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Portland says hello to the next century

Time capsule contains evidence of the city's everyday preoccupations

When Larry Thomas left the rededication ceremony of the 1903 Lewis and Clark Monument in Washington Park last week, he was holding up his pants, didn't have a way to get into his house and possibly had left his father's 1994 Buick Roadmaster to posterity.

Well, maybe.

Thomas, a Portland doctor, had given up his belt, a house key and the key to a car for a time capsule being placed under a ramp for the disabled by the steps at the Oregon Historical Society's new downtown addition at 1200 S.W. Park Ave.

If those directions seem specific, there's a reason.

Somebody can refer to this story in 100 years and nail down the location unlike the time capsule placed under the Lewis and Clark Monument, which was dedicated by President Teddy Roosevelt on a soggy May 21, 1903. OHS Director Norma Paulus is pretty sure the capsule is way down under the 40-foot granite column, but it's a pretty expensive gamble to dig there if she's mistaken.

So the scheduled unearthing of the 1903 capsule was called off.

Far from investing in the future, Oregonians of 100 years ago were preoccupied with daily events and obscure sentiment, according to the OHS' list of contents. No roll of uncirculated 1903 $20 coins, for instance, or carved-stone Indian artifacts, a locally made knife (like a Gerber) or a fancy watch.

Instead, they lovingly donated pieces of wood from Independence Hall, Philadelphia, from warships and from a tree overhanging a Civil War surrender site (nope, not Appomattox). They also enclosed letters, envelopes from various civic organizations, photos of the city, 17 newspapers and a leaf from a tree at Mount Vernon, Va.

'I've seen a few time capsules exhumed,' says Portland conservator Jack Thompson. 'They tend to be full of rust and corrosion. I'd be very surprised if there's much left.'

The four pennies, various military badges and Lewis and Clark buttons could have survived, but Thompson says not even that is certain.

'If you solder up a copper box, the fumes begin creating a poisonous atmosphere inside,' he explains. 'You've started that little time bomb just as you button it up.'

Thompson says time capsules need to be purged with carbon dioxide several times after closure and are best secreted inside buildings, where they'll be warm and dry.

About 60 people (half of them media) attended last week's ceremony for the new capsule. They heard OHS historian Richard Engeman, deerskin-clad Lewis and Clark expert Roger Wendlick, Paulus, Mayor Vera Katz and Teddy Roosevelt's great-grandson, Theodore Roosevelt IV, commemorate the occasion. They also presented a Rough Rider teddy bear to the president's relative.

At the conclusion, those in attendance contributed items to an Atlas Powder Co. wooden box to go into the 2003 time capsule. It is expected to be buried within two weeks.

Examination of the articles suggests Oregonians haven't changed much in a century, with a list that resembles check-in at the Multnomah County jail:

• One packet of Orbit gum (unopened)

• One yellow cloth purse with a quarter inside

• One receipt from QFC market

• Two dollar bills, signed by the donors

• One small Bible

• One page torn from a Bible and annotated: 'Thank you God for Oregon and Washington, you did a good job'

• One baseball signed by the '2003 Wilson High Narrows League Champions'

• One section of a small tree, and a note that it was cut to improve forest health

• One Multnomah County Library staff badge from Michele Karmartsang

• One Tokyo transit map from a visiting TV crew

• One bank deposit slip from Kurt and Eleanor Krause (and a Roosevelt dime)

• One photo of six Catlin Gabel School girls on a beach trip

• One photo of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, given by a follower who noted that the guru is in India

• Twenty business cards

• One Blockbuster membership card

• One 24-Hour Fitness card

• Four 200th anniversary Lewis and Clark badges

• One black-and-white silk scarf

• One note: 'Dear whoever, welcome to earth'

• Four laminated brochures about Portland, from the mayor

• One videotape of a song about Portland

There was no set of state quarters or Oregon-made Leatherman tool.

'Who knows what the world will be like in 100 years' time?' says OHS curator Marsha Matthews. 'But next time we'll have a plaque that says, 'Time Capsule: Dig Here.' '

Contact Paul Duchene at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .