A Special Time Capsule

Saturday night, August 11, 1979, 3,500 athletes gathered to bid farewell to the Fifth International Special Olympics. The torch was extinguished, and Gen. Robert M. Montague, executive director of the Special Olympics, officially declared it closed.

Athletes ringed the field eight deep, with one athlete and one chaperone representing each delegation forming a circle in the center of the stadium to witness the snuffing of the torch, which had burned since Thursday evening. The Special Olympians placed one item from each delegation into a time capsule, which will remain buried for 100 years.¹

We found our own time capsule at Special Olympics Massachusetts in the form of a photo album documenting our delegation at the games. It was discovered in a box tucked away in storage at our offices and when the dusty cover was opened we were amazed at the images of the event taken nearly 33 years ago by photographer Mel Irving of Caledonia, New York. 

The 5th International Special Olympics World Summer Games was held on the campus of The College at Brockport: State University of New York and featured celebrities such as Phil Donahue, Sally Struthers, Susan St. James, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Christopher Reeve, to sports figures like Muhammad Ali, Rafer Johnson, Hank Aaron and Bobby Orr. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, her husband Sargent Shriver and her brother Ted Kennedy spoke during the ceremonies.

Irving’s lens documents some of the celebrities and foreign delegates, but focuses for the most part on our Special Olympics Massachusetts delegation as they make their way from arrival, to the opening ceremonies and torch lighting, along with the dedication of Soviet artist Zurab Tsereteli’s sculptures—not to mention the games themselves.

In the album we find that our delegates traveled to the games by Amtrak, took part in aquatics, basketball, hockey, softball and track and took home their fair share of medals in the process.

Mel Irving was also a chaperone assistant and volunteer assigned to Special Olympics Massachusetts during the games and on the inside of the photo album he wrote: “Welcome to the 1979 International Summer Special Olympics. With great pleasure I /Mel Irving/ Present this album to Massachusetts.”

Wherever you are today… Thanks Mel.


¹Reporting by Mamaroneck Daily Times and Buffalo Courier Express on August 12, 1979 — by way of The College at Brockport: State University of New York Library 


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