Area astronomy club to unseal 25-year-old time capsule

SPERRY – Southeastern Iowa Astronomy Club member Jim Hilkin has no idea what’s inside the time capsule that was locked away in the John H. Witte Observatory classroom 25 years ago. But he’s about to find out Saturday night.

“It should be interesting. There should be some newspaper clippings in there,” he said. “I think one of my kids put his favorite action figure in there.”

Hilkin is one of several of the club’s founding members who helped fill the capsule when construction of the observatory complex was completed 25 years ago, and the public is invited to take a peek inside the capsule for themselves when it’s opened at 7 p.m. Saturday at the observatory.

Dave Philabaum, another one of the club’s founding members, also is anxious to see what’s inside the metal box.


Hilkin, who was a carpenter in the mid 1980s; Claus Benninghoven, a retired mason who erected the walls of the observatory; and electrician Dave Bachtell took the lead on constructing the observatory and accompanying classroom – a two-year project that came together entirely through donated labor and money.

“It’s a very involved structure,” Hilkin said.

The observatory complex started out as nothing more than an idea in the minds of astronomy club members in 1984 but soon became a reality after the Burlington school district donated its Alvan Clark and Sons refracting telescope, which was given to the school system by Witte in 1937. The land the observatory sits on was donated by the Des Moines County Conservation Department, and the funding came from the John H. Witte Foundation.

The hard labor was entirely in the hands of skilled volunteers, who worked on the buildings during their off time. Construction of the main dome started in 1985 and was completed in 1986, and construction of the classroom started in 1986 and was completed in 1987.

Most of the mortar was mixed by hand

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Area astronomy club to unseal 25-year-old time capsule

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