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To the People of Tomorrow:
The Outer Banks leaves a gift for the future
Text and Time Capsule Photos By Matt Artz · Monument Photo by Steve Alterman

It will be windy in Kitty Hawk on December 17 in the year 2103. Little else can we predict or even pretend to imagine, but this much is true. Not true because it was windy when the Monument to a Century of Flight was dedicated or because it was windy when the time capsule was buried at its base, or because it got really windy when Hurricane Isabel blew in just days after the pylons and bricks were set into place — or even because it wasn’t windy enough for a centennial anniversary reenactment of the first flight to take off in 2003 (as the prank-friendly ghosts of Orville and Wilbur laughed). Not even because it was on the wind that the Wright brothers soared into history and launched mankind toward the stars two centuries before.

No, it will be windy that day because the wind in Kitty Hawk is a constant that does not change. But how the rest will.

And little else can we know about the people of that world of tomorrow but what they will know of us, those items inside the time capsule, what project coordinator Tanya Young calls "a communication that will span a hundred years."

Located at the Aycock Brown Welcome Center, the Monument to a Century of Flight's 14 wing-shaped stainless steel pylons and 1,500 personally engraved bricks were laid into place in September of 2003, just days before Hurricane Isabel tore through Dare County. Delayed, the official unveiling was held two months later. But the monument was not yet complete.

The monument's final installment is a time capsule, made of slightly heavier grade steel than the pylons, with interior measurements of 29 inches by 30 inches by 34 inches. Built by Hanna Jubran, the Grimesland, North Carolina sculptor who along with his wife, Jodi Hollnagel, not only built the pylons and the bronze center dome, but also helped Nags Head artist Glenn Eure design the monument, the capsule is to be left undisturbed until 2103.

Among the capsule's items are a signed photograph of President George W. Bush taken December 17, 2003 during his centennial visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial; a centennial-themed Pepsi can; centennial-themed postcards stamped with centennial-themed stamps and dated December 17, 2003, each signed by Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager; and hundreds of photographs, programs, menus, articles, books, and CDs.

Wait, CDs? The now antiquated eight-track cassette, and for that matter the analog recording industry, that seem so far behind us today were still the stuff of science fiction in 1903. "The hope," says project archivist Luis Delfino, "is that they'll still have working machines stored somewhere."

And the Pepsi can? It had to be drained via a small drilled hole in the bottom prior to its inclusion. "Something like that is just a time bomb that could destroy everything," Delfino says. A time bomb? Interesting choice of words. "Nylon is not good. Anything vinyl or plastic doesn't go in," he explains. "Newspapers have to be copied onto acid-free paper. Wood doesn't age well at all."

The work of preservation is at times tireless.

"Lots of pins," continues Delfino, recounting the hundreds of items he has documented, catalogued, protected and boxed for inclusion. "Lapel pins, ink pens and lots of cloth patches." At this time, the burial was just over a week away, and not every single thing submitted would be included. A stuffed bear in a pilot outfit didn't make the cut because it was made of too many different materials. "The less different the materials," he explained, "the less anticipation about what could happen."

And other things were left out for other reasons. "I tried to look at it from a historian's point of view a hundred years from now," Delfino explains. "The trivial stuff might be the best things to include, because some of these are the things that really tell about how we live our lives." Copies of the time capsule's inventory will be kept at the Outer Banks History Center in Manteo, Kitty Hawk Town Hall, and in Raleigh.

For Delfino, the job of archiving items that are not yet historical artifacts is something entirely new. "I'm used to dealing with old stuff," he says, "but treating things that are still new as if they are old is something different for me."

He took the job mainly because work as an archivist is sometimes scarce. "I've been doing what I can when I can," he says, "but since 9/11, there really hasn't been lots of money for work in New York, so I went elsewhere."

He joined the time capsule team in December of 2004, working out of the History Center one day a week until a month before the scheduled burial. One day a week turned into two days a week, and then full time the last two weeks.

Numerous acid-free sleeves and folders lie safe inside a total of 26 acid-free archival boxes, the top containing a letter "To the People of 2103" from Icarus International President Don Bryan, a program from the capsule dedication ceremony, the resumes of the monument artists and a proclamation from the mayor. It's the day before the burial and everything is at Glenn Eure's Ghost Fleet Gallery in Nags Head. It's the day the capsule is loaded and sealed, the oxygen extracted and argon inserted in its place.

An unexpected telephone call from Roanoke Island Festival Park brings the announcement "John Glenn's stuff just arrived." But it was too late. The sealing had begun and could not be undone. Sorry John.

Aviation is a never-ending story. It has a beginning - a date, a place, even a down-to-the-minute time. But where as the hundredth anniversary of flight had a specific moment of culmination, the celebration that is the Monument to a Century of Flight does not. It is the fire under every pilot, from Orville and Wilbur to Lindbergh and Armstrong to Jesse James, a motorcycle fabricator who already in the second century of aviation has proven that a car too can be built to fly. James flew his Panoz Esperante at the Currituck County Airport, to be close to where something similar had happened once before.

It is the idea that impossible dreams can take flight, sometimes a cliché in this, the Land of Beginnings, but an inspiring lesson nonetheless for any generation - yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

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