10 Time Capsule Rooms Left Untouched for Decades

Bethany Clarke/Getty Images
Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

Earlier this month, four rooms of century-old chalkboard drawings were discovered during renovations at an Oklahoma City High School. The charming sketches of pilgrims, turkeys, and little girls blowing bubbles date to 1917, when they were covered up by a new layer of blackboards, and their unveiling provided a fascinating glimpse of what school was like at the beginning of the 20th century.

Finds like these inspire a sense of awe, but they’re not as rare as one might think. Over the past few years, the press has reported on a number of “time capsule” rooms—perfectly preserved spaces that exist in a state of suspended animation, usually (but not always) after being abandoned and forgotten. Some of these spots have been or will be turned into museums, but nothing will compare to being one of the first inside after decades of decay. These finds also raise a wonderful question: How many other treasure troves are sitting behind locked doors and bricked-up walls, just waiting to be discovered?

1. Maison Mantin // Moulins, France 

Louis Mantin was a relatively unremarkable French civil servant until his early 40s when he inherited a fortune from his father and reinvented himself as a gentleman of leisure. He devoted much of that fortune to constructing a mansion on the site of a former Bourbon palace in the town of Moulins, filling it with tapestries, paintings, and porcelain, and installing his personal collection of Egyptian antiquities and medieval locks, among other effects. (He even created a special pink-and-gold room for his mistress.) When he died childless in 1905, he left a will bequeathing his mansion to the town, and specifying that it should be turned into a museum 100 years later. Locals say it was his way of ensuring that he would never be forgotten. The house fell into a state of ruin until 2005, when it was finally reopened. Water, mold, and worms had heavily damaged the structure, but conservators mounted a full restoration to return things to their original opulence. Maison Mantin opened as a museum in 2010—only five years behind Mantin’s schedule. 

2. Edwin Booth’s Apartment // Player’s Club, NYC

Edwin Booth is best known as the older brother of John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln's assassin, but he was also one of the most celebrated actors of his day. In 1888, he opened a swanky gentlemen's club devoted to raising the position of actors in society. Mark Twain and William Tecumseh Sherman were co-founders, along with other local pillars of the arts and industry. The Gramercy Park townhouse also included Booth’s own living quarters, where he died, in his daughter's arms, in 1893. According to club lore, the room was locked up after Booth’s death and has been left virtually untouched ever since, apart from occasional dusting. The space apparently still smells like Booth’s tobacco smoke, and includes his furniture, velvet-lined makeup box, volumes of Shakespeare, and a human skull that, according to the club's website, "Booth saluted hundreds of times while playing Hamlet. The skull is said to be that of a horse thief who asked just before being hanged that his skull be given to Booth’s father, whom he admired."

3. Mrs. De Florian's apartment // Paris 

The experts who first stepped inside this Parisian flat in 2010 said it was like stumbling onto Sleeping Beauty's castle—untouched for decades and blanketed in a thick layer of dust. The apartment's former owner, one Mrs. De Florian, had left Paris amid the encroaching Nazi threat in the 1940s and never returned, eventually settling in the south of France. Seventy years later, she died at the age of 91, and her heirs hired professionals to inventory her belongings. It was only then that her apartment was finally re-opened, revealing faded but ornate furnishings and draperies, as well as a stuffed ostrich and a pre-war Mickey Mouse.

There was also a particularly special surprise: a painting of a lovely young woman in pink. It turned out to be the handiwork of one of Paris' most important Belle Epoque painters, Giovanni Boldini. And the woman in pink was Mrs. de Florian’s grandmother, Marthe de Florian, a Belle Epoque actress and socialite who had been Boldini's mistress. (The apartment also contained some of their love letters.) The art world swooned over the story, and the painting sold for $3 million at auction

4. Hubert Rochereau's bedroom // Bélâbre, France 

the bedroom of Hubert Rochereau, left intact
Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images

Lieutenant Hubert Guy Pierre Alphonse Rochereau died in 1918 at the age of 21, after being wounded during a World War I battle over a village in Belgium. His grief-stricken parents left his room more or less exactly as it was the day Rochereau left for the front—even going so far as to brick up the entrance. When they bequeathed the house to a friend in 1935, they stipulated that Hubert’s room shouldn't be changed for 500 years. The clause didn't have any legal backing, but it's been honored ever since, and the house is today owned by a retired local official who respects the request. Hubert’s room still includes his spurs, sword, helmet, and military jacket, as well as his pipes and books, and a lace bedspread covered with his war medals. 

5. Bellosguardo // Santa Barbara, Calif. 

Huguette Clark was the youngest child of copper baron, senator, and founder of Las Vegas William Andrews Clark. Shy and artistic, she had only a small circle of friends, and eventually spent the last 20 years of her life in a hospital room, even though she wasn’t sick. Meanwhile, her vast and secluded estate in Santa Barbara, known as Bellosguardo, was meticulously maintained for nearly 60 years at a cost of tens of thousands per month, even though no member of the family had visited since the 1950s. For decades, the only permanent resident of the 23-acre, French-style chateau was the estate manager, his dogs, and some foxes.

When Huguette inherited Bellosguardo in 1963, she reportedly told the staff that everything was to be kept in "first-class condition," and absolutely nothing should change. Linens were wrapped in brown paper in the 1960s, and dishes washed, covered, and dated in the 1990s. Staff worked tirelessly to keep things in perfect order—even though no one ever visited. Clark died in 2011 at the age of 104, and her (hotly contested) will stipulated that Bellosguardo estate be left to a new foundation to foster the arts.

Bellosguardo wasn’t her only property—she had a mansion in Connecticut that was never occupied, and three apartments on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, all filled with rare antiques, books, and art, which she never set foot in during her 20 years in the hospital. 

6. Play area in an Anglican Church // Liverpool 

For years, the reverend at the Anglican Church of Our Lady and St. Nicholas in Liverpool had heard rumors about an abandoned room up on the building’s upper floor. In 2014, he finally opened the trap door in the church's ceiling to discover a treasure trove of old toys, books, and snacks (including packages of vintage hot chocolate). Church officials believe the room was a play area sealed before the church was bombed during World War II, and then left sealed during reconstruction. Amazingly, one of the books dated back to 1696. 

7. World War I shelter // near Carspach, France 

In 2010, workers excavating for a road project in northern France discovered an elaborate underground shelter used in World War I. The tunnel had collapsed during heavy French shelling in 1918, killing all 34 German soldiers hiding out inside. Troops hauled out 13 of the bodies but considered it too dangerous to remove the rest, and the shelter sat abandoned until the 21st century. Archeologists who explored the shelter in 2011 found it had been built with room for 500 men, and came equipped with heating, telephone connections, electricity, and its own goat. They also found the remains of 21 soldiers inside, plus various personal effects—including wallets, glasses, dog tags, a wine bottle, a mustard jar, and a rosary made with a French bullet. 

8. Corner shop // Accrington, Lancashire

The council workers who paid a 2008 safety visit to a boarded-up shop in Lancashire might have been expecting to find some old newspapers and a rodent guest or two. Instead, they discovered the corner drugstore and ice cream parlor just as its last owners had left it more than 30 year earlier. (For reasons that are unclear, no one in the family-owned shop ever came to clear the place out.) And the erstwhile owners weren't great about rotating their stock: the workers found a repair bill from 1927, magazines from the '30s detailing the young Princess Elizabeth's travels, and ancient medicines including "Fennings Fever Mixture," "Victory V lozenges," and something called "Dulcet Cream." The safety check was carried out on behalf of a developer who planned to turn the shop into a house and gave some of the strange prizes inside to his workers. 

9. Pineheath House // Harrogate, Yorkshire

bathroom in Pineheath house
Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

The 40-room Pineheath House in Yorkshire was once owned by Indian-born aristocrats Sir Dhunjibhoy and Lady Bomanji, both active in early 20th century English and Indian high society. But after Lady Bomanji died in 1986, the property was occupied by their daughter, who changed nothing for 27 years. The developer who bought it in 2013 found it decorated in a 1920s style, and filled with products, newspaper clippings, and society invitations from throughout the 20th century. The mansion even had its own internal telephone system, used by the couple and their servants when they resided there each autumn. 

10. Scott’s Hut // Cape Evans, Ross Island, Antarctica 


Sandwichgirl, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1911, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his men constructed a wooden hut on Ross Island in Antarctica to serve as their base of operations—one of the first human dwellings constructed on the continent. In January 1912, they set off for the South Pole, never to return. (Their frozen bodies were discovered later that year.) The hut—made of layers of wood prefabricated in England and insulated with shredded seaweed sewn into quilting—was used by a few more rounds of explorers, then sat untouched from 1917 until the 1950s, when a U.S. expedition dug it out of the snow and ice. Since then, it's been stabilized, repaired, and repainted, but much of the hut remains as the explorers left it, down to the bottles on the dining table and the reindeer-skin sleeping bags. Today, you can see the exterior and have a look around on Google Street View

Eagle Creek's Durable Caldera Line of Suitcases Can Digitally Track Your Travels

Eagle Creek's Caldera line of bags comes in both black and green.
Eagle Creek's Caldera line of bags comes in both black and green.
Eagle Creek

I always have a little anxiety when I check a suitcase for a flight. What if it gets damaged, or worse—lost?

Eagle Creek is taking on both challenges with its new Caldera line of suitcases. Thanks to a polycarbonate back shell and a body made of recycled Cordura poly that is tear-, abrasion-, and water-resistant, the bags are lightweight but tough.

They’re also full of smart details: reflective, water-resistant zippers; a proprietary system that keeps the handle from being crushed; personalizable rubber side handles; side straps with aluminum hardware that can be tucked away; and a “coat keeper” that allows you to secure your coat to the top of the bag as you’re rolling through the airport.

The Eagle Creek Caldera Wheeled Duffel.
The Eagle Creek Caldera's "coat keeper" in action.
Eagle Creek

But the thing that really got me excited about the Caldera line is TripSync. Each bag in the Caldera line is equipped with an NFC chip that allows you to report your bag if it’s lost and tracks your trips for a cool digital reminder of where you've been.

Eagle Creek sent me the 100-liter wheeled duffel to test, and I brought it along with me on a trip to Israel. I wasn’t able to check out TripSync (which was still in beta at the time of my trip) but here’s how it works: First, if your phone requires it, download an app that will read the NFC chip. Then, hold your phone near the luggage tag, which will launch a video describing the features of your bag and how to care for it. (There’s also a handy diagram that will tell you which Eagle Creek packing cubes you need, and the way to orient them, to get the most space out of your bag.)

After the video, you’ll sign up for an account. Don’t forget to register your bag—it’s the only way you can report it as lost if it goes missing. You may also need to adjust your settings to allow TripSync to get your location so it can accurately track your travel.

Before you check your bag or hop on the plane, scan your bag and make sure you’re logged in, then click “start trip.” After that, you’ll need to scan your bag and click “add stop” or “end trip” to log your travels. (These steps are important—the bag isn’t actively being tracked by GPS, so trip length is based on the points you log and determined by “the most direct path between the points,” according to Eagle Creek’s website. “The total miles traveled between each point you create become your total miles traveled for that one trip.”)

If you need to report your bag lost, you do so by logging in and clicking the “report lost” button. When someone finds the bag, all they need to do is scan it with their phone to contact you; none of your information will be revealed. When your bag is back in your hands, you can mark it as found.

Eagle Creek Caldera luggage.
If your bag gets lost, whoever finds it just has to tap their smartphone on the ID tag and you'll be contacted.
Eagle Creek

Though I wasn’t able to try TripSync, I was still impressed by the physical features of the bag. The bag is durable as promised, and spacious—I had plenty of room for everything I wanted to bring, with space to spare for souvenirs. (The suitcase is also expandable via a zipper, but I didn’t have to use that feature this time.) Thanks to the sturdy handle and rugged wheels, the bag handled great both empty and when it was fully loaded, both on smooth streets and uneven terrain. And as a person who struggles with what to do with her coat when wheeling all of her luggage through the airport, I found the coat keeper to be especially helpful. I can’t wait to take the bag on another trip to try out TripSync for myself.

If you’re not in the market for a carry-on or checked suitcase, Eagle Creek also has a Caldera backpack as well as a convertible bag that can be both worn as a backpack and rolled like a traditional carry-on suitcase.

The bags come in black and green; they start at $279 for the backpack and go up to $569 for the four-wheeled 100L model. You can buy them on EagleCreek.com.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

10 Enchanting Places That Align with the Vernal Equinox

A shadowy serpent appears at Chichen Itza on the equinox.
A shadowy serpent appears at Chichen Itza on the equinox.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On Thursday, March 19, the vernal equinox heralded the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Ancient civilizations built calendars and observatories to track the movements of the stars and mark this monumental time. Now, people still partake in a variety of traditions and rituals to honor the day when light and dark become equal. To take your celestial celebrations to the next level, here are 10 places that align with the spring equinox.

1. On the vernal equinox, a massive snake appears on the temple at Chichen Itza.

Legend says that on the spring and fall equinoxes, the Maya city of Chichen Itza receives an otherworldly visitor: Kukulcan, the feathered serpent deity. On these days, a shadowy snake slithers down the side of the god's namesake pyramid. As the temple darkens, a single strip of light stretches from the top of the northern staircase to the snake head resting at the bottom, creating the illusion of a wriggling reptile.

2. A beam of light illuminates a petroglyph within Arizona’s Boulder House each vernal equinox.

The Boulder House in Scottsdale, Arizona, looks like a strange home wedged amid a jumble of rocks. But it’s actually a modern house built around a sacred Native American site. The Empie family, who bought the parcel of desert land in the 1980s, commissioned architect Charles Johnson to transform the cluster of 1.6-billion-year-old boulders into a functional house. Johnson crafted a unique structure, incorporating the rocks into the house’s foundation and preserving the prehistoric carvings. On the equinox, sunlight pierces between two boulders in the unusual abode, striking a spiral petroglyph on the wall to create a dazzling piece of home decor.

3. On the vernal equinox, a group of Moai on Easter Island stare directly at the sunset.

Seven Moai gaze face toward the horizon
On the equinox, these Moai stare directly at the setting sun.
abriendomundo/iStock via Getty Images

People aren’t the only ones who pause to watch the sun slip beneath the horizon on the first day of spring. On Easter Island, at a sacred site called Ahu Akivi, a line of seven Moai—the island’s giant, mysterious heads—gaze directly at the point at which the sun sets in the sky on the equinox.

4. Each vernal equinox, light drenches a petroglyph-filled cairn at Loughcrew.

The hills of Loughcrew, one of Ireland’s four main passage tomb sites, are crowned by 5000-year-old megalithic structures. At dawn on the equinox, sunlight fills Cairn T, a passage tomb carved with astoundingly well-preserved examples of Neolithic art. As the light dissolves the darkness, the cup marks that dimple its walls and the symbols adorning its back stones blaze into view. The illumination lasts for about 50 minutes, giving observers ample time to take turns squeezing into the cairn.

5. On the vernal equinox, light streams through one of the Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples.

The Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples on Malta’s southern coast are archaeological wonders. They were built between 3600 and 2500 BCE and are believed to be among the world’s oldest freestanding stone buildings. Not much is known about the people who created these megalithic masterpieces, though it’s clear they constructed one of the temples with an eye to the heavens. On the equinox, the sun streams through the South Temple’s main doorway, flooding the structure’s major axis with light.

6. On the vernal equinox, the sun sits directly atop the main temple at Angkor Wat.

Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat would be a magical experience any day. Crowds hush as colorful hues paint the world’s largest religious structure with a gilded glow. Dawn at Angkor Wat is even more special on the equinoxes. Then, the sun rises behind the main temple before briefly seeming to balance on its tip like a fiery halo.

7. On the spring equinox, the sun rises through the entrance to Stonehenge Aotearoa.

Stonehenge has inspired replicas around the globe—including as far away as New Zealand. Stonehenge Aotearoa, which opened in 2005, was built by the Phoenix Astronomical Society. The structure is an astronomical tool for observing the local skies, and blends modern astronomy with ancient starlore. If you stand in the center of the circle on the Southern Hemisphere's vernal equinox, you can watch the sun rise directly through the Sun Gate, two carved pillars that flank the entrance to the henge.

8. The shadow of the intihuatana at Machu Picchu disappears at noon on the equinox.

A curious stone structure stands atop a temple at Machu Picchu. It’s one of the rare surviving intihuatanas that wasn’t demolished by the Spanish conquistadors. This “hitching post of the sun” is believed to have been an astronomical tool. At noon on the equinox, the granite pillar’s shadow briefly vanishes. Unfortunately, the invaluable object now looks a bit battered. In 2000, a crane toppled into the intihuatana during the filming of a beer commercial, smashing part of it.

9. At sunrise on the spring equinox, the sun bursts through the door of a temple at Dzibilchaltún.

Sunrise at Dzibilchaltún
Each equinox, the sun appears within the door of the Temple of the Seven Dolls.
renatamsousa/iStock via Getty Images

Though now reduced to a medley of ruins dotting the jungle, Dzibilchaltún was once the longest continually inhabited Maya administrative and ceremonial city. The star attraction here is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, a building named for the mysterious human-like figures discovered inside. At dawn on the equinox, the sun shines through the temple’s main door. It’s believed the sacred structure was aligned with the equinoxes to mark the beginning of the planting season and the end of the harvesting season.

10. The 'Woodhenge' at the Cahokia Mounds aligns with the sunrise on the equinox.

During the Mississippian cultural period, Cahokia's population exceeded that of London. In addition to giant pyramids, the North American city also featured circles of wooden posts, since dubbed “Woodhenge.” The wooden markers were likely used to track the sun’s movements. One of the posts aligns with the equinoxes, as well as with the front of Monks Mound. On sunrise on the equinox, it looks as though the sun is emerging from the enigmatic earthwork.

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