Digging up memoriesOn Saturday fifth graders from 30 years ago and their families joined a number of current Cloquet fifth-graders and others to dig up a time capsule buried May 15, 1981. It was an unexpectedly long process.
Thirty years ago, a group of 10 fifth-graders and one fourth-grader from Churchill Elementary in Cloquet spent the entire school year researching and pondering questions of the future, an effort that culminated in the burial of a time capsule behind the Pine Valley Chalet May 15, 1981.
On Saturday, one day shy of the 30-year anniversary, seven of those long-ago gifted and talented class members and their families joined a number of current Cloquet fifth-graders and other interested residents to dig up that treasure trove of 1980s relics, reports and future predictions. They were armed only with shovels and a packet of information about the time capsule that had been sitting in the Churchill school safe for three decades.
“We all made a promise 30 years ago that we would be here,” said Mike Birt, who came from Madison, Wis., for the event. “Here we are.”
Appropriately, the day unfolded slowly.
At 11 a.m. Saturday, the only indication of the day’s project was a bright circle of paint on the grass and a pile of shovels a few feet away. The former fifth-graders were touring Churchill, while Cloquet’s current gifted and talented coordinator, Deb Peterson, put the finishing touches on preparations at Cloquet’s Pine Valley.
By 11:30 a.m., shovels in hand, a crew of volunteers had started digging. With the crowd growing all the time, there were plenty of willing hands.
By 1:30 p.m., volunteers of all ages had already dug deeper than the four foot point where the container full of goodies supposedly lay.
2 p.m. – Enter former fifth-grader Stu Sorenson with a power auger courtesy of McDonald Rental to widen the hole in case the class mapmaker (Mike Birt) had been off by a few inches 30 years earlier. Unfortunately, the auger was too short to dig the hole any deeper.
2:20 p.m. – Tom Anderson – neighbor to another former fifth-grader, Pam (nee Crowley) Baker – came to the rescue, towing his Caterpillar Skidsteer. In approximately an hour, Anderson dug a trench to at least six feet deep behind the chalet, pushing mounds of dirt up at either end of the growing hole.
At six feet, he struck gold – in this case, fragments of red plastic.
A dozen kids piled into the trench to finish the job, pulling out a two-foot high red plastic garbage can and passing it to the adults above.
The time capsule was exactly where Birt had written it would be – 95 feet, 1 inch from one corner of the chalet and 84 feet, 6 inches from the other corner – except that it was at least two feet deeper than
Birt heaved a sigh of relief when Anderson exposed the top of the time capsule.
“I thought I was going to have to sneak out of here,” said the Madison, Wis., resident. “I admit, I was a little concerned when I saw the map. I don’t remember drawing it.”
While the contents of the time capsule were soaking wet, with the exception of a couple of electronic items, most survived three decades in the dirt. Current fifth-graders excitedly pulled items out of the garbage bag they’d been wrapped in, quickly passing them back to the grown-up fifth-graders who quietly delighted in the re-emergence of their past.
Sorenson held up the baseball glove he’d put in the time capsule, while John Thomas chuckled over the die-cast cars he’d stashed: including a Pacer and a replica of the “Smokey and the Bandit” Trans Am made famous by Burt Reynolds. Chris Mostoller laughed at his meticulous explanation of a “future wheel” and exactly how it works.
They pulled out a cassette tape of that year’s greatest hits and several books, including “Charlotte’s Web,” a box of Pillsbury cake mix, photo collages of the students who participated in the project, blue jeans, and reports on that year’s fashion trends, art, sports teams, computers, politics and the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.
Washington fifth-grader Jazlyn Mackey, 11, carefully unfolded the sopping wet letter written 30 years before.
“Hello. Greetings from 1981,” the letter began.
“Greetings from a previous generation.”
The eight previous fifth graders also took turns reading aloud their predictions for 2011.
Sonja (nee Swenson) Mackey was spot on, having predicted that she would have a Ph.D., live in the Twin Cities and be married with one child.
Baker accurately predicted the most significant change would be the use of electronic devices in everyday lives, while Thomas (less accurately) predicted there would be space colonies and space travel in 2011.
Many of the bigger issues 11-year-old children faced in 1981 are still unresolved: storage of nuclear waste, the possibility that fossil fuels will run out, gas shortages, population growth and problems with pollution.
In the meantime, Deb Peterson helped the current fifth-graders put their own memorabilia, reports and letters to the future in manila envelopes, then garbage bags, then a plastic bin which they covered with more garbage bags and a lot of duct tape.
“I put a couple National Geographic Kids magazines, a Pet Shop toy, a silly band, a CD that I burned with popular songs by people like Katy Perry and Bruno Mars and some pictures from Camp Vermilion,” said current Washington fifth-grader Audrey Lokken.
Again, someone brought a pair of jeans; another student even donated an IPod to the cause, Churchill’s Ethan Matzdorf said.
“Pretty much every student in the fifth grade has something in one of these envelopes,” Peterson said.
Half a dozen fifth-graders who had stuck around until the very end placed the new time capsule in the same location.
“We did the same thing 30 years ago,” Sorenson said, smiling.
The group of 11-year-olds then filled the old red trash can with dirt and turned it upside down on top of their own plastic box to give diggers in 30 years a sign they are on the right track.
Thomas also added a letter he’d written to the fifth-graders of 2041 from the fifth graders of 1981.
“I told them a lot of this is about the study of change, and part of that is that I might not be here,” he said. “It’s also about the creative process that this program teaches you, so if I’m not here, you [future children] have to carry on.”
Same time, same place, 30 years from now?