Over 800 letters are included in a time capsule to be opened in 2123 when the city celebrates its 500th anniversary.

The last official act of the Portsmouth NH 400 committee was to fill the bright red capsule with messages and other items representative of the city in 2023. It was sealed up during a ceremony in Market Square near the holiday tree on New Year's Eve. Former Portsmouth Mayor Bob Lister and former NH State Representative and Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine headed up the project and put the call out for letters.

Lister told Seacoast Current he was overwhelmed by the fact that about 70% of the 800-1,000 letters that went into the capsule were from children under the age of 12 who wrote letters to their great-grandchildren. Many of the letters were sealed and others were not, giving him an opportunity to read some of them.

"Some of the things they said was, 'Hi, my name is Bob, and I am your great grandfather, I'm sorry, I may not be there with you when you open this letter. So let me tell you about my family in 2023.' And the kids listed all kinds of things, games they played, places they went for vacation with the city of Portsmouth looks like what it is school, it was pretty interesting," Lister said.

Some of the topics discussed by the kids were deep, and show what's on their minds today.

"Kids asked questions in their letter like 'Do you have flying cars? Do you have a problem with the climate? Is sea rise an issue? Two in particular that little kids, probably in the third grade, ask questions like, do you still have polar bears? Do you still have icebergs?' It just shows how concerned young kids are about those kinds of issues," Lister said.

The letters also expressed the hope the city would celebrate its 500th anniversary with a parade and fireworks much like the 400th anniversary, according to Lister. There were also letters from businesses, restaurant menus, and business cards included in the time capsule.

Lister said his contribution was tracing the hands of his two grandchildren to include in his letter to his descendants.

"It's almost a shame that none of us is going to be around to read all this stuff. It was really great. It was a great project," Lister said.

Former Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine (at the lectern) and former Mayor Bob Lister unveiled the time capsule they are using to collect letters from residents "to 2123."
Former Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine (at the lectern) and former Mayor Bob Lister unveiled the time capsule they are using to collect letters from residents "to 2123." (Portsmouth 400)

The irony of including letters written by a generation where texting and email are more common means of communication is not lost on Lister.

"We don't ordinarily think of people writing a letter, but that's what's in there. No tapes, no emails, no nothing. They're all handwritten letters," Lister said.

The bright red capsule with a yellow cap and base, will not actually be buried. Instead, several middle school and high school students have been designated as keepers of the time capsule.

"We'll pass that down to the kids in the schools. The capsule will move around, maybe spend some time at City Hall spent some time in the high school to really to try and keep it alive. The emphasis is on the residents of Portsmouth and the history of Portsmouth. We want to keep it alive. We didn't want to bury it because then it's out of sight, out of mind."

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via X (Twitter) @DanAlexanderNH

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