Long-buried Jay Street time capsule unveils water-damaged contents
More than 40 members of the media and dozens of onlookers surrounded MTA officials outside of 370 Jay Street on Wednesday morning as workers dug up and unveiled a time capsule buried beneath the ground in 1950.
“I’m really honored that I’m here and I’m as curious as anyone to see what history has left for us,” said NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco.
“It’s kind of amazing to me; it’s like time travel, to look back at an era, at the players involved and their thoughts to what they felt was important when they ceremoniously buried this container for us to discover years later,” New York Transit Museum Director Gabrielle Shubert said just before the unveiling.
But much like Geraldo Rivera’s infamous unsealing of Al Capone’s vault in 1986, not much was revealed.
When the lead box was opened it exposed mostly rust-colored mud, a damaged newspaper (likely a Brooklyn Eagle, according to officials), a glass box containing destroyed microfilm and a nickel, which reflected the subway fare in those days.
“Of course, of course,” Bianco said when asked if he was disappointed. “I was hoping to inspect the microfilm, but it looks unsalvageable, and I was really hoping for some gold bars.”
“These were subway guys, so I’m not sure why they didn’t realize that anything you put underground is going to get water in it,” Shubert said.
Officials joked that if they plant another time capsule underneath the ground, they will be sure to seal it completely.
Conservator Toya Dubin from Hudson Microimaging determined that the microfilm and newspaper were likely unsalvageable, although she said that the date of the newspaper could probably be uncovered. She added that the unearthed items will be of almost no use except as a possible display at the MTA Transit Museum.
The capsule was initially placed beneath 370 Jay Street under a slab of cement with the date — 1950 — written across it. The building, which at the time was highly acclaimed for its construction, has recently been sold to New York University — which is why officials decided this was the perfect time to dig it up.
The building served as the headquarters of the MTA’s bus and subway division for almost 50 years, and also housed the former Transit Police Department. It was famous for being the final stop of the now-defunct money train that brought revenue from stations across the city to its vaults inside.
Today, NYU plans to make the building its new Center for Urban Science and Progress. It will restore the building’s facade rather than replace it. It will also install new solar-powered windows, according to one NYU official on hand.
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