Construction workers in Seattle unearthed a long-forgotten time capsule at the Space Needle this week. Millions of people who visited the 605-foot tower in the past 35 years likely walked right by it.
Not that they would have noticed.
At some point long ago, there was an adjacent plaque advertising the capsule’s existence and noting that it should be opened in 2002. But somewhere along the way, that plaque disappeared.
2002 came and went. Space Needle employees who helped install the capsule scattered, and memories faded.
But this week, construction workers completing a $100 million renovation stumbled upon the capsule. The heavy metal box was on the observation deck level, attached to a steel support bar and hidden behind plaster encasement. It was not far from the doors to one of the main elevators — the so-called Blue Elevator, to be exact.
Word of the discovery got to Rod Kauffman, who was the operations manager at the Space Needle in 1982 and helped to put the capsule together. And so on Friday morning — more than 15 years late — the capsule was opened, and Mr. Kauffman, wearing a hard hat and reflective vest, went through the capsule’s contents, item by item.
There were letters, photographs and postcards from 1982. Some mementos dated all the way to 1962, the year the Space Needle opened and Seattle hosted the World’s Fair.
Mr. Kauffman pulled out a master key that he said “opened every lock in the Space Needle” in 1982. He pointed to a black-and-white photograph of three women in shiny dresses: “elevator operators from 1962.” There was an old menu for the restaurant, Top of the Needle, offering crayfish bisque and scallops primavera. There was an old reel of audio tape, and on it, a recording of a 1982 broadcast commemorating the 20th anniversary of the World’s Fair.
In a phone interview, Mr. Kauffman said he was excited not only about those items, but also about the capsule itself. On the outside was a sketch of the tower by John Graham, the architect who designed the Space Needle. And Mr. Kauffman’s own wife, whom he met on the elevator at the Space Needle, had written in careful calligraphy on the top: “Time Capsule to be opened April 21, 2002.”
“People are like, ‘Well, why was there a 15-year lag?’” said Dave Mandapat, the Space Needle’s public relations director. “And it’s because I don’t think anyone knew about it.”
Mr. Mandapat, who has worked at the Space Needle for 21 years, had heard that a capsule existed at the Space Needle — but he didn’t know where. Ahead of this year’s renovation project, he spoke with people like Bob Witter, who was a duty manager at the Space Needle in 1982. But Mr. Mandapat could never pinpoint the exact location of the capsule and thought that perhaps it had been lost in some renovation project.
He was happy the capsule was unveiled Friday morning. But perhaps not as much as Mr. Witter, who loves the Space Needle so much he got married in it.
Mr. Witter was even there as a child, at the 1962 World’s Fair, and one of his contributions to the capsule was a photograph from that event. Another was paint chips: In 1982, he climbed to the roof of the tower to dig out some flakes of the orange hue that had topped the tower two decades earlier.
“Thankfully, this renovation project happened,” Mr. Witter said. “Because had this not happened, the mystery would have gone on and on and on.”
So what now for the capsule and the dozens of keepsakes inside? That is still up for discussion.
Mr. Mandapat said the time capsule might be hidden away again next year — this time, with instructions not to open it up again until 2062, the Seattle World’s Fair centennial. No word yet on how they’d make sure it isn’t forgotten again.