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OLATHE, Kan. – On May 7, 1951, a time capsule was placed inside the Johnson County Courthouse building. Now, nearly 71 years later, county leaders are uncovering the treasures of the past. 

During demolition of the former Johnson County Courthouse, crews found a time capsule buried in a wall cavity near the southeast cornerstone of the building.

Former Johnson County Courthouse building

“There was indications in newspaper stories written at the time that they had put a time capsule in, but I think until they started taking the building apart is when they discovered that, ‘Oh yes, there was a time capsule here,’” said Anne Jones, curator of collections at the Johnson County Museum. 

The capsule was a copper box, 13 inches by 10.5 inches by 15 inches. Soon after discovering the buried box of treasures, Johnson County Museum staff took the capsule to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to be X-rayed. 

X-rayed image of the 1951 time capsule

From there museum staff worked with Paul Benson, an associate conservator at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, to open the capsule using a crowbar. 

Some of the contents of the time capsule included:

  • 36 sealed envelope from various municipalities, residents and the court 
  • A newspaper microfilm reel
  • A 1950 Olathe phone directory
  • A program from the Olathe rodeo 
  • A trial docket from May 5, 1951 
  • A program from the model airplane meet held at the former Naval Air Station in Olathe
  • A 1948 Settlers Day program 
  • A copy of the Gardner News from 1951 
  • Various photos, including some taken during construction of the former courthouse

“There is a written communication from John Anderson Jr., who was county attorney at that time and went on to become the 36th governor of the state of Kansas,” Johnson County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) Chairman Ed Eilert said. 

Eilert said the board is in the early stages of discussion about starting a new time capsule to be placed in the current courthouse building. 

“The Board of County Commissioners owns the collection, but the museum staff we’re the stewards of the collection. We have a process that we need to follow. We need to have these items legally, so to speak, transferred over to our stewardship and ownership,” Jones said.   

Jones said once the museum has legal ownership of the capsule, staff can work with a conservator to determine how the remaining paper contents can be safely opened.

While many of the paper documents were considered to be in good condition, Jones said staff would like additional guidance for opening documents and packages sealed in wax. 

County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson said once the proper preservation steps have been taken, county staff will work to coordinate a time for the public to view the contents of the time capsule.