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April 7, 2010 > Twenty years ago…

Twenty years ago…

By Simon Wong
Photos By Simon Wong

A Milpitas Christian School (MCS) teacher, Mr. Bloch, buried a time capsule containing items selected by his 7th grade students that might inform another generation of school children about life and events that made the headlines in March 1990. Shortly after, Mr. Bloch returned to his native Canada, where he is now a school principal, but left directions to the time capsule’s location.

“I found an envelope taped to the back of a door of an old cabinet,” said MCS Media Resource Director Mindi Wojdylak. “I kept it on file for two decades and checked it periodically to remind myself of when the time capsule should be opened.

“The directions said ‘tenth tree from the east on the north side of the field, seventh tree from the west,’ which indicates 16 trees, but there are only a dozen now. We dug in four locations to no avail but hit concrete, about eight inches down, when digging at a fifth. What we thought was a shiny rock in the concrete was one end of the time capsule. We were delighted. It had taken almost four weeks to locate and the clock had been counting down to the capsule’s scheduled opening.”

Pete Rowe, an engineer whose daughters both attended MCS in 1990, had volunteered to make the time capsule which consists of about four feet of piping, capped at both ends.

“When I put in what the children had selected, I purged the cylinder with nitrogen gas to expel as much air as possible to prevent degradation of the contents,” he explained.

After exhumation in the last week of February, the unopened time capsule was displayed in the school library where students, teachers and several alumni from 1990 gathered on Wednesday, March 31, 2010, to examine its contents after Mr. Rowe sawed off one of the caps. The event was streamed live over the internet, attended by Mr. Bloch via video link and watched by many former students who had originally participated in the project.

Alumni and several 7th grade students took turns to remove around 25 items from the cylinder – two audio cassette tapes, a set of baseball cards, Batman decals, Batman figure, California raisin figure, coins, magazines, newspapers, offers from retailers (including Home Club Warehouse, which later became Home Base and folded in 2000, Montgomery Ward and Lucky Supermarket), an X-Men comic…

The alumni explained the significance of some of the items in 1990. The students were intrigued by what was retrieved. Those who remember a pre-digital age greeted one student’s reaction of “old cassette thingy” with polite laughter and wry smiles.

Interestingly, the prices of staple goods, such as groceries, have either remained about the same or fallen in real terms. Non-essentials have experienced the greatest inflation. “Sporting News” featured Joe Montana who was named the NFL Most Valuable Player and Sportsman of the Year in 1990 and is now a property developer associated with the South Hayward BART Station Transit Oriented Development.

There was an advertisement for a tape re-winder which saved the heads on a video-cassette recorder (VCR). “Pocket-sized” cell phones, larger than a human hand, were on sale for around $700. Two decades ago, there were no Internet connections, “apps” or touch screens for such devices. The paper was remarkably well-preserved – neither brittle nor discolored and the ink as bright as if it had just been printed. The items will be displayed on the MCS San Jose campus for posterity.

“Perhaps, I didn’t do such a good job because the coins have corroded slightly; that was probably the original moisture in the paper,” said Rowe modestly. “I’ve offered to build a second time capsule, if they want one, and I shall try to be around for it, too.”

“We shall create another larger, time capsule, which Mr. Rowe has volunteered to build, and ask the current 7th grade class to consider and choose suitable items that should move forward in time to give a future generation an idea of life today. We’d certainly like to include a flash drive containing the live streaming of the opening of the 1990 time capsule. Hopefully, in 20 years’ time, they’ll know what to do with a memory stick.

“We must thank everyone involved in the original project, especially those who dug, and JR Associates for their willingness to be on standby with ground-penetrating radar in case our own efforts to locate the time capsule were unsuccessful,” concluded Wojdylak.

To view the opening ceremony, visit www.ustream.tv/recorded/5859019

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