Time On Its Side

Washington Park

On Friday, May 30, 2014, representatives from The Oregon Historical Society and The City of Portland pulled up more than 55 remnants from Portland past.

You may have read the 1985 PDX time capsule story in Willamette Week.

Or, you may have seen the TV coverage from our news partner, KGW.

If you’d like to dig deeper, here’s a complete list of the contents.

Surprisingly (or not), the 1985 time capsule unearthing did not attract much public interest. Willamette Week called the assembled crowd at Pioneer Courthouse Square “small, but enthusiastic.”

One thing lost in all the recent media coverage: the tantalizing unsolved mystery of Portland’s first time capsule, which was carefully placed in (or under) the Lewis & Clark Memorial in Washington Park. It was a big story here in 1903. And again 100 years later.

On May 21, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt came to “The City of Roses” (which did not become Portland’s official nickname until June 2003 – what?) to deposit a copper time capsule in the “cornerstone” of the yet-to-be-erected aforementioned memorial.

President Teddy

President Roosevelt, in a resplendent horse-drawn carriage, rode through downtown to (of course) cheering crowds. Newspaper accounts reported that once the President reached Washington Park, he used a “silver trowel with an ivory handle” to deposit the capsule. Then, Teddy “gave the signal for the workmen to lower the big block of granite into place.”

No photographs were taken or published. No date was set to unearth and open the capsule, which contained more than 50 items, many connected to the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition of 1905.

After shoveling and pontificating, Roosevelt returned to Washington, D.C. to attend to more pressing business, such as the construction of the Panama Canal.

Fast-forward 100 years. Someone (or a group of someones) at The Oregon Historical Society, inspired by an upcoming Portland visit from President Roosevelt’s great-grandson, Teddy IV, and the almost 100th anniversary of the time capsule’s interment, made the decision to create an event around digging up and opening President Teddy’s 1903 Time Capsule.

The idea was brilliant. However, there was one BIG problem. No one at the Historical Society, or anyone in Portland’s government or private sector, could determine the time capsule’s exact location. Of course, the 21st Century national media (including The New York Times!) jumped all over our city’s more than slightly embarrassing predicament.

All this begs one very important question.

Does The Oregon Historical Society have any plans to resume the search for President Teddy’s 1903 Time Capsule?

Geoff Wexler, the Society’s Library Director, responded to our inquiry via email: “Not that I know of,” Wexler wrote.

Wexler went on to suggest this story may inspire a new search “by someone.”

Head’s down Portland — can you dig it?

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