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Top 10 Fascinating Unintentional Time Capsules Ever Discovered

by Jonathan H. Kantor
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Time capsules are purposely built to contain interesting and unique items meant to be uncovered at a predetermined date in the future. This can often be a century or more after the capsule is buried.

Unintentional time capsules are something else altogether as they are far rarer and only appear when least expected. These are places and items lost for a time. But when they are revealed, they showcase what life was like in the past.

10 Amazingly Ambitious Time Capsules

10 Lost Purse From 1957 Discovered In 2019

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In 1957, a young woman named Patti Rumfola was attending Hoover High School in Ohio when something terrible happened: She lost her purse. That stroke of bad luck for Rumfola turned into an incredible discovery in 2019 when her handbag was finally found by a custodian.

Unfortunately, it was a bit too late for Rumfola as she had passed away in 2013 at age 71. Still, the purse was found, and with some Internet sleuthing, the original owner was identified. The handbag was given to one of her daughters, who had the opportunity to peek into her mother’s life from 62 years in the past.[1]

The purse, which had fallen behind some lockers, ultimately became an unintentional time capsule filled with the kinds of items you might expect to find in a young girl’s handbag in 1957. There were several pristine tickets to her school’s football games, a couple of library cards, a photograph of one of her friends, a wallet, and a small amount of change. Each of her five children kept a penny from the purse to remember their mother.

9 The Town Of Bodie, California

Photo credit: JLeditor

Shortly before the US Civil War broke out, gold was discovered east of the Sierra Nevada mountains. By the late 1870s, the site had grown to become a boomtown called Bodie with some 10,000 residents. By 1915, the gold was gone, and people had to leave the town for good.

Bodie became an unintentional time capsule because it’s more than 2,500 meters (8,300 ft) above sea level. In the early 20th century, it wasn’t easy to get in and out of the little town. As a result, the residents left most of their possessions there as it was too expensive to have them hauled over miles of mountain trails.

In 1962, California State Parks stepped in to establish the ghost town as Bodie State Historic Park. It is preserved in an arrested state, so nothing is disturbed except for the occasional repair to ensure that a wall or roof remains intact.

The place is exactly what people envision a ghost town to be. But more than that, it’s a glimpse back in time to the Old West without the kitschy tourist traps found in places like Tombstone.[2]

8 Completely Intact Shoe Store Rediscovered After Half A Century

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From the 1940s to the 1960s, the Fashion Shoe Shop stood as a staple mom-and-pop store. But it eventually shut down. Years later, it was bequeathed to a man who went by to see what the property looked like. He found a shoe store that had been shuttered several decades earlier.

The shop was something of a step back in time as the shoe store looked just as it had when the doors were locked years earlier. Instead of cleaning out an abandoned space, the new owner found a treasure in perfectly preserved vintage shoes. As the shoes were still inside their boxes, they were preserved without damage from dust, mold, or anything else.[3]

The time capsule was also filled with fashion from previous eras. In such well-preserved conditions, the items were worth quite a lot of money. In addition, the shop had a Victrola Credenza Talking Machine full of vintage records, a vintage stove, and more incredible finds from 40 years ago when the shop was closed.

7 Abandoned Home In Ontario Revealed A Link To The Past

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Not every abandoned property is a decaying mess that people should avoid. Occasionally, a place will turn up something surprising, which is exactly what happened when a home in Ontario, Canada, was discovered by an urban explorer in 2013.

The home wasn’t in the best shape. But looking past the “usual smell of decay and years of abandonment” revealed a hidden gem showcasing how people lived in the 1960s when the property was abandoned.

Inside the home was a plethora of items from the 1960s and earlier, including several musical instruments, a shaving kit, a shoeshine polish kit, a cache of vinyl albums, cartons of food far beyond their expiration dates, furniture, books, clocks, televisions, a gramophone, a piano, jewelry, and two complete sets of polished silverware, which are worth their weight in . . . well, silver.

It’s unclear why the home was abandoned with everything left inside. But it helps to paint a picture of the people who lived there more than 50 years before the property was rediscovered.[4]

6 A Shop Boarded Up For 30 Years In Lancashire

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Typically, when a shop goes out of business, its contents are sold, the building is vacated, and then it’s taken over by someone else. But something that seldom happens turned up in Accrington, Lancashire, in October 2008.

As builders were working in the area, they uncovered a shop that had been boarded up for at least 30 years. Instead of a decrepit empty space, they found a perfectly preserved corner shop and ice cream parlor. It was filled with items from the shop’s earliest days in the 1920s to products dating to the early 1970s.[5]

These included cigarette advertisements from the 1950s, a magazine that went through the day-by-day happenings of then Princess Elizabeth’s tour of Australia in 1938, old-fashioned sweet jars, and ice cream spoons. The original owners had left the property over 30 years earlier without removing the contents.

Paperwork found within the shop dated back more than 80 years. It indicated that the establishment had belonged to the Boyd family for several generations. The building was renovated, but the items were preserved by the developer.

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5 A Victorian-Era Pharmacy Hidden For 80 Years In Somerset Village

In the early 1800s, John Wellington opened a chemist shop at South Petherton, Somerset. He also sold groceries. After John’s passing in 1845, the shop stayed in his family for more than four decades. Then it was sold to W.C. White in 1887.

White operated the shop’s chemist side until he died in 1909. Then his son and heir, Charles White, continued with the grocery business only. Charles wasn’t qualified to dispense medications, so the store’s chemist side was sealed behind a locked door.

Despite having several other owners, it remained that way until 1987. That year, the shop was sold and the locked door was finally opened. Inside was the chemist shop precisely as it had looked when it was sealed 78 years earlier.

The Victorian-era pharmacy was purchased in its entirety by Flambards Theme Park in Cornwall. The shop was moved and reestablished exactly as it had looked nearly a century before. Some items didn’t make the transition—but not because they were damaged.

Certain chemicals were now considered dangerous and deadly. They were confiscated by the British Home Office. But everything else has been perfectly maintained and preserved.[6]

4 A Long-Forgotten Closet Revealed A Treasure Trove Of Civil War Artifacts

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In 2010, the former Carnegie Library in San Antonio, Texas, was undergoing some renovations when something unexpected turned up. The workers found a closet that had been walled up in the early 1950s. Inside, they discovered a treasure trove of artifacts dating back to the US Civil War.

More than 200 items were found in the closet. Although most were from the Civil War era, the oldest was a priceless copy of the 1615 King James Bible printed in London. Beth Graham, a spokesperson for the library system, described it as “in astoundingly good shape for being nearly 400 years old.”[7]

At least one document was dated 1861. According to Graham, another was “a proclamation by the Governor of New Mexico calling up the militia to repel Confederate raiders coming into the territory from Texas.”

Several magazines were dated 1952, which suggests that the closet was walled up before the building housed the Hertzberg Circus Museum in the late 1960s. The library staff cataloged the items and put them on display at the San Antonio Public Library.

3 Parisian Apartment Left Untouched For 70 Years Discovered In 2010

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In 1942, as the Nazis invaded Paris, playwright Solange Beaugiron, the granddaughter of Madame Marthe de Florian, fled the city. Beaugiron left behind her apartment but continued to pay the rent until her death at age 91, almost 70 years later.

It is believed that Beaugiron didn’t return at all between 1942 and her death in 2010. So the apartment remained closed. Initially Marthe de Florian’s home, it was filled with opulent furniture and paintings. All of them remained untouched.[8]

The apartment was finally opened in 2010. Although it was an amazing unintentional time capsule of 1940s Parisian life, it also contained many valuable artifacts. One such item was a portrait of de Florian by Giovanni Boldini. It sold at auction for €3 million, a record for the artist.

Other paintings by famous artists, ornate furniture, a piano, a phonograph, and much more were uncovered in the apartment. Somehow, the place survived World War II without a scratch as did everything sealed inside.

2 A Supply Hut In Antarctica Contained Pictures Of The Ill-Fated Shackleton Expedition

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In 1914, Ernest Shackleton set out to lead the first team across Antarctica. To ensure success, a secondary team known as the Ross Sea party made its way across the continent, setting up supply depots along the way.

Attached to the support team was Arnold Patrick Spencer-Smith, a photographer who documented the expedition. Sadly, Spencer-Smith died during the voyage. But he left an unintentional time machine in one of the supply huts. In 2013, members of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust found Spencer-Smith’s undeveloped roll of film.[9]

Although frozen within a block of ice, the film was recovered nearly 100 years after Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition had cost Spencer-Smith his life. The negatives revealed 22 photographs, which were painstakingly restored to reveal the expedition’s images and the men who had traveled far across the frozen continent to make history.

As the pictures help to tell the story of the men featured in them, a single roll of film has become an unintentional time machine that linked back to the Antarctic Heroic Era. It is unlike anything else found on the frozen wasteland.

1 Lascaux Cave

Perhaps the ultimate unintentional time machine is a cave in France featuring Paleolithic paintings. The Lascaux Cave is hardly the only site with cave paintings. Still, it is arguably the most famous and notable for the incredible art found all over its walls.

The cave was discovered in 1940 by 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat, who was looking for his dog, Robot. The dog had fallen into a hole, which caused Ravidat to uncover one of the most important Paleolithic finds in history. He returned with three friends, and they explored the cave while taking notes and making illustrations of what they saw.

The cave complex was protected through the war and opened to the public in 1948. Unfortunately, human activity in the cave increased fungi and lichen growth, which damaged the paintings. Consequently, the caves were closed in 1963.

Although the former inhabitants likely never imagined that anyone would uncover their home 17,000 years later, the caves helped to preserve a snapshot of their lives and the native animals. As a result, this is the most important unintentional time capsule ever found. Today, Lascaux is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[10]

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About The Author: Jonathan is a graphic artist, illustrator, and writer. He is a Retired Soldier and enjoys researching and writing about history, science, theology, and many other subjects.

fact checked by Jamie Frater
Jonathan H. Kantor

Jonathan is a graphic artist, illustrator, and writer. He is a Retired Soldier and enjoys researching and writing about history, science, theology, and many other subjects.

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