When I was ten, my class did a personal time capsule project. Each of us collected pictures from magazines, things we'd written and drawn, photos, and other memorabilia. We placed our items in big manila envelopes and wrote our names on the outside, along with the instructions "Do Not Open" and the date of our 21st birthdays. Our teacher then sealed the envelopes with red wax.
I remember that envelope laying at the bottom of my dresser drawer for years. I'd pull the drawer out, push the clothes aside, and peek at the envelope, double-checking the date and ensuring the wax was still intact. Eventually I completely forgot every single thing I'd put inside, but I never forgot about the time capsule itself. I can't recall now whether I actually opened it on my 21st birthday, or some time shortly afterward, but I still have the envelope and its contents somewhere.
They were, for the most part, unremarkable: a couple of magazine ads for cars, in which the only stated selling point was how 'groovy' or impressive you would be if you bought them; a bad essay about the Wright Brothers written in looping pencil on lined paper; a photo of me and my brother in all our 70s glory, with long straggly hair and clothes bearing the most frightening combination of stripes, paisley, and polka dots.
The most interesting thing in that envelope was a single sheet of paper. On it was a list of questions we had been given, questions about where we thought we'd be 10 years in the future, along with my answers. I predicted I'd be living in Arizona, in a big house with many dogs. That I'd be unmarried and have contact lenses. And that I'd be an archaeologist. At 21, the only one that was true was the contacts, but I did eventually live in Arizona (for ten years), and I did become an archaeologist as I'd always known I would. I also surprised myself by falling in love and getting married, something I predicted would be impossible given my sense of independence and an incurable case of morning grumpiness.
The things I chose to preserve for the future at the age of 10 are probably not too different from the things I'd choose now, or that I suspect most of us would choose: snippets of the world around us, pieces of our personality and family, hopes and dreams.
You can find pieces of the American past in the Printed Ephemera Collection of the Library of Congress. They include broadsides, catalogs, forms, menus, and many other pieces of printed material dating from the 17th century to the present, providing a window into both everyday life and important historical events.
Another interesting piece of the American past is the Colorado Springs Century Chest. Opened on January 1, 2001, the chest was a gift from the residents of one century to those of the 21st century.
What would you choose, if you were making a time capsule to be opened in 10 years? In 50? In 100?