10 Historically Disappointing Time Capsules

eag1e/iStock via Getty Images
eag1e/iStock via Getty Images

Unearthing a time capsule should be an exciting affair, a chance to see mysterious items hand-picked long ago as apposite examples of a bygone era. Unfortunately, these buried tubes of old garbage rarely live up to the hype.

"Ninety-nine percent of time capsules will remain boring as hell to the people that open them," says Matt Novak, who runs Gizmodo's Paleofuture site. Novak is a self-professed time capsule nerd who has seen enough capsule disappointments to keep his hopes in check. "Time capsules are both optimistic and selfish," he tells Mental Floss. "Optimistic in the sense that they represent a belief that not only will anyone find them sometime in the future, but also that anyone will care about what's inside."

Time capsules as we know them are a relatively new invention that became famous in 1939 with the burial of the Westinghouse Time Capsule at the World's Fair. This highly publicized capsule, which is not scheduled to be opened until the year 6939, contains both quotidian items and extensive writings on human history printed on microfilm (along with instructions on how to build a microfilm viewer). It was an ambitious project, with engineers specially designing the capsule to resist the ravages of time. Most time capsules, however, aren't equipped to be buried underground.

"Burying something is literally the worst way to preserve it for future generations," Novak says, "but we continue to do it." Contents are routinely destroyed by groundwater, so most time capsules reveal little more than trash chowder.

Still, Novak holds out hope for "rare one percenters—those time capsules that not only have something interesting inside, but also survived their journey into the future without turning into mush." The following 10 time capsules, however, fall firmly in the remaining 99 percent.

1. Derry, New Hampshire comes up empty

Just this week, residents of Derry, New Hampshire gathered at the local library to witness what they hoped might be an important moment in the town's history: the opening of a 1969 time capsule, which they believed might include some memorabilia from famed astronaut Alan Shepard, who was a Derry native. Instead, they found ... nothing. Absolutely nothing.

"We were a little horrified to find there was nothing in it," library director Cara Potter told the media. While there's no written record of exactly what was inside the safe, we do know that the time capsule had been moved a couple of times over the past several decades. And that the combination was written right on the back. "I really can’t understand why anyone would want to take the capsule and do anything with it,” Reed Clark, a 90-year-old local, told the New Hampshire Union Leader. But local historian Paul Lindemann says that, "There very well may have been valuable items in there" (including something of Shepard's).

2. The past comes alive in Tucson

In 1961, Tucson, Arizona's Campbell Plaza shopping center—the first air-conditioned strip mall in the country—celebrated its grand opening. To make the event truly memorable, developers buried a time capsule beneath the mall, forbidding anyone from opening it for the achingly long time period of 25 years.

When 1986 finally rolled around, another celebration was held for the capsule's unearthing. Three television crews captured the moment when workers, accompanied by a former Tucson mayor, excavated the capsule and cracked it open. Archaeologist William L. Rathje was on hand, and he later reported its contents as "a faded local newspaper (in worse condition than many I’ve witnessed being excavated from the bowels of landfills) and some business cards."

3. Bay City makes peace with its waterlogged history

In 1965, workers at Dafoe Shipbuilding Co. in Bay City, Michigan buried the “John F. Kennedy Peace Capsule.” It was to remain buried for 100 years—until city council members got antsy in 2015 and ordered for it to be unearthed five decades sooner than originally intended.

When crews unsealed the giant capsule, they found it was totally drenched: The shipbuilders responsible for sealing the capsule couldn't prevent it from taking on water. Many of the items were paper ephemera that didn't survive their 50-year submersion.

Non-paper items that could be identified included, according to MLive.com, “an old pair of lace-up women's boots, large ice tongs for carrying blocks of ice, a slide rule with a pencil sharpener, a pestle and wooden bowl, a centennial ribbon, a coffee grinder, a filament light bulb, an old non-electric iron and lots of Bay City Centennial plates, a 1965 Alden's Summer Catalogue, papers from Kawkawlin Community Church, and booklets from the labor council.”

4. Westport Elementary's too-successful capsule

In 1947, the superintendent of Westport Elementary School in Missouri buried a time capsule that wasn't to be opened for another 50 years. He left a note detailing this fact, but he forgot to include any information about the capsule's location. When it came time to retrieve it, no one knew where to start digging. ''We're calling it a history mystery,'' said a teacher who was tasked with finding it. She had little to go on, as the school's original blueprints—like the capsule itself—were lost.

5. The smell of history on Long Island

For its 350th anniversary in 2015, the residents of Smithtown in Long Island, New York opened a time capsule that had been buried in front of town hall in 1965. An unveiling celebration was held, and a crowd of more than 175 gathered to watch town officials dressed in colonial costumes dramatically reveal its contents.

These included, according to Newsday, "a proclamation of beard-growing group Brothers of the Brush, papers, and paraphernalia from the town's 300th anniversary events, a phone book, an edition of The Smithtown News, pennies from the 1950s and '60s, a man's black hat, and a white bonnet.”

Town residents and officials alike came away unimpressed. "I would have thought those folks would have used a little more imagination and put some artifacts from that time in the time capsule," Smithtown's then-supervisor Patrick Vecchio said.

Kiernan Lannon, the executive director of the town's Historical Society, told Newsday, "The most interesting thing that came out of the time capsule was the smell. It was horrible. I have smelled history before; history does not smell like that. It was the most powerfully musty smell that I've ever smelled in my life."

6. A time capsule worse than going to class

In 2014, New York Mills Union Free School District students filed into an assembly hall to watch the opening of a 57-year-old time capsule. The capsule, buried under the school’s cornerstone, was revealed to contain "a 1957 penny, class lists, teacher handbook, budget pamphlet, and letterhead." In a video of the unearthing, you could hear stray boos from disappointed students who expected much more than letterhead.

7. Norway's anachronistic treasure trove

The residents of Otta, Norway had been eagerly awaiting the day when they'd get to open a package that had been sealed in 1912 and given to the town's first mayor in 1920, along with a note: "May be opened in 2012." Townspeople hoped it contained oil futures, while historians optimistically predicted relics from a 400-year-old battle.

The parcel was opened at the end of a lavish ceremony that featured musical performances and speeches. The crowd, which included Princess Astrid of Norway, had to wait 90 suspenseful minutes (in addition to the 100 years since 1912) before they got down to business.

The Gudbrandsdal museum's Kjell Voldheim had the honor of opening the package. Inside he found ... another package. Inside that package were miscellaneous papers, and Voldheim narrated for the crowd as he pored through the items. “Oye yoy yoy," he said ("almost in exasperation," according to Smithsonian), as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing. Included among the lackluster documents were newspapers dated from 1914 and 1919, a few years after the package had presumably been sealed. While deemed authentic, the find was nonetheless confusing.

8. New Zealand's rare find

In 1995, a 100-year-old capsule thought to contain historical documents was opened by hopeful scholars in New Zealand. According to The New York Times, "all they found was muddy water and a button.”

9. Michigan's capitol mess

The Michigan State Capitol celebrated its 100th birthday in 1979, and officials marked the occasion by opening a capsule that had been buried beneath the building's cornerstone. While the itemized list of the capsule's contents was intriguing—"1873 newspapers, a state history, a history of Free Masonry, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, a silver plate inscribed with Lansing officials’ names, and other papers on specialized topics"—it wasn't included in the actual box. The actual items that were buried wound up being destroyed.

“They’re in very bad shape,” Robert Warner, the late director of the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library, said. Water damage had ruined the fragile paper documents, and Capitol anniversary revelers had to gamely celebrate a box full of sludge.

10. Keith Urban's time capsule confusion

Australia's Pioneer Village Country Music Hall had been left in disrepair, which is what made the discovery of a plaque on its grounds in 2014 so exciting. Perhaps there was promise buried beneath the abandoned venue. Hidden behind overgrown vegetation, it read:

Pioneer Village Country Music Club
10 yr Time Capsule
Placed by Mayor Yvonne Chapman
This Day 4th July 1994
To be Re-opened 4th July 2004

As recounted by Paleofuture, the capsule's opening was a decade overdue, though fans who used to frequent the music hall said they already knew what was inside: a photo of a young Keith Urban. The musician got his start at Pioneer Village, and the photo was buried to celebrate the local star.

Oddly, a different capsule from 1994 was discovered on the music hall's abandoned grounds in 2013. Keith Urban fans eagerly opened it, thinking they had found the photo, but were left disappointed when it proved to be empty. So, by process of elimination, a photo of Keith Urban had to be in the more recently discovered capsule. Unless there's a third capsule, in which case they should probably just give up and buy a Keith Urban photo on eBay.

This story has been updated for 2019.

Netflix Is Now Sharing Live Updates of Its Most Watched Movies and TV Shows

wutwhanfoto, iStock via Getty Images
wutwhanfoto, iStock via Getty Images

Netflix is notoriously protective of its viewership data. While the number of people sharing The Office memes or Stranger Things spoilers online indicate some shows are more popular than others, until recently, there were no real statistics to back up these trends. As Bloomberg reports, Netflix is making its biggest move yet toward transparency by sharing live updates of its top 10 shows and movies.

Now, when Netflix users search the site, they will see the most-viewed content on the platform that day. Under the TV Shows tab, Love Is Blind tops the list for viewership in the U.S. on Wednesday, February 26, followed by Narcos: Mexico and Locke & Key. As for movies, Netflix's own The Last Thing He Wanted (2020) starring Ben Affleck and Anne Hathaway is attracting the most viewers today. A Haunted House (2013) and Foreigner (2017) are listed in second and third place, respectively.

The new feature is a major change for Netflix, but it still leaves a lot of questions about its users' viewing habits unanswered. It's unclear how long a movie or television episode needs to be played to count as a "view," and there's still no data showing exactly how many people are watching these titles.

For now, this is the closest thing Netflix subscribers have to Nielsen-style TV ratings. You can check out the full lists of the most popular Netflix movies and TV shows in the U.S. on February 26 below.

Top 10 TV Shows on Netflix

  1. Love Is Blind
  1. Narcos: Mexico
  1. Locke & Key
  1. Gentefied
  1. The Office
  1. Better Call Saul
  1. Babies
  1. The Stranger
  1. I Am a Killer
  1. El Dragón: Return of a Warrior

Top 10 Movies on Netflix

  1. The Last Thing He Wanted
  1. A Haunted House
  1. The Foreigner
  1. Girl on the Third Floor
  1. To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You
  1. A Bad Moms Christmas
  1. Mr. Right
  1. The Other Guys
  1. The Grinch
  1. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

[h/t Bloomberg]

The 15 Greatest Movie Car Chases

Steve McQueen drives a 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback in Bullitt (1968).
Steve McQueen drives a 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback in Bullitt (1968).
Warner Bros.

The car chase is a time-honored, frequently practiced piece of the language of action cinema, and the rise in digital wizardry in filmmaking has only helped to bolster its place on the big screen. For many moviegoers there’s nothing more thrilling than watching two or more cars pushed to their absolute limit, whether on the open road or while weaving through crowded city streets. Many movies try to get it right, and lots do, but there are a select few who nail it on a masterpiece level. These are some of the greatest movie car chases ever staged.

1. Bullitt (1968)

For many film fans, Peter Yates's Bullitt is still the gold standard by which all other movie car chases are measured. The legendary showdown between Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang and the Dodge Charger occupied by a pair of men trying to kill him still holds up as a beautiful display of 1960s automotive muscle, in part because it doesn’t adhere to a predictable structure. Yes, the chase begins in the iconic hilly streets of San Francisco, but it ends out on a more open road, where the cars get to really show off some speed and, finally, some spectacular crashing. It’s that contrast between cramped and open, hilly and flat, that really puts the chase over the top.

2. The Italian Job (1969)

A lot of car chases rely on speed above all else to sell the action, whether it’s the speed of the cars or the speed of the editing or both. The Italian Job, a lighthearted heist film about a crew of British thieves (including Michael Caine) trying to get a big pile of gold bars into the Swiss Alps, certainly has speed going for it, but what makes its car chase particularly memorable is its palpable sense of humor. The idea of a trio of Mini Coopers zipping down stairs is funny enough, but then throw in things like a marriage ceremony, a stalled police car on a roof, and guys calmly steering through a pitch black tunnel like they’re on a Sunday drive, and you’ve got something unforgettable. The Italian Job doesn’t have the fastest car chase ever, but it certainly has one of the wittiest.

3. The French Connection (1971)

When producer Philip D’Antoni and director William Friedkin were gearing up to make The French Connection, D’Antoni had one particular demand: The film’s car chase had to top the one from Bullitt, which he had also produced. The two filmmakers brainstormed and eventually hit upon the idea of a car chasing an elevated train. After a few weeks of permit-free shooting on the streets of New York City, Friedkin had all the footage he needed to produce an all-time great action sequence. From the first-person camera perspectives to the obstacles under the train tracks to Gene Hackman’s screaming face, it packs just as much adrenaline today as it did in 1971.

4. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

James Bond films were tailor-made for car chases featuring the sexiest vehicles of any given era, and nearly every film in the franchise has a chase scene worth remembering. We could do a whole list composed of nothing but great Bond car chases, but if pressed to pick just one we have to talk about the merry procession of pursuers in The Spy Who Loved Me’s centerpiece chase. In a sleek Lotus Esprit, Roger Moore's Bond and Russian Agent Amasova (Barbara Bach) are chased first by a motorcycle with a killer sidecar, then by a car carrying new villain Jaws, then by a helicopter. It’s this last obstacle that proves particularly tricky, but Bond’s always got one more trick than the bad guys, and this time the trick turned out to be that his Lotus was amphibious. Yes, this is the movie where the car turns into a submarine, and that’s something no one who saw The Spy Who Loved Me will ever forget.

5. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

No discussion of great movie car chases is complete without Smokey and the Bandit, the film that made the Pontiac Trans Am an essential part of American pop culture forever. Hal Needham’s classic road movie is packed with wonderful car moments and great stunts, so much so that it’s difficult to pin down just one as the best part of the film. The task is made more difficult by the sheer amount of swagger that exists in the film between Burt Reynolds's performance and Needham’s direction. Even when the danger is dialed up to 11, the film is so breezy and light that you almost forgot someone could die doing this kind of driving. The jump across Mulberry Bridge feels like a perfect encapsulation of these seemingly opposing ideas, as Bandit quips “that’s not good” upon seeing the roadblock and then “That’s worse” upon seeing troopers speeding up from the other direction. It’s a brilliant blend of comedy and great stunt work.

6. The Blues Brothers (1980)

The Blues Brothers, the John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd vehicle that remains one of the most successful Saturday Night Live sketch adaptations of all time, leans heavily on a sense of outsized action that runs through the whole film. The story is ostensibly about a pair of well-meaning guys who just want to earn some extra money to save the orphanage they grew up in, but along the way they run into explosions and car chases that they have to somewhat calmly steer through on their way to fulfill a relatively simple “Mission from God.” The film has not one, but two great chases that lean into the lunacy of this, and while the early chase through the mall is a masterpiece, the sheer cartoonish absurdity of the final pursuit through the streets of Chicago is the one most people remember. It’s just too zany to forget.

7. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

Only one director has the honor of being on this list twice: William Friedkin, who masterminded the car chase in The French Connection and then somehow produced another all-timer more than a decade later. To Live and Die in L.A. is not a masterpiece in the same way that The French Connection is, but its centerpiece chase scene—in which a pair of Secret Service agents flee two gunmen after an operation gone wrong—is a masterpiece for the 1980s in the same way the train versus car chase was for the 1970s. What begins with weaving through trucks in an industrial area soon explodes out onto L.A.’s freeways, and culminates in some of the most daring driving ever captured on film.

8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

While it’s always fun to see two classic muscle cars zipping around each other on the road, The French Connection taught us early that contrast is often the key to a thrilling chase. James Cameron took that lesson to heart and poured it into this thrilling sequence in T2, in which the T-1000 hijacks a tow truck to chase John Connor and his weak little motorcycle through a puddle-filled channel. The sound design impeccably plays up the contrast through the engine noise alone, until the truck becomes a full-blown monster raging through the concrete path, throwing sparks as it goes. The climactic moments, featuring the T-800 on yet another motorcycle, only serve to further play up the juxtapositions of the scene in a very fun way.

9. Ronin (1998)

Sometimes the best car chases are the ones that don’t feature cool cars and even cooler characters, and for proof you can look at John Frankenheimer’s Ronin and its masterful centerpiece chase. The two cars involved are relatively unremarkable, but Frankenheimer dials up the intensity through everyone from the use of tunnels and bridges to little details like hubcaps spinning off in the middle of turns. Even more remarkable than the car chase itself, though, is the way the sequence works as a character piece to really emphasize the danger. No one in either car looks like they’re having a good time, and Robert De Niro looks practically freaked out in a lot of the shots. It all adds to the sensation that everything could go horribly wrong at any moment, which only makes it more thrilling.

10. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

When you think “spy movie” in the context of car chases, you tend to think of the slickest possible presentation and the coolest possible car. It’s playing against those sorts of conventions that makes the Moscow chase sequence in The Bourne Supremacy so effective. Anchored by the intensity of Matt Damon’s performance and Paul Greengrass’s handheld camera style, the chase plays like a montage of desperation as Bourne flees his pursuers in a beat-up taxi cab while nursing a shoulder wound. We know Jason Bourne’s not going to day, but watching this chase you still get the feeling that you’re not sure which will give out first: Bourne’s body or the taxi.

11. Death Proof (2007)

Quentin Tarantino has been remixing classic genre tropes and moments from his vast knowledge of cinema throughout his entire career, so he was bound to get around to doing a car chase eventually. Tarantino’s definitive chase sequence finally arrived in Death Proof, and it’s perhaps most notable not because of Tarantino’s ability to play with genre conventions, but his ability to adhere to them. It plays in many ways like a classic car chase straight out of the 1970s, and it works as a moment of pure adrenaline because Tarantino shoots it like one. His unflinching camera simply refuses to give the scene a break, reminding us over and over again that what we’re watching is as real, and as exciting, as it gets.

12. Fast Five (2011)

The Fast & Furious franchise is renowned for its ability to up the ante with new car stunts in every single installment, to the point that in the last film the central ensemble was literally chasing a submarine across the ice. Even as the set pieces get bigger, though, the climactic vault heist from Fast Five remains a high water mark for many fans. The setup is fairly simple: Brian and Dom yank a massive vault out of its housing then drive it through the streets of Rio in matching Dodge Chargers. What makes it truly special is the many ways in which the sequence evolves through little details, from the vault tearing through a line of pylons as soon as it hits the streets to Brian backing his car into the vault to drive backwards for a while. It’s a gem in a series full of gems.

13. Drive (2011)

Though it might sound counterintuitive, patience is often just as important to crafting a good car chase as speed is. It’s all about the setup, the context, the various elements that tell a story without words, and few films grasp that concept as well as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. The film’s opening sequence, in which The Driver (Ryan Gosling) lays out his rules for work and then picks up a pair of armed robbers for a getaway through the streets of Los Angeles, is a masterclass in patience. From the moments of parked tension to the clever culmination, it’s all about waiting for the right moment and then unleashing that horsepower.

14. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Up until a few years ago, George Miller’s The Road Warrior would have been the Mad Max film to include on this list thanks to its wild and brutal chase sequences. Then came Mad Max: Fury Road, Miller’s fourth film in the franchise and perhaps the greatest action movie to come out of the 2010s. The film is essentially one long car chase, pausing only once in a while to set up the next big chunk of driving, so it’s hard to pin down just one “chase” as the masterpiece. For now, though, let’s just say the sequence when Immortan Joe’s War Boys start to swing down at our heroes from poles is the most thrilling part.

15. Baby Driver (2017)

Many, many films incorporate pop music needle drops into their biggest action sequences, but few have ever done it quite as intricately as Baby Driver. Edgar Wright’s action film about a getaway driver who does his best work when his music is blasting combines the speed and thrills of classic car chases with the cinematic language of the movie musical to create something magical. There are several wonderful chase sequences in Baby Driver, but it arguably never gets better than the film’s instantly magnetic opening sequence, set to “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

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