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Counting on the 'Capsule Kids'

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While it may sound like a discarded chapter from the science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, officials in Washington State are quite serious about their plan to recruit children into a fellowship that will keep alive the memories stored in a time capsule commemorating the state's centennial.

"Our feeling was that we wanted a time capsule that is 'updateable,'" said Knute "Skip" Berger, the project director for the Evergreen State's centennial committee.

Just as the author Ray Bradbury envisioned a society in which books are banned and literature is kept alive by a cult of readers who have committed the works to memory, state officials hope that the first generation of "capsule kids" will pass on their knowledge and encourage their descendants to contribute to the project.

Mr. Berger said previous experience with time capsules across the country is that people tend to forget where they are stored and that even if they are located, print matter erodes and other storage technology is subject to rapid obsolesence.

Casting about for ways to make the memory of the state's 100th birthday a lasting one, Mr. Berger discovered that a government researcher once suggested that the best way to mark hazardous nuclear-waste dumps for posterity would be to create a "secret society" to memorize their location and pass along the knowledge. "We kind of came to the same conclusion," he said.

So the call has gone out through various channels, including public and private schools, for state residents who were "born within a week of Nov. 11, 1979," to join the first generation of "capsule kids."

Mr. Berger explained that those children, who were born exactly 10 years before the centennial, would have "an incentive to remember that day."

"And we thought [they] would be old enough and enthusiastic about the project," he said. "They also would be about 35 when they come back to discharge their duties."

He hopes to recruit between 10 and 100 of the estimated 1,000 eligible children.

Those who are accepted need only take a pledge to uphold their duties before they are sworn in by state officials. They will then be presented with a T-shirt bearing a Northwestern Indian design of the Prophet of Direction--a mythological figure who foretold the future--which is the project's official logo.

The first capsule, which was dedicated Nov. 11, will be sealed next year on Washington's Birthday. Then, if all goes as planned, every 25 years for the next 400 years, new generations will take on the job of maintaining the collective memory, placing their own time capsules in a special safe bearing the logo.

The grand opening of all the capsules is scheduled for Nov. 11, 2389.

"It's the first time the state's ever planned something with some advance notice," Mr. Berger said, his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.--pw

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