Saturday, March 14, 2020

What's in the box? Opening the County Home Time Capsules

Time capsules have been a popular way of commemorating and documenting occasions like anniversaries, business openings, significant calendar years, and completed construction. Creating a time capsule is a way to engage the community, reflect on the occasion or current moment, and communicate with future generations. Setting a time capsule can be a celebratory event, but unsealing one is often a delicate process. It's often difficult to know what kind of deterioration has happened to the materials inside. Unfortunately, capsules are often lost or damaged. Sometimes, we get lucky and everything goes well, the contents are undamaged, and the capsule completes its purpose.

A few weeks ago, County Historian Bill Buell arrived at the Grems-Doolittle Library with two copper boxes. They had been found in a closet in the County Office building and nobody was sure where they came from. We decided to open them up and take a look.
What's in the box? This sealed copper box was found in a closet without any accompanying documentation.

One of the boxes was unsealed, so we lifted the lid and discovered a cache of newspapers, documents, and books. There was also a milk bottle cap. One of the documents revealed the box's purpose: commemorating the completed construction of the Schenectady County Home in 1934.
Program in Connection with Laying of the Cornerstone of the Schenectady County Home, July 14, 1934.

The Schenectady County Home is now called the Glendale Home. We decided that the time capsule was likely unearthed during the 2015 demolition of the Glendale Home facilities. We speculated that other box was a time capsule from a later addition to the County Home, but the box was sealed and we couldn't confirm until we opened it.
John, our facilities manager and blacksmith, checked the capsule for weaknesses and determined the best approach for opening it without harming the contents.

The capsule was sealed by folding a lip over the edge of the lid and reinforcing it with adhesive. John pried up the edge of the lip and forced a weak spot.

We're in! Once the lip was breached, John could grab the lid and prise it up.

Copper is a soft metal, so we could roll the top back like a sardine can lid. Time capsules usually are designed to be carefully destroyed when opened. If they were easier to open, they would be less effective in preserving their contents.

The first item emerges! The contents of this capsule are in good condition which shows how well the capsule did its job.

Like the previous capsule, this one contained newspapers, documents, and books. It did not contain a program explaining the occasion, but one of the documents was a speech titled "Remarks by Harold F. Lews, Chairman, Board of Supervisors. Dedication of Infirmary Building - October 30, 1960." One of the newspapers contained an article describing the addition of the Infirmary to the County Home.
Time capsules often include newspapers from the day the capsule is interred.
The 1960 time capsule included 31 cents and a Certs mint. Coins are often included in time capsules. We decided not to eat the mint, though it seemed to be in excellent condition.

For more information on the history of the County Home, check out the following sources:

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