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The Time Capsule

On Saturday morning (7/30) Annie and I awoke to find a strange email from our landlord.  In it, he forwarded a message from a woman who used to live at our house:

I recently talked to Mary who said you were the new owner of the property.  I grew up in charlottesville and lived at the house from 69? – 81 with my family up until I went off to school.  mary mentioned that you remodeled it?  I now live in Seattle and havent been by in a while.

Way back when my sister Louisa and I buried something of a time capsule in the front yard.  I think it was just a letter, but we may have put a few old coins and some trinkets in there.  its a big ask, but if you could maybe dig it up and send a picture?  Louisa has been sick for the last few weeks, a picture of whatever we buried would probably cheer her up.  Feel free to keep anything you find.  

oops, one last important detail: we buried it under the flagstones in the front yard, not sure which one. Are they still there?  Might be out of luck if they are gone :-O  All I remember is that the stone was in the middle, small, and shaped like a triangle.  not many look(ed) like that.  should not be very deep.  Thank you soooo much!

Jennifer Wilton Meyers
Language Arts and Social Studies Chair
Lake Lincoln Girls Middle School
Phone: (201) 202-3700

A time capsule!  Our landlord was busy that weekend, and in the email he asked us to dig it up.  Surprisingly enough, I was more interested than Annie, who is usually very enthusiastic about local history and interesting personal stories like this one.  I was eager to try and dig it up as soon as we got the email, but she was wary about us tearing up the front yard.  She thought it would be better if our landlord did it.

Later that day I emailed our landlord again, conveying our concerns and asking about whether or not we should actually attempt the dig.  We soon found that the woman was pestering him to dig it up, and he beseeched us to help him out.  He also mentioned that it was not buried deep, and would not require destroying the yard.  Annie seemed convinced, but Sunday was packed for us and so the weekend went by without any progress.

On Monday night (8/1) Annie and I got home from a dinner with her family and decided to go for a walk.  Luckily, I remembered the time capsule, and we decided to try and find it in the few remaining minutes of daylight.  After reading the directions in the original email we quickly located the small, triangular flagstone.  It was surprisingly easy to pull up and we started digging into the red clay beneath it.  We didn’t have to dig long.


We heard the clink of the shovel hitting something solid and brushed away dirt to reveal some sort of glass jar.  Exciting!  After 20+ years the time capsule was still there and seemingly intact.  We frantically began to dig in an effort to unearth it. It may have not been buried very deep, but the Virginia red clay is tough to get through.  After several minutes of digging and some muddy red hands, we finally got it.


It was an old mason jar with some sort of letter inside.  In the email the lady said their would be coins or other trinkets, but the letter appeared to be the only thing in the jar.  We decided to open it up, making sure to photograph everything.  Inside was a single postcard, with writing in red cursive on back.  Here is a picture, taken later:


It reads:

“Who dares seek, and ye shall find,
treasure of the most beautiful and hip!
To find our prize, go to the very top!
of the doorway that goes nowhere,
behind the lake.”

It was signed by the woman from the email and what looked to be her younger sister.  Obviously it was some sort of clue, leading us on a treasure hunt, but what the heck was the doorway that goes nowhere?  We thought about it for a few minutes, puzzled, but eager.  Finally, Annie had a breakthrough.  

There is a small lake (almost a pond really) near our house that we often walk too.  Hidden behind it is an old stone doorway, connected to no other structure (photo below).  That had to be it.  With daylight waning we rushed to the lake, walking at an excitedly fast clip.  In the excitement Annie had forgot to put down the trowel, swinging it along as we walked.


On the way over we speculated what and where the treasure could be.  The woman had said old coins and trinkets, but maybe something more?  After 20 years, those coins could be very valuable.  I cautioned Annie that after so long whatever the treasure was, it was probably already gone.


We arrived at the lake just in time to see a magnificent sunset nearing its peak.  Tempting to stand and watch, but we had work to do.  The arch is visible in the photo as a small structure nestled in the trees, just barely visible, at the opposite end of the lake.  

We reached the arch not knowing what to expect or look for, except that the treasure was “on top.”  The arch is an interesting local landmark, but by no either well hidden or gone.  We circled around it for several minutes, hoping to see a sign of anything.  

Eventually, I caught the corner of what looked to be a small box hidden in the triangular nook at the top.  The good news was that the treasure was probably still there.  The bad news was we had no idea how to get it down.  The arch is very tall, the bottom of the top section is at least 10 feet off the ground, and one would need a  ladder to access the top.  We didn’t have a ladder, but the bricks on the side are fairly uneven, so I came up with a different idea.


Upon reaching the “top” I decided I didn’t want to lean over the edge and into the nook, so I had Annie find a stick and toss it up to me.  After several tries she connected, and it did not take long to edge the box off the ledge and into Annie’s waiting hands.  

It was a small wooden box, clearly old, tightly wound with twine.  It didn’t appear quite as aged as we would have expected, but it had been mostly sheltered where it sat.  The box was heavy for its size and made an obvious clinking sound when moved, so there was definitely some metal objects inside.  We rolled the twine off and opened it up.  


This was it!  Against all odds the box was still there, and it had actual treasure inside!  I let Annie take the lead and she rooted through the contents with a frenzy.  Inside were old coins from all over the world, places such as Italy, India, Austria, and more.  All were dated in the 1950’s or 1960’s, some even older. There was also a buffalo head nickel, a silver dollar, an arrowhead, and an old metal cross.  At the very bottom was a folded up piece of paper.  As I watched, Annie carefully unfolded it.  The picture is pasted below:


In the picture is myself along with my parents, brother, aunt, uncle, and cousin.  If you think Annie looks a little odd it’s because she wasn’t actually there, I photoshopped her into the picture and added the caption.  As she looked at the picture I dropped to one knee, and pulled the ring from my pocket.  Surprise surprise, it had all been an elaborate plan to propose.  She careened around the clearing in jubilant surprise before finally coming back to get the ring.  And of course, she said yes.  



Yes, I planned the whole thing.  I wrote the original email and arranged to have our landlord send it to us. I wrote the first clue in the most perfect cursive I could manage and buried it in the yard while Annie was sleeping.  The chest had been planted the day before the email was sent, gently tossed onto the top of the arch.

I originally thought the whole thing would take only a day to execute, but events conspired against me.  In a baffling turn, Annie seemed disinterested in the time capsule after receiving the first email from our landlord.  Earlier I had thought the only problem I would have was her suspicion that it was part of my proposal (which I had hinted was coming in the weeks before).  Rather, I had the opposite problem: she showed little to no interest in the time capsule buried in her own yard.  This is somebody who spends hours a day on, and is fascinated by all things history.

Part of it was that she had family in town, the other was that she thought it would be a huge task to unearth.  I had to quickly arrange for another email from the landlord, basically asking him to pressure us into digging it up.  This worked, and when I suggested we take a look on Monday evening she was finally eager enough to try and find it.

It goes without saying that she was very surprised.  Throughout the process I had tried to maintain a calm demeanor, and not try and seem to eager.  At one point, as we were walking over to the lake, she mentioned that these two sisters (who planted the supposed time capsule), were overshadowing my upcoming proposal.  I grumbled something about having to think of something more impressive, but left it at that.  Little did she know the ring was in my pocket.

Epilogue Part II – An “Old” Wooden Box

Annie has already told this story many more times than I have, and already she has gotten to the point where she knows how it should be told.  After reading a first draft of this piece she gave me an important tip: don’t show the picture of the box (below).  Apparently it looks too new, and she has been getting some good-natured ribbing from her family about believing it was so old.


In her defense, it was starting to get dark, so it was hard to make an accurate assessment of its age.  In this picture the flash from the camera whitewashes most of the front, making it hard to see the mud I caked onto the box before planting it.  Further complicating Annie’s evaluation task was my own running commentary on the matter.  Starting with the mason jar I peppered in statements like “wow that looks really old” and “that thing has been out here for a long time.”  Maybe if we had brought it inside and looked at it longer some questions would have arisen, but in the heat of the moment it was fun and exciting to believe.  Annie is a trusting person, and it’s one of the reasons I love her.