The contents of the University of New Mexico’s 1908 time capsule have been revealed. So has the fact that it was opened once before in 1952 and items were added to it, including a letter by 1908 graduate, Fleda E. Smith.

It held the year’s Mirage, which was then a yearbook before the title was taken over as the alumni magazine. It held a parking ticket – for parking…horses? It held a UNM song book, a blue UNM pennant – using school colors was optional on such items back then, a copy of the Albuquerque Citizen newspaper, among other items that will be on display in Hodgin Hall.

How do we open this? 

Before anyone could peer into the box, Karen Abraham, associate vice president, Alumni Relations, realized that opening the old time capsule without damaging the contents could be challenging, so she solicited help from Mechanical Engineering and the Maxwell Museum. David Woods, prototype machinist, and a group of fellow engineers visited Hodgin Hall to check it out. He gently turned the capsule over, causing the items inside to thud against the sides. He assessed how the box was made. “It looks like it was made by bending a sheet of lead and soldering it closed around the top,” he said. He and his colleagues discussed how best to open it. “We can’t use anything that would spark because it could destroy the contents,” he said. 

The box was taken to the machine shop in the Mechanical Engineering building and locked into place beneath a drill. Woods took pains at selecting the right drill bit.  Slowly he lowered the drill and maneuvered it next to the soldered line. He had to take several passes over the initial groove because of the depth of the lead and because his assistant was vacuuming up the lead shavings as he drilled so they wouldn’t fall into the box.

Once Woods was on the final pass, the box started to collapse because lead is a very soft metal. He was able to prop up the lid, however, so that it didn’t slip inside the box. He cleaned off the rough edges where the lid was opened so that when they opened it no one would be injured by ragged metal, or bleed onto the materials inside.

Maxwell Museum Director James Dixon kept a watchful eye to see that the integrity of the materials was not compromised.

All those present looked intently at the box, anxious to see its contents.

Out with the old and in with the new

Following the opening of the old time capsule, a new time capsule was prepared for burial. It will remain underground in a special hole in Hodgin Hall until 2111. Among the items chosen for inclusion are a 2011 UNM holiday ornament, an aerial photograph of campus, other photos, a UNM parking ticket – those things are timeless – chile seeds, a Frontier Restaurant menu, the Daily Lobo, and many other things that will be sealed into a new time capsule. Check them out at Hodgin Hall before they lock them away for 100 years.

That old capsule was made of lead, soldered closed and had “U.N.M. Class of 1908” painted on it. The new one features the Alumni logo on a fancy metal box. A specialist will visit UNM to place the items inside the box and once it is sealed, he will remove the oxygen from the box.

As Bob Dylan sang, Time’s they are a-changin’.