Friday, July 30, 2010

A Glimpsed Destination, Part Three

Each age considers itself the pinnacle & final triumph above all eras that have gone before. In our time many believe that the human race has reached the ultimate in material and social development; others, that humanity shall march onward to achievements splendid beyond the imagination of this day, to new worlds of human wealth, power, life, and happiness. We choose, with the latter, to believe that men will solve the problems of the world, that the human race will triumph over its limitations and its adversities, that the future will be glorious.
– From “The Book of Record of the Time Capsule…”

The people in this photograph are gazing with awe upon the Westinghouse Time Capsule created for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

Viewing this photo, my immediate reaction is that it's a bomb, which would only make sense given the subsequent role of Westinghouse in the nuclear industry (years later).

Anyhow, if I had "THE" bomb and thought I might use it, I’d inscribe it with the caption from the picture:

“The envelope for a message to the future begins its epic journey.”

Westinghouse was not content to simply bury a durable container with hopes that humans would dig it up in the A.D. 6939.

The company also published a sort of user’s guide for finding and deciphering the capsule and its contents.

Hundreds of libraries and other repositories around the world received copies of The book of record of the time capsule of cupaloy, deemed capable of resisting the effects of time for five thousand years, preserving an account of universal achievements, embedded in the grounds of the New York World's fair, 1939"

Thanks, again, to the Prelinger Archives for making it possible to consult this volume online -

I’ve never seen a book quite like this one:

Five thousand years ago, during a period of invention, development, and science rivaling that of our day, re corded history began. It would be pleasant to believe that we might leave records of our own day for five thou sand years hence; to a day when the peoples of the world will think of us standing at history's midpoint….

We pray you therefore, whoever reads this book, to cherish and preserve it through the ages, and translate it from time to time into new languages that may arise after us, in order that knowledge of the Time Capsule of Cupaloy may be handed down to those for whom it is intended. We likewise ask: let the Time Capsule rest in the earth until its time shall come; let none dig it up for curiosity or for any other reason. It is a message from one age to another, and none should touch it in the years that lie between.

The book discusses in some detail the measures taken to create a capsule that would withstand the elements for fifty centuries, and proudly proclaims that geeks are cool (in case the Future might want to know):

Our engineers & inventors have harnessed the forces of the earth and skies and the mysteries of nature to make our lives pleasant, swift, safe, and fascinating beyond any previous age. We fly faster, higher, and farther than the birds.

On steel rails we rush safely, behind giant horses of metal and fire. Ships large as palaces thrum across our seas. Our roads are alive with self-propelling conveyances so complex the most powerful prince could not have owned one a generation ago; yet in our day there is hardly a man so poor he cannot afford this form of personal mobility.

Over wires pour cataracts of invisible electric power, tamed and harnessed to light our homes, cook our food, cool and clean our air, operate the machines of our homes & factories, lighten the burdens of our daily labor, reach out and capture the voices and music of the air, & work a major part of all the complex magic of our day.

We have made metals our slaves, and learned to change their characteristics to our needs. We speak to one an other along a network of wires and radiations that en mesh the globe, and hear one another thousands of miles away as clearly as though the distance were only a few feet.

We have learned to arrest the processes of decay; our foods are preserved in metal or frost and by these means we may have vegetables and fruits in any season, delicacies from foreign lands, and adequate diet anywhere. All these things, and the secrets of them, and some thing about the men of genius of our time and earlier days who helped bring them about, will be found in the Time Capsule.

Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs" started playing in my head when I read that.

But I reckon a little hubris never hurt anybody.

Or as old Ozymandias said,


No, it was "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" *

It is possible to apply too much planning to any situation and that might be the case with the Westinghouse Time Capsule. I hope some surprises are awaiting the people of 6939 when they open it, but the contents are so thoroughly documented that I’m afraid the big day will be anti-climactic.

With their finely tuned powers of foresight, the writers of this book anticipated the evolution and fading away of the English language as we know it, and so included


I’m not sure how instructions written in English are expected to help some future someone resurrect the dead language of English, but that’s why I’m not employed by the Smithsonian and Dr. Harrington was. And so, the ethnologist devotes several pages to diphthongs and the vocabulary of high-frequency English.

Leaving nothing to chance, the book also features directions for finding metallic objects underground. SHERWIN KELLY, CHAIRMAN of the COMMITTEE ON GEOPHYSICAL METHODS OF EXPLORATION, AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF MINING AND METALLURGICAL ENGINEERS seems to acknowledge that his chapter could be a mild affront to the intelligence of an advanced civilization five millennia hence:

THOUGH in all probability methods more sensitive than any we have today will be employed in the future to seek for metallic bodies beneath the earth, it is possible, too, that this will become a lost art. It is therefore suggested that the Time Capsule may be discovered by detecting the secondary electromagnetic field induced in it by a strong primary electrical field created at the surface of the ground.

He proceeds to explain how to accomplish the task. After flipping through a few more helpful pages of technological how-to, I reached:


IN ORDER that peoples who live long after us may see our world somewhat as we see it, and understand at least some of the viewpoints of our contemporary world, three men, chosen for their high reputation among us, have summed up in their own words the strengths and weaknesses of our age, pointed out the discernible trends of human history, & envisioned something of the future.

Now, I like this. I have imagined what I might write in a letter to the future, but decided I really wouldn’t have anything to say. But that wasn’t a problem for the three men of high reputation.

ROBERT A. MILLIKAN, the physicist who first isolated and measured the electron, wrote:

At this moment, August 22, 1938, the principles of representative ballot government, such as are represented by the governments of the Anglo-Saxon, French, and Scandinavian countries, are in deadly conflict with the principles of despotism, which up to two centuries ago had controlled the destiny of man throughout practically the whole of recorded history.

If the rational, scientific, progressive principles win out in this struggle there is a possibility of a warless, golden age ahead for mankind. If the reactionary principles of despotism triumph now and in the future, the future history of mankind will repeat the sad story of war and oppression as in the past.

Next, the German novelist Thomas Mann:

We know now that the idea of the future as a "better world" was a fallacy of the doctrine of progress. The hopes we center on you, citizens of the future, are in no way exaggerated. In broad outline, you will actually resemble us very much as we resemble those who lived a thousand, or five thousand, years ago.

Among you too the spirit will fare badly it should never fare too well on this earth, otherwise men would need it no longer. That optimistic conception of the future is a projection into time of an endeavor which does not belong to the temporal world, the endeavor on the part of man to approximate to his idea of himself, the humanization of man.

What we, in this year of Our Lord 1938, understand by the term "culture" a notion held in small esteem today by certain nations of the western world is simply this endeavor. What we call the spirit is identical with it, too. Brothers of the future, united with us in the spirit and in this endeavor, we send our greetings.

Albert Einstein posted the third message:

OUR time is rich in inventive minds, the inventions of which could facilitate our lives considerably. We are crossing the seas by power and utilize power also in order to relieve humanity from all tiring muscular work. We have learned to fly and we are able to send messages and news without any difficulty over the entire world through electric waves.

However, the production and distribution of commodities is entirely unorganized so that everybody must live in fear of being eliminated from the economic cycle, in this way suffering for the want of everything. Further more, people living in different countries kill each other at irregular time intervals, so that also for this reason anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror. This is due to the fact that the intelligence & character of the masses are incomparably lower than the intelligence and character of the few who produce something valuable for the community.

I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority.

Current view of the marker for the 1938 time capsule.

As I said, I’ve never seen a book quite like this one. But in case all copies of the book are gone by then, I should include one more useful passage for the people of the year 6939 AD:

The Time Capsule was deposited fifty feet deep in the earth on the site of the building of the Westinghouse Company, on the grounds of the New York World's Fair 1939, by A. W. Robertson, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, at 12 o'clock noon, September 23, 1938, the exact moment of the autumnal equinox of that year,

WHEN the time has come to dig for the Time Capsule, look for it in the area known as the Flushing Meadows, Borough of Queens, New York City, on the site of the New York World's Fair 1939.


*I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley


Anonymous said...

And Joseph Smith entered the cave, guided by the Angel Moroni and discovered the Golden Tablets which described the travels of the Lost Tribes............

I wonder, how many tribes and peoples have repeated the same journey. Do you think, perhaps in some post apocalyptic world where context and continuity has been broken up, that the discoverers of the capsule will proceed to some Divine explanation for the appearance of such an historical mystery?

GULAHIYI said...

Precisely. Those people of AD 6939 might make some interesting conclusions when they find Mickey Mouse, Dick Tracy and Barney Google in the capsule.