Yorktown’s 1977 Bicentennial Time Capsule Ceremony

Taylor and Warner at Bicentennial Ceremony

I grew up in an area of York County known as Dandy. It’s located just a few miles from historic Yorktown and its Revolutionary War battlefield and historic museums. My family spent a lot of time in Yorktown when I was young, and one of my earliest memories of Yorktown proper is the April 1977 burial of a time capsule on the grounds of the Yorktown Victory Center in celebration of the American Revolution Bicentennial.

1097103_10151597728728129_1204954903_oThe event took place on Friday, April 15th and was presided over by then-Governor Mills Godwin. Notably in attendance were then-Senator John Warner and his wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor. During the procession, the bullet-shaped time capsule was filled with a variety of items, including a letter written by Godwin to a future governor, a Bicentennial pen worn by Warner in his travels across the country during the Bicentennial year 1976, and a red bandana donated by Taylor used in her film Giant (filmed, in-part, in Virginia).

Yorktown resident and owner of the famous and now-defunct Nick’s Seafood Pavillion, Mary Matthews, placed a religious icon of the infant Christ in the capsule. (Matthews and her husband, Nick, donated the land upon which the Victory Center was built.)


Other items that went in the capsule include local telephone books and various gold and silver United States currency — all to be opened in April 2075 as preparations for the Tricentennial get under way.

There’s scant information about the event on today’s Internet. The reports I was able to find are a scan of The Free Lance-Star dated April 16, 1977, a scan of The Danville Register from the same date (shown, in part, above), an earlier pre-write from The Yorktowner dated January 6, 1977, and a document entitled Report of the Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission 1966 – 1982 [PDF], giving an overall rundown of the celebratory events across several years.

The two photos included in this post were taken by me personally, at age 5, being held up by my father. The photos were taken with Kodak 126 film and recently scanned on a home HP scanner.

I’d love to hear accounts from anyone else that was in attendance on that spring day back in 1977.


  1. I remember being at the opening of the Victory Center and the time capsule ceremony. I was wearing a blue flowered colonial dress my mother had made just for the occasion. It was a huge event. My pictures of it are filed away somewhere on slides. I also remember the Bicentennial celebration a few years later in 1981. I was part of the Seaford Elementary Colonial Dancers, and even though I was in 7th grade at the time, Mrs. Barnes had our group come back to perform. President Reagan attended part of the festivities and I remember they had to build a bulletproof viewing stand for him. The Secret Service was everywhere. Yorktown Day is much smaller now. The schools are no longer closed so students can attend. I went by myself (my kids were in school), and it was primarily a senior citizens event. The parade is very small now. There were no floats, just a few school marching bands & ROTC units, the DAR, Fife & Drum, French exchange students, and a few veterans groups. I, too, miss the “good old days” of growing up in York County. I noticed Shannon was in one of your childhood pictures. She was one of my brother’s first girlfriends. My how things have changed.

    • blake

      November 4, 2015 at 7:21 pm

      Lovely! I, too, attended the seemingly massive event that was the 1981 Bicentennial celebration. I recall there was an Air Force F-15 sitting on the battlefield. I, too, remember Reagan speaking there and, if I’m not mistaken, also in Williamsburg at the time.

      I don’t seem to have any photos at all of the Bicentennial celebration, sadly. I have lots of visuals in my mind that I can recall back when I was nine years old (my daughter’s age now). It was a very pleasant thing to attend.

      Indeed, Shannon was my first girlfriend. We lived on the same lane in Dandy. I still keep up with her today on FB. And changed, indeed. 🙂

      Thank you for commenting.

    • I was also in the Seaford Elementary Colonial Dancers. I was 8 years old in 1981 and I remember dancing in the ceremony and seeing Reagan and Mitterrand speak. So glad to stumble across this site! What fun memories!

  2. Kathleen Manley

    June 15, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    For your fondest memories I wrote a book published by History Press, now a division of Arcadia Publishing entitled, The History of Yorktown and Its Victory Celebrations. I devoted an entire chapter to 1981 Bicentennial. You can find it on Arcadia’s web site as it is available in limited copies.
    But, does anyone remember the Grafton Inn at Harwood Mills?

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  4. I remember this day! I performed with the fife & drum corps. I also managed to snap a photo or two with my Kodak Instamatic.

    The one that stands out is of a British dignitary of some sort (consulate? ambassador, perhaps?). I just thought it was neat that I was standing in front of an international figure of some importance (we didn’t get a lot of those in Yorktown back then).

    No idea where that picture or any others might be, though I suspect they have survived in a box on a shelf somewhere. If I come across them, I’ll be sure to share.

  5. Teresa McPherson

    January 12, 2021 at 11:51 am

    I was there for the 1981 celebration working at my step mothers and Dad’s restaurant “The Lookout” which was similar to a Dairy Queen they owned in Hampton!

  6. I was at the event and am so grateful to you for writing this post. I also wonder what happened to that time capsule, as my father, Robert Graves, was the Yorktown reporter for The Daily Press and many of his articles about Yorktown during the bicentennial were included in that capsule. My parents encouraged me to remember the capsule so I could tell my children to come back in 2076 when it was supposed to be opened. I recall the capsule was placed in the outer wall to the right of the entrance. I took my young son there 20 years ago and saw that a renovation had altered the entrance. I asked the staff if they knew anything about the capsule, but they did not. I couldn’t find the plaque.
    BTW, after the ceremony, Senator Warner and Elizabeth Taylor joined other VIPs for dinner at Nick’s Seafood. I was 12 and very excited to join my dad as he covered took pictures and interviewed the dinner attendees. I’ll never forget it!

  7. I worked at a hotdog, popcorn and cotton candy stand that entire celebration. There was a child on a bike that flipped over the hood of a car infront of me at the bottomof the hill going towardsthe monument. He was severely injured. I have tried through the years to find out what happened to him. I was the first at the screen and called for help. I always wondered what happened to him, still all these years later. I cannot find anything about it in old newspaper articles or archives. Do you or your followers know of this incident? Thank you.

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