HUMBOLDT PARK — Eric Nordstrom has discovered two time capsules in the past two months, each dating back more than 100 years.
Both times he has been left with a feeling of guilt and an internal struggle.
Should he really be the person to find these pieces of time, let alone the one to open them?
"I feel like I don’t have the right to open this capsule," Nordstrom said. "I struggled with that with the first one and I struggled with that with this one.”
Nordstrom, though, is an urban archeologist and founder of Urban Remains, a West Town firm that recycles and re-sells objects from old buildings. Over the course of the past 10 or so years, he's found a dozen capsules.
The latest box was discovered in a slab of limestone in the wall of what was once St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Humboldt Park.
Paul Biasco on what is often found in time capsules.
The remains of the time capsule discovered by Eric Nordstrom in a Humboldt Park church. [All photos by Eric Nordstrom]
Inside the box was the Oct. 26, 1889 Saturday evening issue of the Chicago Daily News. The top stories of the day included details of professional safe blowers who "tapped the gopher" of a steel vault at 42nd and Halsted streets, stealing everything from the vault.
"The massive chilled-steel door hung on one hinge like a hoosier farmer's gate. Bits of the combination and steel filings were scattered about thin a radius of ten feet..." the story read.
Another story focuses on a lawsuit by The Chicago Towing company against the city over $300 paid for tug boat licenses in the river.
The gray building where the safe was found at 2733 W. Hirsch St. barely resembled a church as of late. St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church was built in 1889 for $5,000, according to records obtained by Nordstrom.
Nordstrom, 38, was on hand Friday as construction crews tore down the structure. A six-unit building will be built in its place.
Nordstrom sensed there was a good chance there would be a time capsule in the former church due to his decade of experience at demolition sites and told the wrecking crew to be careful with an arch over the entryway.
There were two limestones flanking the entrance — he knew it was one or the other.
The copper box was in a carved out portion of the limestone and contained a Norwegian-language newspaper called the "Skandinaven" with an announcement of the construction of the church circled in blue pencil.
It also included an issue of The Daily Inter Ocean from Oct. 26, 1889, a copy of "The Workman," a publication from Pittsburgh, a copy of The Morning News from Oct. 26, 1889, The Lutheran Observer and a copy of the Svendska Tribune.
There was also a handwritten letter, but it disintegrated after being taken from the box.
"That gets to me the most. They crumble in your hands," Nordstrom said. "There’s absolutely no way [to save them], at least thus far with these and others. The survivability is just not there. Whatever message they wanted to convey to whoever was to discover the box is lost. To me that’s really disheartening to not have the ability to hear their voice."
The other box Nordstrom found was in March at a former church on Adams near the United Center. It contained four bibles in various versions.
Nordstrom said he has gained the trust of wrecking crews over the past 10 years of doing salvage work and is often tipped off to upcoming teardowns that would be of a significance to him.
In recent years the Downtown resident has focused much more heavily on documenting the buildings and their history both before and after it's demolished through photos and on his blog, urbanremainschicago.com.
"I always like to say I'm documenting the death of a building," he said.
Nordstrom is saddened that no one connected to any organization or church where he has found a capsule has contacted him about seeing it.
"I’m just waiting for one phone call or one email that says, 'This is incredibly cool. I'm connected to that narrative. I’m connected to that time capsule,' " Nordstrom said. "Nothing like that has happened.”
If it does, Nordstrom says he will gladly give the remains to an individual with a connection.
In the meantime, the remains will be in his museum and documented on his website.
"I live and breathe this and I can always make it accessible to anyone doing research or I may use it in an exhibit down the line if I find there are more capsules," Nordstrom said.
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