Time in a bottle

Time capsule dating back to the nation’s bicentennial found in Oak Bluffs backyard.


When husband and wife Paul and Sabrina Buehler decided to replace their rear deck after some of the boards had rotted through, they had no idea they would find a piece of history buried in the dirt beneath.

Back in 1997, when the Buehlers first acquired the Oak Bluffs house from Mike Dutton after summering on the Vineyard away from their home in Connecticut, Sabrina said she recalled someone telling her about a time capsule buried somewhere in the back of the property.

“It was always a mystery, but we figured we would find it one day,” Sabrina said. 

While pulling old planks from the weathered deck, Paul said he uncovered what looked to be an old concrete cap one might see on a septic system, except this cap had the words “time capsule” scrawled across the top.

Intrigued by his discovery, Paul invited The Times to come over and have a look. “We were really quite surprised to find something like this, although we figured it was somewhere in this area near the back deck,” Paul said. “It was pretty exciting to see that cap sticking out of the ground.”

After pulling up the cap and digging a few generous feet beneath, it appeared that the capsule itself had been removed and the cap was left for someone else to find. The Times headed back to the office, convinced that there was no capsule to be found, and wondering who might have found it and what it contained.

Just a few hours later, we got another call from Paul and Sabrina — the capsule had been right under our noses the whole time.

Once Sabrina returned from a Rotary Club meeting, she suggested that maybe the slab of concrete we thought to be the cap was actually the container itself. “I told my husband, ‘What do you mean you didn’t find it, it’s right there on the ground!’” she said.

With that, Paul grabbed a sledgehammer and gave the piece of concrete a good whack. Wedged inside the crumbling block was an old bottle with a copy of the Vineyard Gazette from 1976. (The Times had not yet been born.) Some of its pages were muddied, with patches of rot eroding through the old newsprint, but all in all, it was a snapshot of life on the Vineyard in the mid 70’s. 

One musty stack of pages was labeled “The Island Navigator” and contained opportunities for seasonal visitors to take bike tours, see movies, and bask on the beach. On the front page was some writing in pencil that read “Time Capsule, Tim Small, 1976, July 4, Martha’s Vineyard, Oak Bluffs, Mass. United States of America.”

In an ironic twist, Sabrina said she saw a news report the night before they discovered the time capsule about the bicentennial of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. 

“I think maybe that was one of the reasons they chose to put the newspaper in the capsule,” Sabrina said. 

Paul also said it is “quite a coincidence” that their daughter was born in June of the same year.

“This was just so much fun for us to find, and it’s going to be even more fun to learn the story behind it,” Paul said.

Sabrina suggested making a time capsule of their own to replace the one from 1976, and considered using a copy of the MV Times with this article in it. “I think it would be fitting to replace this time capsule with something of our very own, and hope that someone else might find it when they are replacing their deck 30 years from now,” Sabrina laughed.