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Letter to Portsmouth in 2123 AD



This letter was written and sealed into the time capsule buried in Portsmouth, NH in October 1998. The capsule also includes books, photographs, magazine articles, coins, and other curios from an era of Monica Lewinsky and Y2K.





October 11, 1998
Portsmouth, NH

Dear Seacoast Citizens of the Future:

PHOTOS & INFO on 1998 Time Capsule  

Next Saturday, October 17, 1998 we, the members of the Portsmouth Historical Society will solemnly bury a time capsule five feet into the earth near the flag pole on the front lawn of the John Paul Jones House Museum in Portsmouth. There will be speeches by the mayor and a senator or two, then we're all going inside the house for some cake.

But wait a minute, you know what happened better than I do! Next Saturday may be my future, but it's history to you people of the 22nd century -- if , indeed, you are people. Maybe you're all giant preying mantis-beings malformed from the fallout when a terrorist suitcase bomb caused a nuclear winter. Maybe you are all half-human-half-laptop computer people who worship Monica Lewinsky.

Since I'm a museum trustee, Historical Society President Paul Peter Jesep asked me to write a little something and enclose it in the capsule. If you're reading this letter, you must have found the time capsule and peeled it open with your electronic grasshopper legs. If you ate it instead, then I guess we're all doomed.

Given this rare opportunity to speak to beings of the future, I desperately want to say something meaningful to you all, something moving. Here in 1998, we have a reverential love for the past. This year is Portsmouth's 375th anniversary, and we're proud of our history. But as you beings already know, our generation finds it hard to take the future seriously. If you're sucking the last precious drops of fresh air out of a bottle with a Coca-Cola logo, you know what I mean.

My office in Portsmouth is just a few feet from the Museum, so I wandered over there today to see what other items would accompany this letter on it slow underground journey to October 17, 2123. That's the target date when you were authorized to dig up and open the container. That's what we're planning to say on the granite marker that will be placed above the capsule Saturday.

The time capsule, in case you're curious, is a four-foot long piece of green PVC pipe, 15 inches in diameter. Nowadays we enclose just about everything in plastic. I bought a head of organic lettuce the other day that was wrapped in heavy-duty plastic. It's great stuff.

June Rogers got the pipe from the city's Public Works Department. June is Special Events Coordinator at the Museum. When Paul got the idea for a time capsule, he turned the legwork over to June. Our little nonprofit agency had no time capsule budget, so June had to make do.

According to her, the capsule should be airtight. The Water and Sewer Department people apparently threaded the top piece of plastic and fitted it with a rubber liner. When that unit gets greased up this week and screwed shut, it is supposed to create a nice vacuum and keep all the items as fresh as they are today. If you heard a giant sucking sound when you broke the seal, then our job here is done.

Today the items going into the capsule are lined up on a folding table in the back room of the museum. I'll list a few here and you can check them off at your end of the space-time continuum. There are letters in acid-free envelopes from eight local religious leaders and from the society officers. There are lots of postcards and a bunch of magazines including the handy Fall Football issue of TV Guide. You future-guys probably have TV implants in your heads by now. That must be awesome. The Time and Newsweek magazine covers feature a dour-looking Bill Clinton. Your generation may know him as the obscure public official who catapulted Ms. Lewinsky to national fame, leading to her two-term presidency starting in 2012 AD.

You will also find a lot of computer magazines. The idea of destroying trees in order to write about electronic media may be a hard one to grasp there in the future, but remember, we are a primitive culture. We're still contemplating curbside recycling, we can't pass a bottle-bill, our kids are pierced and tattooed, and consensual sex is still an impeachable offense.

Publisher Peter Randall kindly donated a dozen books on local history which are probably out of print in your era. There's a thing called a videotape enclosed, and another called a CD-rom. To extract the electronic data, you'll need a good 125-year-old VCR and at least a Pentium-speed computer. The book-based data can be accessed by turning the pages with your thumb and forefinger. We wanted to throw in a hot new children's toy called a Beany-Baby, but there was not enough money in our endowment to purchase one. We gave you the new Portsmouth Harbour Trail board game instead. If you happen to find a set of car keys, I think mine fell in when I was leaning over the capsule. Please mail them to my descendants.

This Wednesday or Thursday, June Rogers says, all that stuff and more will be sealed tightly inside the capsule. By Friday, if all goes according to plan, the Public Works people will come and dig the hole in the lawn. The capsule is pretty darned heavy, so a couple of volunteers will probably have to roll it down the steps of the 1756 historic house and place it in the earth. The goal, we're told, is to get the thing below the frost level. Then, on Saturday, those in attendance will sprinkle a few ceremonial handfuls of dirt on the capsule and close it in. From there, it sits, a message in a bottle in the slipstream of time.

But you are the future, so you know all this already. From here, I can't even tell if I made it to Saturday's ceremony.

If we didn't pollute you out of existence, and there is still a city called Portsmouth, we send warm greetings and felicitations upon your 500th anniversary celebration. If you find a way to write back, I've got a million questions for you too. If, instead, we turned you into giant radioactive praying mantis-beings -- um -- we're sorry about that.

Yours sincerely,

© 1998, J. Dennis Robinson. All Rights Reserved


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