BY STEPHEN McGUIRE
We may not have the Pyramids or the Parthenon, but when future generations look for clues to what life was like in the past, they will be able to find the answers right here in Queens — the birthplace of the world’s first officially titled “time capsule” and a place where an upcoming exhibit is expected to take viewers on a trip through local history.
Out Of Time
When the builders of Flushing Town Hall placed a sealed lead box into the foundation of the structure, there was no way to know that they would be laying the literal cornerstone of a 21st century exhibit that would speak volumes about life in a bygone era when Queens was a young and growing community.
On April 25 the Flushing Council On the Arts And Culture will unveil the “1862 Town Hall Time Capsule” – an exhibition of over 100 objects and artifacts that tell the story of everyday life in Civil War-era Flushing.
“It’s history and it’s important to see the way things were,” said Lucy Davidson, the exhibit’s director.
The time capturing container was originally placed in the cornerstone on the southwest side of the Flushing Town Hall building when it was built in 1862, according to Davidson.
Inside were momentos of the day including – books, catalogues, maps, business cards, coins and newspapers.
The History Of Preserving History
On June 7, 1862, Flushing Town Hall held a dedication for the brand new building designed to be a meeting place for the people of the burgeoning community. Soon after the “time capsule” was sealed shut. The lead box and its contents remained in place in the building until the early 1970s — when the status of the building became uncertain.
According to Davidson, the Dept. of Real Estate of the Museum of the City of New York, realizing the historical importance of the time capsule, removed it from the Town Hall edifice in order to preserve it. Now, the artifacts have made their way back home since, in 1999, the capsule was reacquired by the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts and brought back to Flushing on a 99-year lease.
A Look At Old Flushing From The Future
According to Davidson, the sealed lead box that housed the artifacts featured in the upcoming Town Hall exhibit served as an excellent preservation container for the delicate items.
And what was inside was a goldmine for those wanting to explore Flushing’s past.
The items capture “a slice of time, meant to say something about the time,” said Davidson.
Among the artifacts are:
• A June 7th,1862 copy of the New York Times with a front page headline that reads “Rebel Army Retreat From Corinth.”
• A June 7, 1862 copy of the Flushing Journal with a front-page poem titled “An Invocation to Spring.”
• Business cards of local merchants including those of the local horse-shoer, butcher, furniture maker, undertaker, lumber yard, tailor, real estate broker and the Parsons Nusery – the birthplace of American horticulture.
• An 1860 copy of the book, “Flushing Past And Present” by G. Henry Mandeville.
• An 1861 copy of “The Patriotism of the Plow” by Richard C. McCormack.
• The rare coin collection of an 8 year-old Flushing boy.
All of the aforementioned items will be on display at Flushing Town Hall from April 25 through July 29.
Flushing Town Hall is located at 137-35 Northern Blvd. in Flushing.
Admission to the exhibit is free.
For more information, call 463-7700.
History From “The World Of Tommorrow”
Although the Town Hall time capsule was put in place almost 80 years before, the modern concept of a time capsule was not born until the 20th century in a place not far from the location of this month’s exhibit.
In 1939, the world was filled with uncertainty.
Nations struggled through the Great Depression and the planet was on the brink of the biggest war it would ever see.
But at what is now Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, there was beaming optimism about the future.
The greatest scientists of the time – Albert Einstein, Robert Millikan and Thomas Mann among them – came together to decide how to construct and what to put into a container designed to give a message “to the people of Earth 6939 A.D.”
The first vessel actually called a “time capsule” was buried 50 feet underground on Sept. 23, 1939 – the autumnal equinox— in a ceremony held as part of the New York World’s Fair.
Sponsored by the Westinghouse Company, the torpedo shaped time capsule contained objects representative of life at the time.
Inside the Cupaloy – a metallic blend of copper, silver and chromium – container were placed a woman’s hat, a baseball, a fountain pen, a camera, and a copy of the “Book of Record,” a virtual encyclopedia of the world.
The capsule was scheduled to be opened in 50 centuries.
Time and Again
From 1964 through 1965, a second World’s Fair was held at Flushing Meadows Corona Park and a second, updated time capsule was buried by the Westinghouse Company in 1965.
Ten feet away from the 1939 capsule, items were placed in the second capsule that illustrated the dramatic changes that took place.
Among the items were a Bikini, a Polaroid camera, an electronic watch, antibiotics, contact lenses, reels of microfilm, Beatles record, a irradiated seeds, a computer memory unit and birth-control pills.
Both time capsules remain buried in Flushing Meadows and a marked spot inside the park of the 1964 World’s Fair reveals the location.
Back To The Future
Plans are in the works for a third time capsule at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
The New York Hall of Science is organizing the placement of a time capsule with the theme “Preserving The Environment For The World Of Tomorrow,” according to Danielle Boone, a Hall of Science spokesperson.
The burial of this latest time capsule is scheduled to take place on Oct. 16, the anniversary of the burial of the 1965 World’s Fair capsule.
“We’re getting amazing stuff,” said David Oats, the historical chairman of the Hall of Science Time Capsule project.
As a part of the latest time capsule project, visitors to the Hall of Science are being asked to write their words of advice to people of the future.
“The beauty of the project is that you can say whatever you want,” said Oats, who explained that it is the “thought of immortality” that has been a big draw to the project.
Oats, who gave the dedication speech at the burial of the 1965 World’s Fair time capsule as a student, said that the project has been a great way to get kids to talk about the future and that juniors and seniors from high schools in Queens have been invited to participate in the project.
The latest time capsule is expected to remain underground for 100 years after its burial.
Capsule Of The Near Future
Organizers said it might be only a month before another time capsule will be buried in Queens – this one in Bayside.
Since late last year, members of the Preservation Alliance of Northeast Queens have been calling upon local students to contribute ideas for a time capsule burial in May.
“We sent out an early notice around November or December about the time capsule soliciting suggestions, said Tony Avella, president of the Preservation Alliance.
“We were kicking around some ideas last fall and we thought this would be a good way to highlight preservation issues and get school children focused on them,” he said.
The Preservation Alliance is scheduled to meet this week to review suggestions, gather materials and talk with students about the project.
According to Avella, the capsule will be buried sometime in May on the grounds of St. Mary’s Hospital For Children in Bayside.
“St. Mary’s liked the idea so we’re going to bury it on their property,” said Avella.
Once buried, the time capsule will be unearthed in 20 years, according to Avella.