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When a small town in Norway announced that it was finally time to open a 100-year-old package whose contents had remained a mystery, the world waited breathlessly to find out what was inside. Norwegian schoolchildren guessed it might be a big knife or a pea (I like where they were going with the pea, but the package wasn’t knife-shaped enough). The Huffington Post wondered whether it could be stocks in oil, or a historical document. One of my former coworkers hoped it would contain paperwork that proved her ancestors were secretly Norwegian royalty. The man who created the package promised that it would “benefit and delight future generations,” so the contents must be pretty good, right? Well, if you’re a historian, they’re “like gold,” but the contents are kind of “meh” for the rest of us.
The story goes that Johan Nygard, a man involved in local politics, walked up to the mayor of Sel, Norway, in the mid-1920s and presented him with this package that was said to have been sealed in 1912. He told the mayor that future generations would enjoy the contents. The time capsule ended up at the Gudbrandsdal museum along with a note from Nygard saying that it was not to be opened until August 26, 2012. Seeing that he must have passed away long ago, I guess he couldn’t make much of a fuss about the opening happening two days early.
The “opening ceremony,” if you will, took place on Friday, August 24 in Sel. The ceremony was attended by Norway’s Princess Astrid and Sel’s current mayor; curators from the Gudbrandsdal museum carefully opened the package. They slowly and carefully removed the paper wrapping, only to discover more wrapping on the inside, prompting laughs from the crowd and possible proof that the children were right about a pea being underneath all of that wrapping. Soon the curators, a Norwegian-speaking man and an English-speaking woman, unwrapped fabric in the colors of Norway’s flag, documents, notebooks, a letter, and a drawing. Despite the tale of the package being sealed in 1912, there were newspaper clippings from 1914 and 1919. Guess it wasn’t really a 100-year-old package. The curators confirmed that all of the contents were from the first two decades of the 20th century.
So if the package wasn’t really 100 years old this year, what was the importance of opening it around August 26th, 2012? Most of the documents pertain to the construction of a monument to a battle that took place in 1612. Back during Sweden’s war against Denmark-Norway, the townspeople of Otta fought off Scottish soldiers hired by Sweden. Nygard must have wanted the package to be opened on the 400thanniversary of the battle. In fact, the opening was part of a celebration of the battle. After initially taking the items out of the package, the curators were ushered offstage to look at the contents closely, while the rest of the celebration went on. They returned later to reveal that the notebooks were really ledgers of the meager donations townspeople made toward the monument (apparently many were afraid the money would be used for something other than a monument, and therefore only donated half-dollars or dollars).
The contents will be returned to the museum and put on display. Soon it will be able to “benefit and delight” this generation in glass cases. It’s too bad it wasn’t really a pea wrapped in layers of paper. As interesting as I’m sure the records are to certain people, a 100-year-old pea would have been pretty hilarious. I’ll try to convince myself that there was a pea in there and that it just decomposed and turned to dust.