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Time Capsule Discovered at Green-Wood Cemetery Crematorium

By Leslie Albrecht | January 23, 2013 8:42am

GREENWOOD HEIGHTS — Green-Wood Cemetery is the final resting place for legions of famed New Yorkers, but six decades ago, cemetery workers decided to bury something else: a time capsule.

A construction worker recently discovered the time capsule stashed inside a wall of the cemetery's crematorium, which is being renovated.

The blast from the past consisted of a metal box bearing the inscription, "Green-Wood 1838-1954." The historic 478-acre cemetery was founded in 1838, and 1954 was the year the cornerstone was laid at the crematorium and the time capsule was buried, according to cemetery historian Jeff Richman.

While Green-Wood staffers have long been experts at burying people for all eternity, they were apparently less skilled in 1954 when it came to preserving precious historic objects.

The time capsule contained half a dozen 19th century books about Green-Wood wrapped in plastic. They were ravaged by water, insects and mold. "[They] were a mess: they apparently had been soaking in water for years, turning the paper into pulp and melding all of the pages together," Richman wrote in a blog post about the discovery.

Green-Wood brought in Brooklyn College Professor Anthony Cucchiara, an expert on water-soaked tomes, who advised staff to freeze the books to stop them from deteriorating any further. Cucchiara examined the volumes the next day and discovered that they were beyond repair.

The books inside the time capsule included a copy of  "A Handbook For Green-Wood," published in 1867 by the cemetery's first historian, Nehemiah Cleaveland, as well as an 1847 volume by Cleaveland called "Green-Wood Illustrated" that had a gold leaf illustration on its cover of the archway at the cemetery's main entrance.

Luckily, the cemetery has copies of all the books in the time capsule in its library, Richman said. He said he'll keep the metal box as a reminder of Green-Wood's long ago employees.

The cemetery had a tough year in 2012, suffering significant damage from both vandals and Hurricane Sandy. But Green-Wood got some good news recently when it received a $500,000 grant to create a visitors center in a former greenhouse on 25th Street and Fifth Avenue, South Slope News reported.