World's Largest Time Capsule
We've been fans of time capsules ever since we learned about the one sunk into the ground at the New York World's Fair. But as tourist attractions, time capsules can be disappointing (at least until the appointed hour) -- often visible just as a plaque in a sidewalk or monument base. And even the revealed contents can tend to be impersonal, assembled by some committee -- long on the scholarly rickety-rack and short on the good, crazy stuff.
That's not true, however, of the time capsule buried in Seward, Nebraska. It's the work of one man, Harold Keith Davisson, a local celebrity, store owner, and town character. He was not concerned with the far-distant future. He was thinking about his grandkids, and about how his time capsule was going to be the biggest one in the world.
Harold was a senior citizen when he had the 45-ton vault buried under a mound of dirt on the front lawn of his home furnishings and appliances store. This was in 1975, and although casual historians may assume that this was just another wacky Bicentennial project, that was not the case, according to Trish Johnson, Harold's daughter, president of the House of Davisson Furniture Corporation, and self-titled "Keeper of the Crypt."
"He wanted his grandchildren to know what HIS life was like in 1975," Trish told us. "He was convinced that they wouldn't remember him."
Davisson also believed that "reading a book was not as good as seeing and touching," according to Trish, so he filled his time capsule with an eclectic assortment of 5,000 items, including a pair of bikini panties, a man's aquamarine leisure suit with stitched yellow flowers, and a brand-new Chevy Vega, "the cheapest car he could find." Even though House of Davisson is still known for its odd displays -- we saw a concrete Indian, a winged bomb, and a portable jail cell out in the parking lot -- Trish said that there's no truth to the rumor that her dad merely filled the capsule with stuff that he couldn't sell. "Although he did once tell me," she recalled, "that you could make more money on this store if you just locked the doors and let everything sit for 50 years."
The capsule was sealed on July 4, 1975, to be opened on July 4, 2025. And Harold Davisson got his wish: the 1977 Guinness Book of World Records certified his time capsule as the largest in the world.
This immediately drew howls of protest from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia, which claimed that its "Crypt of Civilization" -- sealed in 1940 -- was the world's largest time capsule. Davisson countered that their Crypt was merely a sealed-off room in a campus building, and therefore was not a time capsule at all. The bickering lasted for months, and Guinness eventually settled the dispute, to its satisfaction, by dropping the Time Capsule category altogether from its roster of records.
Harold Davisson, however, was not a man to lose an argument -- or even settle for a draw. In 1983 he built a SECOND time capsule, directly over the first, sheltered within a poured concrete pyramid. Now there could be no question as to whose time capsule was the largest. The pyramid also served as a roof to keep water away from the original, subterranean capsule (Harold's fear of a leaky crypt was prudent, given what has happened to the contents of other buried time capsules). Within the pyramid, Davisson entombed a SECOND CAR: a beat-up 1975 Datsun or Toyota -- no one can remember which -- "to show what our society does to a car in ten years" according to Trish. Also inside are "piles and piles of telephone books" and packages assembled by local citizens as gifts to posterity. "The man was eccentric," Trish said, "but he was a future-thinker, and he did the right thing."
Harold, it turned out, didn't need a time capsule to share the disco era with his grandkids. He did that in person, and at his leisure, because he didn't pass away until 1999. Harold Davisson was 91, and hale and hearty until the end.
"One of his last arguments with me was about how to open the time capsule," Trish told us. "He said that there's enough room to sling the lid up inside the pyramid. My recollection is that there is NOT enough room, and that we're going to have to crack the lid."
"There's no way to tell until 2025," Trish added. "And I'll be 77, and I'll be darned if anything's gonna stop me between now and then."
Note: Yet another "world's largest time capsule" was sealed in Guildford Castle, in England, in the year following Harold Davisson's death. But its claim to the title is hollow, as the reported square footage of "Millennium Vault 2000" falls short of both Davisson's time capsule and Oglethorpe's Crypt of Civilization. Harold Davisson still rules!