Sunday, August 30, 2009

Location of Rutherford time capsule still unknown

FROM THE LEADER NEWSPAPER - Click to view the article on The Leader website

By Susan C. Moeller / Senior Reporter

RUTHERFORD — On Nov. 25, 1920, World War I had been over for approximately two years, Warren Harding had just won a landslide election to the presidency and a decade known for its opulence and decadence was under way.

In Rutherford, the borough council was ready to commemorate those who served in “the war to end all wars” — an unfortunate slogan that proved resoundingly false. A monument designed by local architect Edgar I. Williams had been dedicated six months earlier.

At a special meeting the morning of the 25th, the mayor and council assembled a box of records that had been gathered ahead of time. The clerk sealed the box and the council proceeded to the newly constructed WWI monument at the intersection of Park and Passaic avenues, according to borough historian Rodney Leith. The box, which Leith assumes was made of metal, was placed somewhere near the base of the monument.

Unfortunately, there’s no remaining record of the box’s location — no infamous “x” to mark the spot. And, 89 years later, the time capsule is still concealed, still hiding.

An attempt was made Friday, Aug. 14 to find the box. Preservationists working to restore the monument checked one logical hiding place — behind a bronze plaque at the base of the monument, but instead of an open vault, they found only a blank stretch of the concrete-like mix from which the monument was constructed.

Local historian William Neumann, who helped to secure funds for restoration of the monument, had suspected that the box might be behind the plaque ever since he noticed that the plaque did not seem to be tightly secured.

A shadow of doubt still remains in his mind. There are no visible edges to the concrete behind the plaque. But, it does sound a little hollow, Neumann said.

The time capsule is not a treasure chest by any stretch of the imagination. But, the records inside have historic and possibly sentimental value.

According to a resolution adopted by the borough council on the day the box was hidden, it holds records including information from the citizen committee, which raised money for the monument, a list of Rutherfordians who served in the war, a record of activity of the local chapter of the American Red Cross and a report from the “Friday Knitting Group.”

Finding the box would allow for any of the documents inside to be copied or repaired. But, Neumann and Leith aren’t sure yet if more extensive efforts to find the capsule will be made.

Neumann is in favor of leaving the box where it is, hidden. No specific direction was given as to when the box should be opened, he pointed out. And, if the concrete behind the plaque is concealing something, it may be an intentional part of the design. “If there is something behind it,” Neumann said, “Maybe that’s what they wanted to do, was for it to stay there.”

Time capsules, which are sometimes stowed in the cornerstones of public buildings, could be considered the final statements of a structure, intended to be found when all else has crumbled, Neumann suggested.

But, the WWI monument isn’t at its end yet. “We are in the middle of the life of this monument.”

The lost box of records in the WWI monument is probably not the only time capsule that will have to wait for someone to stumble upon it.

“There are probably dozens of them stuck around town,” Neumann said. “Many times the information on where they are gets lost.” It’s the number one problem with time capsules, he added.

As for the box in the WWI monument, “I’ll leave it to eternity to figure that one out,” Neumann said.

“We have no idea where it is at this stage,” Leith said.

The borough will celebrate the 125th anniversary of Edgar I. Williams in October. A rededication of the WWI monument is scheduled for Oct. 2. The event will be an opportunity to honor the designer of the monument and the service people it was built to memorialize, Leith said. There are plans in the works to place a second time capsule in the monument.

Maybe this time, directions on how and when to find it will survive.

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