Bottling Time

Who doesn’t want to give the future a piece of their mind?

Apparently I’m infatuated with time capsules. As I began to write this page, I realized that I’ve featured them in at least three previous Editor’s Notes (of course, I’ve been writing this page for more than 20 years, so maybe that’s not so much).  

Still, it was a pleasant surprise when I noticed a couple of vintage wooden voting boxes in the NH Statehouse gift shop that were collecting messages to the future — one from visiting students, the other from visiting presidential candidates. Rep. Jim Splaine, a longtime advocate of our First-in-the-Nation Primary (which turns 100 in 2016), said this about the unusual approach: “Time capsules don’t have to buried, time capsules just have to encapsulate time.”

This magazine undertook a similar effort back at the turn of the last century when we enlisted a furniture master to create a time capsule that would be kept out in the open, as a work of art, rather than buried or placed in some cornerstone.

As a time capsule buff, I wanted ours to be a thing of beauty, something reminiscent of the classic movie “The Time Machine.” We got support from the League of NH Craftsmen, Public Service Company of NH (now Eversource) and First Night NH (now long gone, another victim of time and change) and enlisted Furniture Master Loran Smith to produce our “Time Trophy.” And it was a kind of trophy to be bestowed upon the municipality that New Hampshire Magazine chose as NH’s “City of the Future.”

Smith created the perfect piece, anticipating the steampunk fad by at least a decade. It was a “table box” built in the Federal style with classic curves and angles, and its key was inset behind an oval of glass. That way, when the time came to examine the contents, the people of the future would only need to break the glass and remove the key.

By the way, our City of the Future pick was Manchester, a choice that perhaps seems a bit obvious, but it was prescient for the time. This was long before the downtown renewal. The Verizon Wireless Arena was still being called the new “civic center” and was in early construction mode. The Time Trophy was presented to Manchester at a city council meeting and it resides to this day in City Hall, containing about a hundred messages to the people of 2100 supplied by our readers.

Here in a presidential election year, it occurs to me that every time we choose a new leader we’re actually sending a message to the future. We’re saying, “This is who we are now and this is how we hope things turn out.” Then, four years later, we decide if we need to change the message. And in a way, each New Year’s resolution we make is an even-shorter-term time capsule. You make some convictions about the way things are and the way things ought to be, bury it into your conscience and then dig it up the next year to see how well it survived the elements. Usually, the tidy proposal you unearth comes out looking a little haggard, at best.

I guess all our efforts at communicating with the future are a bit futile, but until a time travel app is developed for our smartphones, they will have to do.

Categories: Editor’s Note