Eric Walker had just become Penn State’s president, Joe Paterno worked as an assistant football coach and tuition cost Pennsylvania families a whopping $252.
It was 1956, and a group of Penn State students, faculty and staff placed a small, metal time capsule in an under-construction residence hall in the South Halls section of campus.
The lead box was forgotten over the years; no mention of it appears in Penn State’s archives, designs for the building or contemporary newspaper reports.
So it was a surprise last month when workers cutting into the cornerstone of Hibbs Hall, part of larger overall renovations of the South Halls buildings, stumbled upon the container.
Penn State officials opened the box Wednesday in a ceremony in front of the residence hall. A crowd gathered there to watch got a glimpse into the the lives of university students in the 1950s.
The capsule contained hats emblazoned with sorority letters, handbooks and directories and papers, some that outlined strict rules about the intermingling of coeds.
There was a document setting visitation hours for women in fraternity houses from 5 to 8 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The paper noted that earlier rules prohibited unsupervised dates entirely.
Another document was a manual instructing women on how to be proper hostesses in the residence halls.
A resume sealed in the box included the applicant’s religious preference.
And a Daily Collegian included in the trove had a headline that read in part, “Chivalry is Dead.”
Jackie Esposito, the university’s archivist, praised the collection as a well-rounded view of student life at the time. She placed the paper documents in plastic sleeves as they were taken from the capsule, most of them in perfect condition.
“It does a really nice job of showing you what student life was like,” Esposito said. “They were very careful, very careful of what they put in the time capsule to make sure it was representative of all kinds of activities, which was nice.”
If some of the papers seemed silly in 2014, that’s alright with Liana Trigg.
Trigg, the president of the Association of Residence Hall Students, said she hopes future generations have the same reaction when opening capsules left behind by the Penn State community today.
“I hope that 50 or 100 years from now, when a group of students and staff gather to open our time capsule, they reflect on how silly the things we did in 2014 were,” Trigg told a crowd of about 100 gathered for the opening.
“I hope they think our rules were backward, and they think our traditions needed to be improved upon,” she said. “Why? Because that would mean that between now and then some people, not so unlike ourselves, came together and actively decided to invoke change. They found out what was wrong, and they fixed it.”
The Penn State community is indeed replacing the capsule opened Wednesday with a new version. This one will include, among other things, an iPhone, a football signed by head football coach James Franklin and copies of the Centre Daily Times and the Daily Collegian.
“We’ll pass more along for another generation,” said Bill Kovach, one of the construction workers who discovered the box.