With Help from a Cadre of Kids, Knute Berger Devises a Capsule That Time Won't Forget

UPDATED 04/02/1990 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/02/1990 at 01:00 AM EDT

Knute Berger, 36, a writer and editor in Seattle, claims to be "one of the nation's foremost experts on something almost nobody cares about"—namely, time capsules. In his research he has found that while people love to stick capsules in the ground, they don't necessarily remember where they bury them. "My own rough estimate," he says, "is that several hundred time capsules are ceremoniously squirreled away and forgotten for every one that successfully conveys its cargo into the hands of future generations."

To avoid such a glitch, Washington State hired Berger during its centennial last year to design a capsule that time wouldn't forget. He responded with a three-pronged plan. First, this capsule won't be buried. Instead the seven-foot-tall, 3,500-pound steel vault sits in plain sight in the state capitol.

Second, his may be the world's first "updatable capsule," intended to be reopened every 25 years. At those times, another container filled with microfilmed messages and memorabilia from the local citizenry will be added to the vault's 16 compartments until, four centuries from now, a grand finale celebration occurs on the state's 500th birthday in the year 2389.

And last, Berger recruited from schools, scout troops and other youth groups a corps of more than 300 kids, all 10-year-olds, as volunteer "keepers of the capsule." They are pledged to serve for 25 years until the next capsule opening, when, as 35-year-olds, those who remain will recruit the next generation of 10-year-olds, and so on in successive relays down the centuries. At the official dedication last month Berger exuded confidence that his plan will work. "By making this project a living, ongoing process," he says, "we've increased its chances of survival."

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