CHADRON – In the winter of 1956 author Mari Sandoz sat at the typewriter in her New York City apartment and put into words a vision of how the world would look five decades later. Her five-page essay, and the predictions of 57 other notables of the mid-20th century, including Walt Disney, J. Edgar Hoover and Henry R. Luce, were included in a time capsule placed in the cornerstone of the new KETV building in Omaha on Sept. 17, 1957 for 50 years.
On Friday, Sept. 29, people attending the 2017 Mari Sandoz Conference at Chadron State College will explore the predictions the celebrated Nebraska writer made at the peak of her career. Participants can also make their own attempts at seeing into the future for a time capsule that will be interred near the statue of Sandoz on the CSC campus to be opened in 2067.
Time capsule activities at the conference will include a presentation by historian John R. Wunder about the predictions Sandoz made, a panel discussion titled “Welcome to the Land of Time,” a writing workshop, formal recognition of the event as a Nebraska 150 Legacy Project, and a ceremony incorporating original poetry by CSC 2017 Distinguished Young Alumni award recipient Jovan Mays and music before burial of a stainless steel capsule with the collected predictions of numerous dignitaries, conference participants and members of the public.
Sandoz wrote her predictions at a time of great success and celebrity as an author, but personal turmoil. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer, close friends had died, and a catastrophic fire nearly destroyed her massive collection of research material, according to Wunder. Despite the personal setbacks, “the breadth of her vision of the future is impressive,” he said.
Among other predictions for 2007, Sandoz saw the Omaha area as the core of a heavily populated “industro-residential region” along the Missouri and Platte Rivers, a transportation system of transcontinental tubes allowing travel from either coast to Nebraska in less than an hour, cars with antagonism fields that eliminated collisions, a cheap method of desalting water doing away with effects of drought, the eradication of most human diseases and pilotless airplanes.
She also wrote of the advent of the “Century of the Mind” that would reveal the causes of violence, prejudice and mental illness and lead to new emphasis on the arts and culture.
Wunder called Sandoz a brave prognosticator and said her optimistic predictions offer many challenges to people today.
While Sandoz made a copy of her predictions that is now in the archives of the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center at CSC, little note has been made about entries submitted by the three other women and 53 men who contributed to the 1957 time capsule. The capsule was apparently opened with little fanfare in September 2007, but KETV has since changed owners and a search of the station website doesn’t turn up any stories about the capsule or its contents.
Time capsules often suffer damage over time, or are completely forgotten, but the Sandoz capsule is a pressure and corrosion-resistant, stainless steel cylinder. The contents will be placed in archival sleeves to prevent moisture damage and a marker will be placed over the burial site, said society member Deb Carpenter-Nolting, chair of the project.
Society members came up with the time capsule idea because of Sandoz’ part in the 1957 capsule, and a desire to carry the idea forward as part of Nebraska’s 150th anniversary celebration, Carpenter-Nolting said.
The project also aims to capture people’s interest in Sandoz’s writing and the stories of people who settled the High Plains, said Ron Hull, a personal friend of the author and president emeritus of the society’s executive board.
“Burying a time capsule is a way of storytelling, reaching out into the future and reminding people 50 years from now … we were here,” he said.
The capsule’s contents will certainly be interesting to those who open it, and likely will contribute to scholars doing research on life in the first part of the 21st century, Hull added.
Among those who have contributed predictions for the capsule are Nebraska State Poet Twyla Hansen, Nebraska-born astronaut Clay Anderson, U.S. Senator Deb Fisher, Nebraska Senator Tom Brewer and the Fourth grade class from the Sandoz Elementary School in Omaha, Carpenter-Nolting said.
Hull said his predictions for 2067 include self-driving cars, a continued preference for printed books by a large segment of the population and enduring recognition of the literary achievements of Mari Sandoz and of her book “Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas” as the definitive biography of the legendary Lakota warrior.
Hull has at least one record of correctly predicting the future to his credit. In 1965, a few months before Sandoz died, Hull said he visited her in the hospital, and told her there would someday be a Mari Sandoz Heritage Center of the High Plains. He rejected her suggestion that it should be located on the Old Jules’ place in the Sandhills south of Gordon because advances in transportation would make it easy to travel there.
“I told her that we felt the center would be more accessible and should be built in Chadron,” said Hull, who was president of the society when the Sandoz Center at CSC opened in 2002.