A small tin box resting in a cornerstone of the Old County Courthouse in Santa Ana since July 4, 1900, will be opened Nov. 10 in a ceremony commemorating Orange County's Centennial celebration.
The 6-by-9-by-12-inch time capsule is believed to contain newspapers, tax and assessment records from 1890-1900, school statistics, relics from Mission San Juan Capistrano, statistics from Orange County's Chamber of Commerce, brief histories of Santa Ana, Anaheim and Orange (the only incorporated cities in the county at that time), a blank marriage license and the autograph of John J. Overton, who at 102 was believed to be the oldest man in the county.
Historian Jim Sleeper also expects the capsule to contain a copy of the Great Register of Orange County, a roster of voters with notations describing each voter's physical characteristics, his birthplace and, if he wasn't a native, the date he arrived in California.
Esther Cramer, a member of the Archives Committee and vice chairman of Orange County Centennial Inc., said there is "always a mystery" surrounding a time capsule. "You know what is supposed to be there and where it's supposed to be," she said, "but there is no guarantee that everything will go as expected."
Perhaps the only mystery is what condition the contents will be in after 88 years, and that will depend on whether the box had an airtight seal, according to Paul Apodaca, curator of folk art at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.
Without such a seal, dampness may have seeped in and caused deterioration, Apodaca said, and "probably a lot of the material will be stuck together unless it was separated by sheets of oil cloth or something." He also said that any papers in the box probably will be brittle and yellow.
Gabriele Carey, county archivist and head of the Orange County Centennial Archives Committee, said that the material found in the time capsule will be placed in acid-free folders and then in boxes for safekeeping. Once the condition of the contents is assessed, several steps, including cleaning and deacidifying, may be necessary for maximum preservation. The condition of the documents will determine how and where they are displayed.
Cramer said the committee plans to return something to the space in the cornerstone left by removal of the time capsule. The contents have yet to be determined but may include copies of the documents that have been removed, as well as a history of the courthouse.
In addition, the Archives Committee and The Times Orange County Edition, sponsors of the ceremony at which the capsule will be opened, are planning to put together a centennial time capsule to be buried in July, 1989. Specifics, such as location, have not been determined.