To unearth a buried time capsule, you need the right tools: Shovels, flashlights, Facebook. It helps if you remember exactly where you buried it. And it really helps if there’s a construction crew on site, ready to lend assistance with a metal detector and earth-moving equipment.
That’s how members of the Class of 1984 managed to retrieve their time capsule from the Newing College construction site 27 years after they buried it. And it was no capsule — it was a full-size galvanized garbage can, shrouded in plastic and interred about 3 feet underground.
The impetus for the time capsule, says Steven Cohen ’84, was probably a book called The Quartzsite Trip by William Hogan. “It was a coming of age book, which we all read that year.”
When Cohen says “all,” he’s talking about eight housemates at 13 Murray St. and five at 130 Oak St., plus a wide circle of friends. “We spent so much time at one another’s house that we sometimes had trouble recollecting who lived in which house.
“I recall Elliot Amster coming to 130 Oak St. after finals had ended to ask us for sacrificial items, which reflected our college experience,” Cohen says. “I donated my ‘Up and Coming’ football jersey, which meant everything to me at the time after quarterbacking our team to a loss in the A-League intramural championship to Lush, which was quarterbacked by my good friend Elliot.
“The plan was to dig a hole in the middle of the night to bury the capsule,” Cohen says. “We intended to dig a deep hole in order to slide the capsule in vertically. Within the first five minutes of digging, I knew that there was no chance of digging 5 feet into the rocky dirt. I was dripping sweat and made the executive decision to dig a more shallow grave and lay the garbage can down on its side.”
Not all items — nothing made of paper — survived the years or the water and mud that managed to seep inside the can. But plenty of items were still intact — a Van Halen record, a can of beer (with the old-style pull tab), a pair of Nike sneakers and, inexplicably, a hamster ball from a Habitrail.
William Ziegler, associate professor of computer science and faculty master of Newing College, and Terry Webb, assistant vice president for student life, were there when the time capsule was dug up in July. They were following through on a promise made two years earlier to help find the buried treasure.
In 2009, Kathy DeAmbra Carter was reminded of the time capsule when she found a list of names and answers to the question, “Where do you want to be in the year 2000?” It had been filled out the night before graduation, the same night the time capsule was buried.
“The night before our graduation, many of us had high hopes for the year 2000,” says Carter, who fell short of her stated goal: Mars. Instead, she is director of human resources for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Using Facebook, she found many of the 30 people on the list. Plans were hatched to try and find the capsule during their 25th reunion at Homecoming 2009. “During the reunion, Steve Cohen, Gregg Lieberman, and I went to Home Depot in Binghamton and bought flashlights and shovels. It was a blast!” she says. But unsuccessful.
“Matt Chartan, a mathematics graduate student, had the job of triangulating the corners of Delaware, Endicott and Chenango in order to be able to relocate the burial spot,” Cohen remembers. But even with the help of a metal detector and people from the buildings and grounds facilities, it couldn’t be found.
“It’s always a little dicey driving picks and shovels into the ground around campus,” Webb says. “I told them we could look when the buildings came down.”
“I never thought in a million years they would ever find the thing,” he says.
Ziegler took the muddy items home to clean them up as best he could. Of all the items, he enjoyed the symbolism of opening a plastic Easter egg and finding a tiny, shiny Star of David pin.
Not everything was so neat and sweet.
“The thing I was washing when my wife saw me was labeled 34C,” he laughs.
What’s next for the time capsule and its contents? That’s still being decided. But in the meantime, the contents and the memories live on — in the digital time capsule, also known as Facebook.
Who is on the “Where do you want to be in 2000?” list, and where are they now?
Look for Newing College Time Capsule 1984 on Facebook