A Time Capsule, Long Forgotten at the Space Needle, Is Found

click to enlarge TIM DURKAN/CC BY 2.0
Tim Durkan/CC BY 2.0
© 2017 New York Times News Service

Construction workers in Seattle unearthed a long-forgotten time capsule at the Space Needle this week. Millions of people who visited the 605-foot tower in the past 35 years likely walked right by it.

Not that they would have noticed.

At some point long ago, there was an adjacent plaque advertising the capsule’s existence and noting that it should be opened in 2002. But somewhere along the way, that plaque disappeared. Space Needle employees who helped install the capsule scattered, and memories faded.

But this week, construction workers completing a $100 million renovation stumbled upon the capsule. It was not far from the doors to one of the main elevators, the so-called Blue Elevator.

Word of the discovery got to Rod Kauffman, who was the operations manager at the Space Needle in 1982 and helped to put the capsule together. On Friday morning — more than 15 years late — the capsule was opened, and Kauffman went through the capsule’s contents.

There were letters, photographs and postcards from 1982. Some mementos dated to 1962, the year the Space Needle opened and Seattle hosted the World’s Fair.

Kauffman pulled out a master key that he said “opened every lock in the Space Needle” in 1982. He pointed to a black-and-white photograph of three women in shiny dresses: “elevator operators from 1962.” There was an old reel of audiotape, and on it, a recording of a 1982 broadcast commemorating the 20th anniversary of the World’s Fair.

In a phone interview, Kauffman said he was excited not only about those items, but also about the capsule itself. On the outside was a sketch of the tower by John Graham, the architect who designed the Space Needle. And Kauffman’s wife, whom he met on the elevator at the Space Needle, had written on the top: “Time Capsule to be opened April 21, 2002.”

Dave Mandapat, the Space Needle’s public relations director, had heard that a capsule existed. But he could never pinpoint the location of the capsule.

So what now for the capsule and the dozens of keepsakes inside? That is still up for discussion.

Mandapat said the time capsule might be hidden away again next year — this time, with instructions not to open it up again until 2062, the Seattle World’s Fair centennial. No word yet on how they’d make sure it isn’t forgotten again.

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