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Bottling History and Reagan Heritage

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When the massive Ronald Reagan federal building opens downtown next year, visitors will walk over jellybeans, peace treaties, a piece of the Berlin Wall and even a small casket.

The Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society is gathering objects for a time capsule focusing on the former president that will be buried within the $123-million building and opened in about 64 years. The specific date is Feb. 6, 2061, the 150th anniversary of Reagan’s birth.

The capsule--in this case, an airtight casket--will also include information on such Orange County events as the 1994 bankruptcy and the debate over whether the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station should be converted into a commercial airport, according to Tim Rush of Santa Ana. Rush, a preservation society board member, is heading the time capsule project.

“They say that architecture is frozen music,” said Rush, 41. “Well, if that’s true, then a time capsule ought to be part of the score.”

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Rush, who has been active in city restoration projects, began a campaign for the time capsule last July when he attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse.

“By the way, where are you going to put the time capsule?” Rush recalled asking the project executive. “He said, ‘What time capsule?’ And that’s where it all began.”

Spread out on his kitchen table last week were the fruits of Rush’s labors so far. Donations from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley included “My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan” and “An American Life, Ronald Reagan, The Autobiography.” Both are signed copies.

Other donations from the library included a jar of Jelly Belly beans--a favorite snack of the 40th president--and a chunk of the Berlin Wall--a nod to Reagan’s trademark anticommunism.

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The library also contributed copies of the intermediate-range nuclear missile treaty signed by Reagan and then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

The time capsule was praised by Fred Ryan, an assistant to Reagan when he was president.

Reagan “is somebody who had a major impact on the world in the course of the 20th century,” said Ryan, now vice chairman of the Allbritton Communications Co. in Washington. “I’ll have to tell my 7-year-old and 3-year-old to mark their calendars [for the year 2061].”

One of the first problems facing Rush was finding a capsule. He realized such devices could be expensive: The one used for the Orange County centennial cost $4,000 and was donated by McDonnell Douglas Space Systems Co.

So Rush thought to himself, “Who has experience in putting stuff in the ground? How about a mortuary?”

He acknowledged that the first mortuary he contacted told him it was the most bizarre request they had ever received.

But last Wednesday, Rush’s idea paid off when he picked up a child-size rectangular copper casket from Fairhaven Memorial Park and Mortuary in Santa Ana.

“It can be done,” Rush emphasized, repeating what he said was one of Reagan’s favorite phrases.

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As part of his effort, Rush has researched time capsules and found that they date back to objects left in tombs in ancient Egypt.

The first use of the term, however, was not until the 1939 New York World’s Fair, according to one brochure obtained by Rush. (That capsule, which included a copy of “Gone With the Wind,” a rhinestone clip from Woolworth’s and a toothbrush, is to be opened in 6939).

“There’s a basic human urge to leave for posterity a sense of who we were,” Rush said. “In addition, it’s something that helps bring the community together.”

Indeed, Orange County organizations ranging from the Santa Ana Boys and Girls Club to the Orange County Bar Assn. have pledged a donation, Rush said.

A panel of local residents will make the ultimate decision on what items go in the capsule.

The U.S. General Services Administration, the agency overseeing construction of the building, approved the time capsule.

“Our feeling on time capsules is that it’s nice to see a city get involved in a project,” spokeswoman Mary Filippini said. “We don’t often find that. It’s refreshing.”

Rush said he would have proposed the capsule even had he not been a Reagan fan, but added that he might not have been quite as enthusiastic.

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“Reagan came in at a low ebb and brought back pride to America,” Rush said. “He was not afraid to dream great. He had grand ideas for what America could become.”

It is a message, Rush hopes, that will not be lost on the people of 2061.


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