Time capsule hidden in the wall of California lighthouse gives ‘fascinating’ glimpse into city’s history
In a wall of a century-old lighthouse in California, a rich piece of history was hidden behind a wooden plank.
During a restoration project at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, a construction crew discovered a decades-old time capsule.
While removing some interior paneling to see if there was any structural damage to the lighthouse, workers spotted an old wooden box with the names G.W. Jaehne and H. W. Miller — the lighthouse keeper in charge and second assistant, respectively — inscribed on the front with the date August 1929.
Inside, there was a stack of “fascinating” old issues of the San Francisco Examiner and the since-shuttered The Defender, a publication for Marin and Sonoma Counties.
“These newspapers were really an unexpected bonus for us,” John Dell’Osso, chief of interpretation and resource education for Point Reyes National Seashore, told NY Times. “It’s really striking to see some of the issues that dominated the news back in 1929 that are still with us today.”
The future of Hamilton Air Force Base, a debate on immigration reform, potential cabinet members for the Hoover administration, zeppelin air travel and a visit from aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart were just a few of the topics that dominated headlines at that time.
“There’s something powerful about holding history in your hands. So striking how the issues that dominated the front pages in 1929 occupy us still.
The iconic lighthouse has stood tall on a cliff overseeing California’s coast since 1870. It was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1975 and landed in the hands of the National Park Service years later, in 1978.
More than 2 million people visit the lighthouse — which boasts a large lens made up of 1,032 crystal pieces — each year, Dell’Osso said. The park official was surprised the papers weren’t discovered until now.
“The Point Reyes lighthouse has faced harsh weather. There are fog 200 days out of the year and we’ve clocked 133 mile-per-hour — hurricane-level wind speeds,” he said, noting there have been several restoration projects through the years.
“At first, I called [the finding] a mild excitement. They’re old papers. But when you get there … they’re in darn good shape. They 90 years old.”
Dell’Osso said he’s shown the old papers to journalists in the San Francisco Bay Area, and every time he flips the pages he’s impressed.
“I’m seeing something new every time,” he explained. “It’s interesting to see some of the names of people in those articles that are still with us today. Those generations of families are still here.”
The $5 million projects to restore the Point Reyes National Seashore, including the historic lighthouse that’s dubbed “one of the West Coast’s most spectacular whale watching spots,” began over the summer.
But before it does, Dell’Osso said park officials are planning to insert a time capsule of their own behind the new walls.
“We want to put our own time capsule together,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how that news might get interpreted.”
Over the next few months, Dell’Osso said workers will keep their eyes peeled for other potential gems hiding behind the walls, though they won’t break anything down just to search for potential “treasure.”
“Who knows what else could be waiting for us behind those walls,” he added. “It’s unlikely we’ll find anything else, but if any more wood paneling has to come off, we’ll really be keeping our eyes open.”