Twenty years may be a long time to remember any particular school day in one’s childhood, but to a handful of former Grantsville Middle School students, Dec. 6, 1991 seems like yesterday. That was the day Myra McDonald’s sixth grade class wrote letters to the “people of the future” and sealed them, along with various other mementos, in a wooden box labeled with explicit instructions not to open it until December 2011.
McDonald, 66, retired from teaching six years ago. The events and feelings that inspired the school’s first time capsule were fresh in her mind the evening of Feb. 8 as she stood before an eager crowd of former students and their families and prepared to open it again. The capsule sat on a table at the school just outside McDonald’s old classroom.
“It was kind of a personal thing, 1991 was a tough time,” McDonald confided prior to the ceremony, alluding to world and local events of the day that prompted the project.
Though she knew making a time capsule would be fun for her students, McDonald also saw it as a way for them to come to terms with an era marked by conflict and unrest. Several of the students’ parents had served in the Persian Gulf War earlier in the year. The Ukraine had confirmed its independence from the Soviet Union the week prior to the time capsule’s sealing, and the Communist state would be officially dissolved a few weeks later. Locally, controversy over environmental contamination surrounded the Tooele Army Depot.
“The combination of all of this had been really hard on them,” McDonald recalled. “This was a way to do something positive and share their legacy.”
After a week of preparation, each student selected small items to load into the capsule and wrote a letter describing themselves, their aspirations and their predictions for the future. The items were sealed in the box, and labels with instructions were attached to each side so it could be identified no matter how it was positioned on a shelf.
A story about the capsule in the Transcript-Bulletin noted some of the items and quoted several of the students. Student Dave Barkus, then age 11, predicted that “In 20 years, Grantsville will probably be more polluted and more futuristic.”
Fellow student Jennifer Henwood predicted that Grantsville would “be a bigger city by then — probably as big as Tooele.”
Kacie Rupp, whose contribution to the capsule included a picture of contemporary fashions, told the Transcript-Bulletin she hoped her town would someday be home to a mini mall.
McDonald’s class presented the time capsule to then Grantsville mayor Howard Murray in a special ceremony. Murray entrusted it to Assistant School Superintendent Joe Trujillo for storage in the school district’s office in Tooele. McDonald checked in on the box periodically over the years, but lost track of it when the district office moved from Vine Street. She considered it lost until she received a phone call from Grantsville Junior High secretary Sheri Johnson.
“Myra, I have something I think you’d be interested to know about,” Johnson recalled telling McDonald.
“I thought, ‘Uh oh, what have I done?’” McDonald laughed. “Whatever it was I didn’t mean it.”
She was thrilled to hear that the box had survived.
“Somebody at the office had been keeping an eye on it and I can’t tell you how grateful I feel for that,” she said.
Granstville Junior High Principal Keith Davis organized a capsule opening ceremony and Johnson began to track down each of the class’s 31 students. She tracked down as many of them by phone as she could, then turned to social media for the rest. A crowd of roughly 60 people gathered at the school on Feb. 8, including at least seven former students. Also in attendance were the families of two students that have since passed away.
Before the ceremony, Kacie Rupp Hammond, now 31 and a mother of three children, reflected on the prospect of waiting 20 years to see the capsule opened.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’ll never be 31 — never,’” she said.
She noted that her prediction about the mini mall “kind of came true.”
After a reading of the 1991 Transcript-Bulletin article, McDonald cut the capsule’s seal and began unpacking its contents. Among its treasures were newspapers, issues of National Geographic Magazine, a pair of neon shoe laces, several basketball cards, cassette tapes, and computer floppy disks of the 5 1/4-inch variety. McDonald described each item for context and then read highlights from each student letter. The former schoolmates chuckled as McDonald read their sixth grade musings about their life and town.
At the bottom of the capsule was an item that McDonald had nearly forgotten about: a VHS tape featuring news clips, student interviews and a tour of Grantsville. A VCR was promptly retrieved so the crowd could watch the tape in its entirety.
“I was surprised at how quickly time had passed,” McDonald remarked. “[The students] were so little back then, and when I looked at them in the audience, they seemed to be shining. We all felt kind of ‘completed.’ It was cathartic.”
McDonald will make a presentation on the time capsule to the entire Grantsville Junior High student body in an assembly next week. The presentation may serve to kick off what Davis hopes will become an ongoing tradition. At the time capsule opening, Davis proposed that a new time capsule be filled by students this year to be opened in 2031. The former students in attendance voted to return the items to their capsule and possibly include it with the new one.
“I was excited the moment he suggested that, and the kids thought it was a great idea, too,” McDonald said. “We’re excited to see each other again in another 20 years.”