Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Oct. 21, 2020

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Columbian photographer’s cameras in Space Needle time capsule

Cameras, personal effects of Reid Blackburn, who was killed in Mount St. Helens eruption, will be preserved and opened for Space Needle’s centennial

By , Columbian Features editor
Published:
8 Photos
Fay Blackburn has kept cameras that her late husband, Columbian photographer Reid Blackburn, had with him when he died in the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens. Blackburn donated two similar cameras to a time capsule project at the Seattle Space Needle.
Fay Blackburn has kept cameras that her late husband, Columbian photographer Reid Blackburn, had with him when he died in the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens. Blackburn donated two similar cameras to a time capsule project at the Seattle Space Needle. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A time capsule in the Seattle Space Needle to be opened in 2062 will include two cameras that were with Columbian photographer Reid Blackburn when he died in the May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens eruption.

Blackburn’s widow, Fay, donated the cameras, which were among items in the trunk of his Volvo that day.

Reid Blackburn was one of 57 people to die in the eruption. He was about 8 miles northwest of the volcano running a pair of remote-controlled cameras as part of a collaboration involving The Columbian, National Geographic and the U.S. Geological Survey.

At 8:32 a.m., the mountain’s top collapsed in the largest landslide in recorded history. It uncorked a blast that flattened 150 square miles of forest on the mountain’s northwest side.

Reid Blackburn, who was 27, had only enough time to get into his car before he was caught in a superheated cloud of ash, pumice and gas. His body was recovered four days later.

“He was so intelligent and witty, with a dry sense of humor. He left a really big hole in the lives of everyone he knew,” said Fay Blackburn, now 65. “All of us were cheated of what he could have brought to the world.”

She met him when both worked at The Columbian in the 1970s. She continued to work at The Columbian until 2016, when she retired from her job as editorial page assistant after 43 years in various roles at the newspaper.

Fay Blackburn said she’s not sure where she noticed that the Space Needle was running a contest to decide what to include in a time capsule, but she knew exactly what she would enter.

The time capsule, to be opened in 2062, is intended to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The Space Needle and monorail were constructed for that event.

Blackburn submitted a summary online of what she would like to include in the time capsule: two cameras, a dollar bill and some change that were with her late husband when he died.

She was thrilled when she received an email from Space Needle staff telling her that her mementos won a place in the time capsule. The excitement was short-lived, however.

“Did you look at the rules?” a friend asked her, proceeding to explain that submitted items need to fit into a 3-inch square box.

“I looked at her and said, ‘Oh, that could be a problem,’ ” Blackburn recalled.

She got in touch with the Space Needle staff, who thanked her for her honesty and told her that her submission wouldn’t be included after all. She said she felt deflated.

Then Space Needle officials reviewed her submission again, and got back in touch with her to tell her they would take the cameras anyway, without space limitations. She visited the Space Needle in August to deliver the items.

“They were lovely people. I felt like the queen on a royal visit,” Blackburn said.

The 163-pound canister for the time capsule is 42 inches high and made of stainless steel and gold-plated aluminum, according to the Space Needle’s website.

Among other items, the canister will include personal messages from Seattle-based band Pearl Jam, a Super Bowl prediction from Seattle Seahawks legend Walter Jones and one share of Amazon.com stock.

The capsule will be sealed Oct. 21 and bolted to the floor in public view, where it can’t be forgotten like a 1982 time capsule. That one was hidden inside a concealed steel beam on the tower’s observation level, and only discovered during recent renovations.

Fay Blackburn never had children with Reid nor remarried, but she has two grown children and two grandchildren. She has spent more than half her lifetime nurturing memories of her late husband.

“It’s a privilege to build up his legacy for as long as I’m alive,” she said. “Then in 2062, young people will open the capsule and see his legacy, too, including my grandchildren.”

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