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Sunday, September 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Capsule Keepers return to Olympia to update time-capsule vault

Capsule Keepers Erica Gordon and Irhonda Payne open the doors of the time capsule vault for the first time since Feb. 22, 1989. All the keepers were 10-year-olds in November 1989 when the vault was dedicated. (Jim Camden)
Capsule Keepers Erica Gordon and Irhonda Payne open the doors of the time capsule vault for the first time since Feb. 22, 1989. All the keepers were 10-year-olds in November 1989 when the vault was dedicated. (Jim Camden)

OLYMPIA – Erica Gordon remembers sitting on the marble steps of the state Capitol in 1989 with hundreds of other 10-year-olds as state officials administered the oath of the Capsule Keeper for them to link the past to the future.

The fourth-grader from Pasadena Park Elementary School who was then Erica Mortensen had heard through Camp Fire that the state was looking for children born in November 1979 for a special role in the state’s Centennial Celebration. It came with a commitment more than twice as long as she had been alive.

Her parents made a family vacation out of the trip to Olympia on Nov. 11, 1989, the state’s 100th birthday, and she took her place on the steps with the some 300 other “Capsule Kids,” as they were called, while then-Gov. Booth Gardner and other state officials made them promise to update the capsule in 25 years and recruit a new generation to update it for 2039.

“It was exciting,” Gordon said, although her 10-year-old self couldn’t really think that far into the future. “But I’ve remembered all along. I’ve never forgotten about it.”

The Capsule Kids got two T-shirts with a Native American-inspired logo: one child-size shirt to wear that day and one adult-size shirt to wear 25 years later, the next time the capsule was placed in the vault. Her parents still have her adult shirt in its bag.

Now Gordon and the other former Capsule Kids are being called back into service to get ready for the next big anniversary, the 125th, in 2014. They need to decide what to put in a special drawer in the vault representing the last 25 years and come up with a way to recruit the next batch of keepers.

Their first challenge is to find more former Capsule Kids. There were 336 who answered the call in 1989, but many have moved in the two dozen years since the centennial. The state sent letters to every address it had: active street or email addresses for about 70 of them.

The vault was the first updatable time capsule, designer Knute Berger said. Along with the artifacts sealed in an airtight, argon gas-filled capsule from 1989, it has 15 other empty capsules, one of which will be filled every 25 years until the state’s 500th birthday in 2389, when all will be opened.

“Most time capsules are buried and forgotten. Many of them are lost,” Berger said. The Centennial Capsule Vault is in an alcove between the doors on the Capitol Building’s south entrance. Hundreds of people pass it every day, although some regular visitors to the building said Tuesday they’d never noticed it before.

For some Capsule Kids, however, it’s a focal point to any visit to Olympia.

Jen Estroff, chairwoman of the Keepers board of directors, said Capitol maintenance staff probably had to regularly wash her handprints off the front of the vault. A legislative aide to former Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, Estroff now works as a lobbyist for children’s health issues and traces her interest in government to the day she saw the capsule sealed in the vault.

Alaina Chatigny of Gig Harbor said her family made yearly trips to the Capitol to take her picture in front of the capsule vault. On Tuesday, she came for the ceremonial opening and showed her 8-year-old son Austin the rows of capsules marked for each quarter-century inside the vault.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Austin, who would like to be a keeper for the next generation. He said the 2014 capsule should include an action figure. His suggestion: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Leonardo.

Along with deciding what artifacts will go into the next capsule, one of the jobs of this generation of keepers is to figure out how to recruit the next generation. Children of keepers like Austin will qualify, and the committee may again put out a call for children who turn 10 next November.

“We need to create a link from the past to the future,” said Gordon, who is heading up the recruitment committee. “We’re going to cast a wide net across the state.”

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