The HU History Mystery

WEB BLURB: What if HU history was completely forgotten? Information on time capsules hidden around campus seems to have completely disappeared. And the time capsules might never be opened.

The HU History Mystery (PDF)

The HU History Mystery (DOC)

By Christian Herrera

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. If you hear a squeak, you may be on top of what students are referring to as “the clapper,” located in front of Becker Hall in the Alumni Plaza of Huntington University.

Officially, few might know “the clapper” as Huntington College’s Centennial Medallion. However, what fewer may know is that they are standing on history that dates back as far as 1897.

Just beneath the Centennial Medallion is a time capsule. However, the capsule was originally in the cornerstone of the administration building.

“Around our centennial year in 1997, they redid that building, touched it up, and reappointed the bricks,” Huntington University’s historian-archivist Randy Neuman said. “They took out the cornerstone and opened that.  At that point, they didn’t want to put it back in the cornerstone because the material had degraded. From there, they decided to stick it in the center of the Alumni Plaza.”

Margi Roush, Director of Alumni Relations confirmed the location of the capsule. However, its contents and the year it was buried differed from what Neuman stated.

“It was buried there in 1970,” Roush said. “A Bible belonging to President Elmer Becker – who passed away in 1969 – was one of the items included in the time capsule. I don’t know of other items.”

The same event is described by Neuman and Roush, but the years as to when it happened and the supposed contents within the capsule are significantly different.

This is the result of a lack of documentation.

The Mystery

Three time capsules are buried around Huntington University, according to Neuman: one beneath the Centennial Medallion, another in the cornerstone of Becker Hall, and the final in a cornerstone of the Huntington Union Building.

There is currently no documentation on the time capsule in the cornerstone of Becker Hall.

The time capsule buried at the HUB took place during Huntington University’s homecoming of 2005, according to Roush. That was the year Huntington College changed its name to Huntington University. The time capsule ceremony was held on Friday, September 30, 2005.

“There was conversation about including some old Huntington College athletic uniforms, items from the bookstore, a 2005 yearbook, items from alumni relations, strategic goals, verse of the year, aerial view of the campus and map, small clock, catalog, etcetera,” Roush said. “But I don’t know what was actually included in the capsule itself.”

Jerry Gressley, Director of Physical Plant and Maintenance, helped with the sealing of the capsule at the HUB.

“I was there,” Gressley confirmed. “We used a fire-proof capsule, no larger than a small file cabinet. We locked it up with the key inside, then I sealed the open crevices with caulk…I just can’t remember for the life of me what was put in there.”

Gressley claimed that there were documents in his office regarding the capsule he helped seal, however, he was unable to locate them or recall their contents.

There is no further information regarding this capsule.

After hours of personal research and interviews with Randy Neuman, Margi Roush, and Jerry Gressley, no exhaustive documentation of the time capsules could be found. They each led to each other – only to find documents regarding Huntington College’s centennial year, the construction of the alumni plaza, and the year Huntington College officially became Huntington University. The documents only indirectly spoke of the time capsules and provided no important information detailing its history.

I spent about half-an-hour with Neuman searching for documents – both official and unofficial – in the archive room in the Richlyn Library basement with no informative results. This led me to a dead-end research.

“I wasn’t the archivist at the time,” Neuman said. “That’s why I’m not very sure about the time capsules.”

Whether the documents have been lost, misplaced, or undocumented, the lack of documentation inspires unanswereble questions. Whose idea were the time capsules? Who contributed to them? What did they contribute? What is their significance? What is the purpose of having multiple time capsules? Is each unique? When will the time capsules be unearthed?

“I am amazed there isn’t more information,” Roush said. “It seems that someone should have info, I just don’t know who that might be. History is important!”

Students React

Of the five students interviewed, three were aware of certain time capsules, but two were oblivious to the fact that there were time capsules on campus. However, no one knew the location of all three.

“I believe there is one over by Becker,” junior Thomas Edwards said. “Another time capsule that I think is around is – I think it’s over by the science hall, but I can’t remember. And then I believe there is one over by the PERC.”

When informed that the capsules could potentially never be opened, Edwards shook his head.

“I kinda like the idea of having a time capsule because it’s a way to look back at the history of a location or place or even the people,” Edwards said. “But if it’s never opened, it would kinda make them pointless.”

Other students reacted similarly.

“Other than the knowledge that it’s there,” junior Evan Wolford said, “it really wouldn’t serve any purpose.”

“I think it will be cool if they open it up to see what’s in there,” junior Jason Wright said. “But it’s kind of a waste of time to make it if they never open it.”

“It kind of upsets me,” junior Kylee Renfrew said. “I feel that it’s part of our past, and if you’re going to make a time capsule, the whole reason is to come back and open it up.”

Historians React

Jeffery Webb, PhD, professor of history, reflected on the fact that there were no conclusive documents on the time capsules.

“We don’t have the documents that would help us understand what their intent was, when they intended us to open it, or under what circumstances they wanted us to understand the selection of objects of inclusion in the time capsule,” Webb said. “If we had those documents, it would answer all those questions.”

Webb believes that without proper documentation, nothing conclusive about history can be made.

“We just don’t really know,” Webb said. “We can say that ‘based off of this evidence, X is true.’ But you always have to be very careful and circumspect about making statements that are objectively true because the documentary record in the past is incomplete. It’s full of holes. It’s very idiosyncratic and defies logic and explanation.”

However, even if no important documentation regarding its unearthing is found, the purpose of the time capsules has not been defeated.

“They become what I call ‘historic curiosities,’” Webb said. “They might have some curiosity value to them, but they are diminished in their importance by the absence of any other supporting documents that would explain how the objects were used and valued. They would be of great interest to us if they had some accompanying documents.”

Webb illustrated the importance of documentation through a hypothetical situation.

“If we were to make a time capsule today, you might put a smart phone in there,” Webb said. “It’s something that’s really important in daily routines. 500 years from now, we open that time capsule, and there’s this little electronic device. We would know nothing about how that electronic device was actually used. The future person might accidentally assume that it was hung on a wall, for example.”

However, the situation would be different provided that there was an explanation of the smart phone.

“If you put in an actual description of someone’s account of daily use of the smart phone,” Webb said, “and explain how this thing is fondled repeatedly – sometimes hours at a time – how it almost became an extension to someone’s arm, then you start realizing ‘Wow! This thing was maybe the most important thing that people had on their body at a given time. It was a way that they checked in on each other and they stayed in contact with people from far away towns.’ If we had some document on how a smart phone was actually used on a daily basis, the person 500 years from now would have a greater appreciation for it.”

Sophomore student-historian Andrew Wickersham reflects similarly in respect to the lack of documentation.

“I question how much actual historical research you can do from something as small as a time capsule alone,” Wickersham said. “The less documentation you have, the higher the odds are for error in the interpretation process.”

Nevertheless, Wickersham finds the search for historical relevance to be enjoyable.

“Kind of the fun of history is filling in those missing pieces,” Wickersham said. “It becomes more of a detective story process. You have these buried artifacts – you don’t know the story behind them – and you as a historian have to come up with the hypothesis of why those objects were relevant to that time.”

But even without documentation, significant research can be conducted through the artifacts of the time capsule alone.

“It gives a puzzle for the people who find it. Perhaps that will lead them to do research about the era and even learn something far more substantial.”

Although there are currently no significant documents regarding the time capsules, the hunt for historic knowledge will continue.

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