October 10, 2014

Revealing the contents of century-old time capsules

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Contents of a 1914 time capsule were revealed at the New York Historical Society this week.

A 1914 time capsule was opened at the New York Historical Society this week.

At least three time capsules were opened in the United States this week— one in New York dating from 1914, another in Boston found in the “head of a lion statue” from 1901, and a third in Pennsylvania at the Carnegie Free Library that also reportedly dates back to 1901.

So what was inside? Here’s a rundown.

The time capsule in New York was sealed in 1914 in a chest with rope handles and “paw-shaped feet” and meant to be opened on May 22, 1974 to either celebrate the bicentennial  of a declaration by the Merchants Coffee House or the “tricentennial of the New Netherland Company Charter.” But sadly, everyone forgot about that by the time 1974 rolled around. It was rediscovered in the 1990s in a warehouse in Chelsea, and on Wednesday, members of the New York Historical Society opened the chest to reveal a directory of the New York Stock Exchange, a telegram addressed to the governor of New York, an edition of the New York Times, a 1914 almanac and encyclopedia, a book called History and Reminiscences of Lower Wall Street and Vincinity by Abram Wakeman, journals about teas and coffees, and various annual reports.

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Art handlers and members of the New York Historical Society open a time capsule dating from 1914.

In Boston, archivists opened a copper box dating from 1901 and discovered a red hardcover book. The contents of the time capsule were discovered in the head of a gold lion statue that is usually on top of the Old State House. The statue was taken down for maintenance last week. It’s unclear exactly what the red book is or what other materials were found inside the box — everything will be examined by experts over the next week and carefully preserved. The Bostonian Society’s archivist who opened the box said that the contents are too tightly packed into the box to be removed right away.

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Archivists in Boston wear white gloves and open the time capsule that was found sealed inside the head of a gold lion statue from 1901.

The 1901 time capsule at the Carnegie Free Library in Connellsville, Pennsylvania was sealed into the building’s cornerstone on July 21, 1901, about two years before the library opened. Library administrators were aware that the time capsule existed after doing some research about library history, but it wasn’t until “a large shrub was removed from the corner of the building, an out-of-place stone was uncovered and officials believed they had found the hiding place for the time capsule.” Tuesday, Board of Trustees member Gary Wandel used a “rotary cutting tool” to open the cylinder-shaped time capsule, sending sparks flying into the air in front of a packed auditorium. Items found inside included newspaper, town council minutes detailing the construction of the library, business cards, advertisements for a local hotel ($2 a night), an Indian head penny, and a 50-cent paper note that was “issued when metal was in short supply.”

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Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.

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