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The Time Capsule Effect: Pristine Abandonment and the Ideal Ruin

Stepping into the 1960s shoe store "time capsule" (image from tadaw).

Stepping into the 1960s shoe store “time capsule” (image from tadaw).

Sometime in the late-1960s the proprietors of a modest shoe store closed its doors, leaving the stock neatly stacked along its walls.  It remained there apparently untouched until a year ago, when a descendant opened the doors to find a mountain of shoe boxes and footwear and a typical small business seemingly as it had been left the day it was shuttered.  Shoe collectors’ hearts leapt at the prospect of the magical specter of “old store stock” in its original packaging transformed to the status of “vintage.”  The implied riches of the assemblage on ebay have captured much of the popular curiosity with the little store, but the more fascinating story is the “time capsule” effect of the assemblage and similar “pristine” abandonment spaces, not simply the allure of a pair of vintage wingtips.

Shoe boxes line the walls of the preserved shoe store (image tadaw).

Shoe boxes line the walls of the preserved shoe store (image tadaw).

Ruins are material and aesthetic vehicles for the imagination, sometimes simply for a “lost time” and in other hands as moral statements about the collapse of cities, industry, or communities.  The undisturbed shoe store is an example of perhaps the most compelling of all abandoned sites: the “time capsule” left as it “really was” in an un-staged moment arresting the flow of a distant material life.  The archetype for the time capsule site is Pripyat, the nuclear city rapidly abandoned in April, 1986 after the Chernobyl disaster.  Tours now venture to Pripyat to walk amidst the detritus of everyday life and the specter of disaster apparently arrested in time. Read the rest of this entry