A lot can happen in 50 years.
Moon landings, the rise of portable electronics, the internet, and the host of innovative gadgets and ideas we now have in the digital age are all among the changes the world has seen in the last five decades.
But in Londonderry and Derry, New Hampshire, local officials can add another development to marvel over: What exactly happened to a time capsule from 1969?
More specifically, what happened to its contents?
“It is a mystery,” Cara Potter, director of the Derry Public Library, where the capsule, a small blue safe, was stored, told Boston.com. “I don’t know that we’ll be able to solve it.”
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The safe was sealed during the 250th anniversary of Nutfield — the celebrations marking the arrival of the first settlers in the region that would one day become Derry, Londonderry, Windham, and Manchester’s Derryfield neighborhood.
It was supposed to be unveiled and opened at the 300th anniversary this month, but, apparently, the box did not remain closed.
Londonderry officials, looking to open up the capsule during anniversary festivities and the town’s Old Home Day celebration last weekend, learned two weeks ago the safe was completely empty.
“It was a big disappointment,” Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith said in an interview. “We were all excited about it.”
Potter said library staff made the discovery this past spring when she considered opening the capsule during a program at the library.
Hoping to check beforehand that the safe’s contents would make for an interesting ceremony, she set out to locate its combination, only to find the numbers scribbled on a piece of paper taped on the back of the capsule.
“When we opened it, I was a little horrified there was nothing in there,” she said. “But it’s an interesting story.”
The safe was locked away in the library’s “local history room,” which requires visitors to sign in to access, according to Potter, who said the library lacks the staff to supervise the space.
In her five years at the library, Potter said no one has touched the safe.
What happened to its contents is not the only mystery, however.
The safe’s own history has been difficult to hammer out.
Potter said she heard the capsule was stored in Derry’s Old Town Hall and moved to the library over 20 years ago when the building was torn down.
Some have said it may have been buried at one point, though Potter said the safe appears to be in good shape.
“Nobody seems to have any sort of record of what actually happened,” she said.
Also unknown to officials is what exactly was supposed to be inside the box.
Both Smith and Potter speculate that the container very well could have included items related to Derry’s own Alan Shepard, the astronaut who was the first American in space and later landed on the moon during 1971’s Apollo 14 mission.
Potter noted the capsule was closed around the time of the Apollo 11 moon landing, 50 years ago last month.
“If somebody did take it, it was probably for those items,” she said.
According to Smith, other pieces may have included newspapers, a film reel, and materials related to the 250th anniversary. Someone who was at the 1969 festivities told him the capsule included trimmings from a beard contest.
So far, there’s no official investigation into what happened, Potter said. But she hopes local historians could perhaps provide some insight into the capsule’s past.
To mark the 300th anniversary, a new time capsule will be sealed next month, Smith said.
“And maybe, the combination won’t be written on the back of it,” he said, with a chuckle.