Time capsule sheds light on student experience at Penn State in the 1950s

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Thanks to the sharp eyes of a few construction workers, members of the Penn State community got a rare glimpse into the lives and experiences of students, faculty and staff during the 1950s through a time capsule. More than 100 reporters, Penn State staff and students, and construction workers gathered outside of Hibbs Hall on Wednesday, July 16, to witness the opening of the 58-year-old vessel.

While preparing to install the new date stone on Hibbs Hall on June 17, a group of construction workers discovered the lead time capsule encased in stone behind the original 1956 cornerstone. Keith Satterfield, one of the workers who discovered the capsule and would later get the honor of opening it with fellow worker Bill Kovach, said they were all quite surprised. “We weren’t quite sure what to do at first, but we took out about four or five more blocks and pried it up out of its location.”

Satterfield, like most of the construction workers on site, has worked on every building in South Halls during the course of the renovations. He was looking forward to seeing what was in the box, guessing there would be newspaper clippings and other similar items.

Prior to opening the capsule, Conal Carr, director of Housing Facilities, gave the gathered crowd a glimpse into the past with historical tidbits. Tuition at Penn State for in-state students in 1956 was $252 and $502 for out-of-state students, Joe Paterno was only an assistant coach and prior to the construction of South Halls, the land was covered in a trailer community called Windcrest for veteran students and their families. Rent for those trailers was only $28 per month.

Finally the time came to reveal the contents of the capsule. To the crowd’s delight, the vessel was packed full with items in excellent condition. The items ran the gamut from personal effects belonging to Cordelia Hibbs, for whom Hibbs Hall was named, to items from the sorority Sigma Sigma Sigma to copies of The Daily Collegian, Campus Scope and The Penn Stater magazine.

Some of the more popular and entertaining items for the crowd included a book titled “For Penn State Coeds, Habitat Hints,” a “Manual for Hostesses of Women’s Residence Halls” and the campus “Social Code” from 1954. In addition, two letters from Hannah Lyons, namesake of Lyons Hall, were also found with a note saying they arrived too late to be included in the box placed in Lyons Hall. A box that was not located during renovations.

Many of the items found in the capsule will be displayed in Redifer Commons and Hibbs Hall once construction is complete, while other items will be kept in University Archives within University Libraries.

Carr was thrilled with the contents of the time capsule. “Until we opened the lid, it was a major unknown,” he said. “I was thrilled when I saw it was full and in great condition. The contents really captured the student experience, the policies, and overall what the University was like at that time.”

Plans for a replacement capsule began almost immediately after the discovery of the original. Items for a new time capsule that will be placed behind the 2015 date stone are currently being collected. Many were on display at the event. Some of the items include a "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" DVD, an iPhone, copies of both The Daily Collegian and the Centre Daily Times, a football signed by first-year head coach James Franklin, a hockey puck from the dedication of Pegula Ice Arena, a THON T-shirt and letters from current students. “We really tried to capture life at Penn State in 2014,” said Carr.

Meeten Doshi was one of several student leaders on campus who contributed a letter for the capsule. “Our story is a never-ending story, and it will continue to grow and become better through future generations,” he wrote before also quoting President Eric Walker, who was Penn State’s president at the time the earlier capsule was created. “Wherever you go, Penn State will go with you. You are now a part of her. Her image will be cast in your image. Your reputation will become her reputation.”

Liana Trigg, a current student and president of the Association of Residence Hall Students, helped gather letters like the one from Doshi along with many others. She also shared her thoughts on opening the time capsule. “Whenever a time capsule is opened, it is logical to reflect on the past, but it is also important to look to the future. Every moment is an opportunity. Capture those moments and use them to eventually create your own individual footprint. It is with this army of footsteps that Penn State grows.”

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Last Updated July 17, 2014