New time capsule for Alma Mater's hollow base aims to improve on past
URBANA — A message to thy happy children of the future:
An old peanut butter jar is not the best vessel for preserving items from the past.
In anticipation of the Alma Mater sculpture's return to campus, a time capsule is being prepared. And unlike the one found in 2012 in the granite base — a glass jar with a Jiffy peanut butter lid believed to be installed in the early 1980s — this one will be able to weather the passing of time.
For an online tour of what's going on, click here
The new time capsule is a solid, stainless steel box featuring an air-tight seal. Its exterior features an image of Alma, plus two campus logos — the current I mark and an older UI featured on Altgeld Hall, the mathematics building near the statue.
It's also stamped with the dates 1867-2014 and bears the same words etched into the base of the statue: "To thy happy children of the future those of the past send greetings."
The iconic sculpture, created by artist Lorado Taft in 1929, is expected to return to campus on April 9 following an extensive restoration. It was removed from its base at Wright and Green Streets in August 2012.
The list of contents to be placed in the time capsule is still being finalized, but students, faculty and staff have been invited to send messages to be placed inside.
The deadline to send electronic greetings for students, staff and faculty has been extended from March 30 to midnight April 2. The form can be accessed for those with a network ID via go.illinois.edu/almagreetings.
The University of Illinois Alumni Association also emailed more than 100,000 Urbana graduates for whom it has addresses about sending greetings to Alma. The association also is accepting messages through its website, uialumninetwork.org, through March 30.
Among the items to be placed in the time capsule: a tiny injectable LED made by UI Professor John Rogers, a guitar pick from the UI's Ellnora guitar festival and letters from UI President Bob Easter and Chancellor Phyllis Wise.
The UI Alumni Association also provided a few items to be considered, including a Homecoming button and an issue of the Illinois Alumni magazine featuring Alma.
Many other items are being considered, said Joel Steinfeldt, the UI's brand manager. "What we're trying to do is represent the university hundreds of years in the future," he said.
"I'm excited to be a part of it," said Jennifer Hain Teper, head of preservation and conservation at the university library and one of the conservation team members advising on the time capsule.
The air-tight seal will protect the contents from the relative humidity and moisture. Because the sculpture is outside, the capsule and its contents will experience some temperature variations, she said.
"We're going to do our best. Obviously, it is outdoors, and it's possible it will be several hundred years before anyone accesses it again," she said.
The previous time capsule, believed to be installed in the base the last time the Alma Mater had work done, contained Polaroid photographs that didn't survive and something written on paper; very little remains.
"There was a lot of water damage," Hain Teper said.
There also was some sort of pottery that broke down into shards due to the freeze-thaw cycle.
In the new time capsule, the digital greetings will be exported into a common database format and burned onto gold, archival-quality CDs.
Those gold CDs "are the most durable storage medium we've got right now," Hain Teper said.
"We can't guarantee in 200 years they'll be able to read them," she said. "Two hundred years ago, all we had was written word. ... Who knows what we'll be using for data storage?"
Organizers are talking with UI Archives staff about including a message with the CDs that will say something to the extent of: If people can't read the disk, they should consult with the university archives.
The capsule also will include a genuine student identification card.
UI sophomore Relwin Jay Singh, whose old ID wasn't working, walked into the campus ID center Tuesday to obtain a new one. Steinfeldt was there waiting to surprise the first student who walked in after 1 p.m.
"I was pretty psyched up. They took my picture, told me to sign a few forms. It's pretty exciting really to know my ID will be in a time capsule," said Singh, a transfer student from Malaysia who is studying mechanical engineering and said he's glad he came here.
"Besides the weather, it's a pretty nice place," he said.
Capsule times two
The time capsule planned to be installed in the base of the Alma Mater won't be the only one on campus.
When the renovation of Lincoln Hall was completed last year, the campus installed a time capsule there. It contains items like an original i-clicker, a classroom learning device invented by UI professors; a copy of the novel "The Echo Maker" by UI English Professor Richard Powers; corn from the Morrow Plots; historical photos of the building; pennies and more.
The Lincoln Hall time capsule is to be opened in 2063 during the building's 150th anniversary of its original dedication.