Metro-east men help find time capsule with Steve Jobs' computer mouse inside

News-DemocratOctober 13, 2013 

A long-lost time capsule that contained a computer mouse from the late Steve Jobs has been found in Colorado.

And two metro-east men helped bring it back to light.

Edwardsville computer graphics designer John Celuch remembers when he and other computer graphics enthusiasts buried it in 1983 in Aspen, Colo. For the past three decades, the 13-foot-long polyvinyl chloride pipe that was a foot-and-a-half in diameter lied buried and unaccounted for.

It was last year when Celuch thought about it and wondered if it would ever be found. He was reminded of it when he found and later listened to a cassette tape recording of a speech that the late home computer pioneer Steve Jobs made at the International Design Conference that Celuch attended in Aspen 30 years ago. It was during the weeklong workshop when the time capsule buried.

"My thought was someone, sometime later would have enough interest in digging into where it went," Celuch said. "I didn't think I would end up getting the train going, but I thought sooner or later there would be interest."

Celuch, who is the founder of Edwardsville graphic design marketing communications company Inlandesign, dug up the tape shortly after Jobs' death two years ago. The tape had a 54-minute recording of Jobs, who then was 28 and already considered a visionary.

Friend and technology consultant Marcel Brown was in Celuch's office when Celuch handed Brown the cassette. Brown, who is the founder of Marcel Brown Technology Services in Edwardsville, accepted the souvenir but didn't get around to listening to it until last year, when Brown finally found some time and a cassette player. Brown was amazed at what he heard.

"The speech Steve Jobs gave was so forward thinking that looking back on it now, he seems to predict several things that were years into the future, as far as technology goes," Brown said. "He established his goals for a long time to create something like the iPad. To be talking about it in 1983 and for it to come to fruition in 2010, it's just a tangible piece of history."

Brown decided to digitize the recording and posted it online on Oct. 2, 2012. Within the first two days, the clip received more than 100,000 hits.

Two days after posting the digital audio recording, Brown wrote a blog about the unaccounted time capsule that his friend Celuch told him about and helped bury 29 years before in Colorado.

Celuch recalled that during the 1983 conference, organizers solicited artifacts to seal in the giant PVC pipe time capsule. Celuch asked Jobs if he wanted to put something inside it. Celuch said Jobs thought about it for a moment, then went over to his Lisa computer, disconnected the computer mouse, carried it by the cord and handed it to Celuch.

The Lisa computer was the precursor to the Macintosh. Lisa didn't have the commercial success that the "Mac" did, but Lisa was the first mainstream computer with a graphic interface and the first mainstream computer to come with a mouse.

The cache was buried and not to be unearthed until 2000. Seventeen years later, when that year came and went, and Celuch didn't hear anything about it, he decided to investigate. But he couldn't find anyone who could account for the missing capsule. By 2000, the International Design Conference that Celuch had regularly attended had been discontinued and a concert hall had been built on the site near the area where the time capsule had been buried.

After the Jobs speech was published online, Celuch received phone call from the National Geographic Channel. The cable television station was interested in finding the buried time tube and wanted to film an excavation for its program "Diggers." The time capsule episode is expected to air early next year.

After talking and gathering information from Celuch and the others involved, the cable TV show crew used sonar equipment to help pinpoint the spot where they believed the time capsule was.

Both Celuch and Brown were invited to fly to Aspen last month to witness the dig. On Sept. 19, a crane began digging where TV producers thought they would find the lost capsule. But after almost two hours, the excavators found nothing, leaving the film crew with only footage of dirt.

"I think everyone was starting to feel depressed that it wasn't surfacing," Celuch said. "I didn't know anybody would think it would be easy to find. I had my doubts and I really dreaded the thought that all of these people made this effort to find it, then couldn't find it. But fortunately, that didn't happen."

Soon after the crew abandoned the first hole and started another one nearby, they finally hit pay dirt. Celuch was relieved that it was found. It took the diggers the rest of the afternoon to dig around and free the 13-foot pipe from the soil. A harness connected to a crane lifted the tube and out of the ground and then placed it onto a pair of sawhorses. It was about 5 p.m. when one of the two green end caps were cut off to open the tube.

But Celuch, Brown and other witnesses were asked to only peak inside because the film crew wanted to wait until the following day to tape the tube's opening because the setting sun by that time of the day did not provide ideal shooting conditions.

When they returned the next day, Sept. 20, with camera crews rolling, the contents were finally emptied from the tube. Reporters were there to chronicle the event, and the Aspen Historical Society was also on hand to collect and catalog all of the contents inside the time capsule.

"It took time to go through the items that were in there," Brown said. "There were so many items and so much stuff that no one expected to see that much stuff."

Inside was the six-pack of Ballantine Ale, two Rubik's Cubes and two telephones -- one rotary-dial and one push-button model. There were magazines, books, a Sears catalog, a laser disc and T-shirts that Celuch designed and some business cards that he had used in his company three decades ago.

But as items were being emptied out, Celuch and Brown were still waiting to see the Lisa computer mouse that Jobs had handed Celuch 30 years before.

"The Steve Jobs mouse was the big thing," Brown said. "The big-ticket item was to find that mouse. As we were digging it out, there was a little apprehension. Will we find that mouse? John remembers putting that in there. They was a little nervousness in finding the mouse. That was the thing we were after."

The computer mouse eventually turned up, in pristine condition.

"Once we found it, it was the culmination, I guess, of years of an interesting story basically being brought to light 30 years later," Brown said.

"The fact that Steve Jobs used it and he was there, and John got the mouse directly from him and it is to tied Steve Jobs, makes it more interesting and visible," Brown said. "I guess it's like touching history."

"It's been fun to watch how this story unfolded and how excited people can get about it," Celuch said. "I have had phone calls and run into a lot of people, and everyone wants to hear that story. I've told it over and over and over, again. I don't know how many times I'll have to tell it. Everybody loves a good story. This certainly was a good story."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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