-Normal. A photo of Ron’s car was found inside the first time capsule, and the newspaper featured it in a story about the capsule’s discovery.
Ron was president of Dunn Hall as a student. He let his friends borrow that car one night for a drive-in movie, and a photo of students piling into it was tossed into the capsule in 1959.
“That was the car he courted me in,” said Annis, who lives in Normal with her husband. They’re both retired educators. “To suddenly see it in the paper after all these years, it was a riot.”
The discovery of any time capsule is a big deal to archivists like Anderson.
“These students back then are putting things in here that are important to them, to tell us what’s exciting and what they were dealing with at the time. They don’t know when it’ll be uncovered,” Anderson said. “It’s almost like we’re reaching back and talking to these students from that time period.”
Prior to South Campus, the last time capsule discovered on campus was at University High School. That capsule was from 1964 and was also in pristine condition. A small button that read “I Love The Beatles!” was one of the many treasures inside, in addition to the usual mix of paperwork and yearbooks.
Demolition and site-clearing of Hamilton-Whitten and Atkin-Colby is expected to continue through the summer. The University’s master plan calls for a new Mennonite College of Nursing building at that site, although no timeline is set.
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.