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.

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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.

contents of the Atkin-Colby time capsule
The contents of the Atkin-Colby time capsule, which was opened on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, at the Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives.

“A lot of this stuff I’d never seen before,” said University Archivist April Anderson from Illinois State’s Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives at Milner Library.

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.

Watch a video of Anderson and Griffiths opening the capsule live on ISU’s Facebook Page.

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.

Photo of car from 1959
This photo of Ron Guenther’s car was found inside the Hamilton-Whitten time capsule.

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.

April looks at time capsule
University Archivist April Anderson, left, gets her first look at the unopened Atkin-Colby time capsule.

“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.

19 thoughts on “South Campus demolition unearths two time capsules

  1. George Vrhel says:

    I was a freshman at ISNU in 1959 and recall the time capsule being sealed and placed that fall. It’s amusing to find that the capsule has been “discovered” like King Tut!s tomb. Some of us from back then are still around along with artifacts from the ancient 1950’s.

    1. Amy Spanfellner says:

      George Vrhel – Do you remember a student by the name of Roberta Jordan?

      1. George Vrhel says:

        Amy.. No. I don’t recall that name. Sorry.

    2. John Traenkenschuh says:

      Excellent comments. IS Normal U was a teacher’s University then; some would argue the FINEST Normal school in Illinois. It was far smaller than today’s giant University. Your comments help establish context for those “artifacts”. Looking at these docs, we see a smaller, friendlier school that is likely to grow massively in later years. Some would argue that it would grow into the FINEST University in Illinois ;-). No, I didn’t attend ISNU in the 1950’s. I did choose to go there because of the great stories of those teachers who were alumni.

      1. George Vrhel says:

        Glad you like my comments, John. During my time at ISNU there was a concerted effort to drop the “Normal” from the college name. My degree was the last with ISNU.. 1963. From then on it was ISU. leaders of the ISU change argued that the university’s growth and diversification would be augmented by dropping the “Normal School” stereotype in favor of a greater emphasis on “university.” Turned out to be prophetic.

    3. Terry Terril says:

      George, Seeing your name and comments made my day. Love to catch up on how you’ve been doing for the past fifty plus years. Terry Terril, Swim team 1961-1963. terryterril@verizon.net

  2. Mary Lu Mulcahy says:

    For many years we took gr. 6-8 students to ISU for IL Future Problem Solving State bowl and stayed in those 4 dorms…lots of wonderful memories there!

  3. Patty Handy says:

    Lived on 4th floor Atkin 1975-1979. I am sad those dorms are being demolished.

  4. Ed Matejka says:

    Sounds like this Time Capsule was found by accident. If emploees alumni know of such treasurers let someone know. What if it was never unearthed?

  5. Georgenne Athanis Czajkoski says:

    Lived on 4th floor Colby 1981-1983, Lots of great memories there!! Sad to see them being demolished!

  6. Beverly says:

    I lived Rm 1031 Whitten Hall 1978-1981. Sad to see it go! I meant some wonderful friends there! Such good times!

  7. Christina says:

    I am happy to see that some of the artifacts will be preserved.

  8. Jess says:

    I lived in Whitten Hall in 1988. I was really lonely and didn’t meet any friends, as I had hoped. Still sad to see the building go because I view it as a time period in my life that I overcame some sad spirits.

  9. Neal says:

    Really cool these were found! I lived in Colby 483, Colby 485, Hamilton 601 and Hamilton 505. Spent a lot of time at South Campus 2001-2003. I thought one of the buildings was marked that it had a time capsule in it? For some reason I knew there was at least 1 there, 15 years ago.

    I still think it’s an absolute shame “way out in nowhere land” East Campus was rehabbed, but South Campus will be no more. The rooms were so big, and long halls allowed so many people to interact.

    A way of life and a lot of lessons to learn is going away when these hall style dorms are demo’d. I guess living in apt style housing fits right in with college students interacting only on their mobile devices, instead of walking by someones room and saying, “Hi.”

  10. Mary C. says:

    I lived in both Atkin and Colby 4 while I was there. I also served on the South Campus Hall Government (’96-’98). Those were some good times. To me these were the best dorms on campus. It is bittersweet to see it go.

  11. Kurt Frank says:

    I dated girls in those dorms, so I got to see the place. In those days the rooms were much nicer than on other college campuses. One of the reasons I chose ISU was because the dorms seemed so much nicer. I liked 16th floor Manchester so much that I stayed there even in grad school. I made a lot of friends and it was certainly more convenient than off-campus apartments. We made regular trips to visit Colby 5th floor parties and they came to ours too. Their rooms had big bright windows and always a pleasant atmosphere.

  12. Laura S says:

    I lived in 409 Hamilton 1980-81, and loved it! I have great memories from our floor, and I remember every detail of our room. I was sorry to hear that the buildings could not be saved, since I always thought they were great.

  13. Margaret (Peg) Thomas VanMeter says:

    I moved into Whitten Hall as a freshman in 1961. How exciting it was to move into such a beautiful dorm. Met so many friends there. Also lived in Atkin Hall as a sophomore. Know that the halls have to be taken down, but it is sad to see it happen. Time marches on. So glad that I was fortunate to have lived in both of them. Went to look at them when I was back on campus last year for my 50th class reunion. Got to say good-bye to them!

  14. Peg Bell Cunliffe says:

    Lived in Whitten my Freshman year, even though it was a Sophomore dorm. Met my husband at a “hootenany” in the quad across the street. Let’s see, passion pit, curfew, panty raids, and some awesome dorm food comes to mind!!!!

  15. Thomas says:

    I lived in Walker Hall from 1980 to 82 then they moved us to Hamilton-Whitten. I really love both dorms and they will always have a special place in my heart as well as the people I met there. It is hard to see something you care so much about go away, but in time we will become a memory as well. Try to make every moment count because it is in our hearts to do so…. 1 North…. Thomas 1984