ITHACA, N.Y. — Half a century ago a time capsule was tucked into the cornerstone of the Old Library building at Court and Cayuga Streets. The sealed copper box was pried out during the building’s demolition in December. On Saturday, the box was opened while community members, including some who had put letters and memorabilia in the time capsule, looked on.

Inside, there were thousands of little letters written by children from different schools in Tompkins County in 1968, an Ithaca Journal newspaper celebrating 150 years of publication, a Finger Lakes bookmobile schedule for 1967, a letter from the architect, a book and other documents.

Message preserved in the time capsule. (Kristi Gogos)

The event held at the new Tompkins Center for History and Culture featured several of the Tompkins County students who, on April 22, 1968, enclosed snapshots of their school days to be uncovered at a later date. On small scrolls of paper kept, kids wrote messages that were then sealed in bubbles of gelatin, preserving them for 50 years.

“I wrote one, and I have no idea what I wrote on it. That’s another reason why I came today, to try and figure out exactly what I wrote or what I thought about back then,” said Sinclair Houtman, who drove down from Syracuse for the occasion.

Annette Birdsall, director of the Tompkins County Public Library, estimated Saturday that there are about 4,000 notes that need to be opened. Birdsall said over time all the notes will be methodically opened and archived, but at opening ceremony participants unrolled and read notes at random.

“I like coffee, I like tea, I like books and books like me,” Houtman read from a note signed Wendy Bell.

(Kristi Gogos)

“Now when my mother reads to me, I can read to her,” Peter Salton read from a note signed by Christine, age seven.

Salton said he remembers that when his sixth-grade class put notes in the box, he wanted to add a bazooka bubble gum wrapper. “I don’t remember if I ever did it,” he said. Opening the time capsule brought back other memories of his childhood, though. “I remember the thought process when I was that age – I think I was 12 – thinking that I’d never live to see this thing cracked open, and yet I did. So I had to come down.”

Salton remembers feeling like it was a solemn, important ceremony when he and his classmates submitted notes. Saturday’s opening ceremony felt nostalgic and celebratory.

“I think the turnout was wonderful. I think we felt the love for the library just in the participants, and then when the letters were read and opened we really had a living example of the love that Tompkins County has for its library. I’m very moved and grateful to be part of this,” Birdsall said.

By the end of the day about a hundred notes had been unspooled and read by participants, leaving hundreds more encased. Birdsall said the library and The History Center are coming up with a strategy for opening the remaining notes. Eventually, they will be archived at The History Center and available for the public to view.

Watch a video recap below by Jacob Mroczek. Want to see the full ceremony? We streamed it live on Saturday. Watch it here.

YouTube video

Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at or 607-391-0328.