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Time Capsule to be Buried at FDR Four Freedoms Park

By Amy Zimmer | April 11, 2012 10:35am
A rendering of Franklin Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park.
A rendering of Franklin Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park.
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Franklin Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park

MANHATTAN — An archival copy of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's legendary "Four Freedoms" State of the Union Address is among more than 50 items being placed in a time capsule to be buried Thursday at the four-acre park rising on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island.

Named for the Jan. 6, 1941 speech in which FDR advocated four "essential" freedoms as the basis for people "everywhere in the world" to aspire to, the park has been 40 years in the making.

Norman Rockwell's posters depicting the four freedoms — freedom of speech and of worship, freedom from want and from fear — will also be in the 60-pound stainless steel capsule, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the charter and flag for the United Nations, the international body that FDR helped found, which sits across the East River from the park.

"We want young people to understand how the 'four freedoms' not only shaped the country but shaped the world," said William vanden Heuvel, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and founder of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, who revived the effort to build the park in 2004.

Plans for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park were originally announced in 1973 when then Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Mayor John Lindsay renamed the 147-acre Wards Island for the nation's 32nd president.

Then, Rockefeller left New York for the vice-presidency, the park's renowned architect Louis Kahn died of a heart attack in a Penn Station men’s room and the city's fiscal crisis made the project impossible.

It languished until vanden Heuvel picked up the mantle, attracting private donors to foot nearly 70 percent of the $50 million cost of the park.

It will also include a digital educational component, accessible on any mobile device, documenting the history of the Roosevelt era, such as the social economic reforms of the New Deal — like Social Security, minimum wage and investment banking regulations — created in response to the Great Depression in 1933, he noted.

"I’m very happy to see after this many years of effort, we expect to finish construction of the park in September and have it dedicated in October," vanden Heuvel said. "It’s been a remarkable journey."

The park — which will be the only monument dedicated to Roosevelt in his home state and the only work by the Kahn in New York City — will have a 1933 bronze bust of FDR standing in a granite open plaza engraved with the Four Freedoms.

The capsule will be buried nearby with photographs of FDR and of Kahn, copies of the architect's drawings, construction-related documents and the legislation introduced by then City Councilman Carter Burden to rename the island for Roosevelt along with a "memorial expected to be completed by the summer of 1974."

(That wasn’t the only thing that didn’t go according to plan. A letter from Lindsay about signing the legislation said, Roosevelt Island was being developed into a new town with a "complete ban on private cars.”)

The objects have gone through a process of “atmosphere replacement and chemical deacidification” in order to preserve them, park officials explained.

"Nobody knows when the capsule will be opened," vanden Heuvel said, suggesting maybe it would be dug up on the park's 100th anniversary.

“Generally, time capsules are opened when buildings are torn down. I don’t think this will ever be torn down," he said. “I think it will be like the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of freedom in the east harbor.”