After 30 years, lost 'Steve Jobs Time Capsule' finally recovered

Buried, and lost, in an Aspen field in 1983, the 13-foot-long tube contained, among other things, the mouse from Jobs' Lisa computer. Now, thanks to the TV show "Diggers," it's been found.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
4 min read
A first look inside the so-called 'Steve Jobs Time Capsule,' which had been lost in an Aspen, Colo. field for 30 years. National Geographic Channel

We can assume that Steve Jobs' 30-year-old mouse is in good condition. But what about the six pack of beer?

In 1983, at the close of the International Design Conference in Aspen, Colo., organizers buried a time capsule, known officially as the Aspen Time Tube. Many attendees contributed various items, like a Rubik's cube, name tags, and even a Moody Blues recording, but because the late Apple co-founder donated the Lisa mouse he'd used during his presentation at the conference, it has become known as the "Steve Jobs Time Capsule."

Lost for 30 years, the 'Steve Jobs Time Capsule' reappears (pictures)

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The idea was to dig it up in 2000, but fate got in the way. Essentially, it was lost. Though organizers recalled approximately where the tube was buried, they didn't know the exact spot, in part because of a significant re-landscaping of the area where it was hidden. And so for 30 years, the Steve Jobs Time Capsule was hidden underground, unavailable to the many historians eager to see what was inside.

Until now, that is. Thanks to the participation of the National Geographic Channel show "Diggers," the Aspen Time Tube has finally surfaced. Yesterday, the show's crew, aided by a local Aspen excavation crew, found the time capsule and dug it up. From the second giant hole they dug. The first was empty.

"We just freaked out," George Wyant, one of the two "Diggers" co-hosts, said about finding the tube. "We went crazy. Because I'd had a pit in my stomach all day, so it was like instant relief."

The time capsule on the day it was buried in 1983. John Celuch

Though Wyant, his co-host Tim Saylor, and others involved in the search were eager to find Jobs' mouse, along with many of the other artifacts hidden away all these years inside the 13-foot-long, 1.5-foot-diameter tube, they'll have to wait. Though they were able to saw the end off and peer inside, there was no way to immediately catalog the contents. The problem? There were just too many items inside. "When the end came off," Saylor said, "literally things just poured out. There must be literally thousands of things in there."

Overcome by the smell of mold, and the challenge of digging through hundreds of artifacts that haven't seen the light of day since 1983, the "Diggers" crew decided to hold off a day before taking their shot at finding Jobs' mouse, and many of the other items inside the time capsule. Luckily, many of the items had been protected prior to burial, so the hope is that much of what's in the tube will still be in good condition.

"They had the foresight to put a bunch of stuff in plastic bags," Saylor said. "I could see at least a dozen plastic bags and other trinkets and items. But I know for sure there's got to be photographs in there. People had hand-written things on the back of the photographs, so there will be some really interesting things inside."

At the 1983 conference, Jobs had spoken about his predictions for the technology of the future and had then given out cassette tapes of the talk to anyone who wanted one. Those tapes had largely disappeared until last year, when one turned up, allowing blogger Marcel Brown to write about what came to be known as the "lost" Steve Jobs speech. During that speech, which was tied to "The Future isn't What it Used to Be" theme of the conference, Jobs seems to have predicted a slew of future technologies, including the iPad, wireless networking, and even Apple's App Store.

But while many had forgotten about the speech, Brown's client John Celuch hadn't. And Celuch may have been the only one aware that Jobs had placed his mouse in the capsule:

After Steve Jobs' speech, in which he used an Apple Lisa computer to control what Celuch recalls was a six projector setup, [Celuch] approached Jobs and asked for something that he could include in the time capsule," Brown's blog post read. "Jobs thought about it for a few seconds and then unplugged the mouse from the Lisa. Celuch recalls that he was amused by the manner in which he was handed the mouse, as Jobs held the mouse by its cord, almost as one would hold a real mouse by the tail. So into the time capsule the Lisa mouse went, where it was buried at the end of the conference.

Now, the "Diggers" crew and a number of people from the Aspen Historical Society plan to go through the time capsule, meticulously cataloging each item and hopefully preserving as many of them as possible for potential public display. And other than the mouse, little is known about what's inside.

Except for the beer. Harry Teague, who was the president of the conference, recalled that he put a six-pack in the tube because "the guys that dig this up will be sweaty and appreciate a six-pack."

Based on the initial pictures of the interior of the time capsule, the six cans of Balantine beer appear to be in fine shape. Bottoms up.