Colorado College Tutt Library

What is the Colorado Springs Century Chest?

Louis Ehrich, a Colorado Springs businessman, spearheaded the Century Chest project, a gathering of letters, photographs, and other materials to be placed in a metal chest as a kind of time capsule for 1901. The letters and documents were inside linen envelopes, and many of the photographs were wrapped in real tin foil. The Century Chest itself is about the size of a small safe, and is made of steel and lined with sheets of lead. It was sealed with two hundred rivets to make it airtight. An inscription on the chest reads: "To the citizens of Colorado Springs of the Twenty First Century. To be opened after midnight December 31st A.D. 2000."

In August 1901, about 600 citizens of Colorado Springs gathered at Perkins Hall on the Colorado College campus, where the Hassell Iron Works sealed the Chest. The Century Chest then remained on the Colorado College campus for 100 years.

On January 1, 2001, at 1:00 in the afternoon, approximately 300 citizens gathered in the Tutt Library of Colorado College to open the Century Chest. The ceremony featured guests from the past: William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs; William Stratton, a figure in the early history of the city; and former Vice President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. Each spoke briefly. The mayor of Colorado Springs, Mary Lou Makepeace said a few words. A local historian, Mary Jane Rust, presented the keynote address. Two men from the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, Andy Morris and Wilber Fulker, having spent over five hours several days before the ceremony doing preliminary work on the Chest, popped it open at the ceremony. This was an exciting moment. David Finley, the Master of Ceremonies, removed the materials from the Chest one by one while Ginny Kiefer (archivist of Colorado College), Leah Witherow (archivist of the Pioneers Museum), and Nancy Thaler (archivist of the Penrose Library) put them in display cases. Music and singing and refreshments rounded out the festivities.

The volume of letters, photographs, and other materials was more than expected - a wonderful surprise! In the weeks following the ceremony, for the purpose of preservation and access, librarians at Colorado College scanned virtually every item from the Chest and transcribed many of the letters. These digital images and texts are now available to researchers all over the world. The letters, photographs, and other materials have been placed in acid-free folders and boxes in Special Collections, where researchers can study them. For the next hundred years, the Century Chest will be on display at Tutt Library.

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