Have you ever wondered what happened to the time capsule from the Archdiocese of Hartford’s 175th Anniversary celebration?
You may recall that at the 175th Anniversary Mass on Nov. 28, 2018, Catholic parishes, schools, and other organizations were asked to bring packets of memorabilia to be buried the following year in a time capsule on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. Joseph, for reopening sometime in the distant future.
The precious items are now organized and safely tucked away, but not underground as you might expect. Instead, they are housed in the Archdiocesan Archives, in a floor-to-ceiling vintage, industrial steel file cabinet that is a piece of history itself.
Participation from the parishes was so great that Archdiocesan Archivist Bridgette Woodall and her then-assistant, Nicole Besseghir, realized they had 12 linear feet of material. That’s because 104 parishes, seven high schools and four affiliated organizations all contributed items to the time capsule.
“Nicole and I were looking at it and said, ‘Well, we can’t bury that,’” Woodall recalls with a laugh. While they pondered this dilemma, Besseghir began sorting and creating a preliminary inventory.
In the years that followed, ongoing construction on the Cathedral grounds made it a less-than-ideal location to safely bury a time capsule.
“That’s when I decided on using this cabinet here,” Woodall says. “It’s an iconic piece that has been associated with the Archives in old photos. Priests told me they remember seeing it in the Old Chancery building. This was the only piece of furniture that was kept.”
Because the metal cabinet with brass handles includes drawers sized for legal documents, Woodall speculates it was once used by the Metropolitan Tribunal. Manufactured by Art Metal Construction Company in Jamestown, N.Y., the cabinet is circa 1905 to 1940.
“So it just made sense to me,” Woodall says of housing the collection in the cabinet.
Woodall also created a “finding aid,” a 16-page document that summarizes the provenance of the collection, listing its many creators – the parishes, schools and other organizations – by name. “It’s a way we can ensure people know the time capsule exists and we don’t forget about it,” she says.
To further prevent that from happening, Woodall also created digital files for future archivists and posted laminated signs on the side of the cabinet that read, “Do not open until … 250th Archdiocesan Anniversary November 2093 or 300th Archdiocesan Anniversary November 2143.”
“I chose the 250th anniversary because it was a nice round number and is worth celebrating, and the 300th as an alternative,” Woodall says. “I wanted to give the collection enough time to mature, so when people look back, many of the items will no longer be made.”
The collection now occupies 54 drawers of the cabinet. Though metal is not the usual storage material for archives, she notes, at least the items will not be exposed to the outdoor elements. The collection is accompanied by the 2019 Official Catholic Directory and archdiocesan history books “to put everything into perspective.”
“We’re going to take our chances and see what survives,” Woodall says. “It’s waiting to share its story with a future generation of the faithful.”
What’s in those packets? Anniversary books, newsletters, calendars, parish bulletins, photographs, digital media, Christmas ornaments, a wooden antique ambulance, prayer cards and other ephemera.
However, not all the parish packets were opened. “So it will be kind of a surprise,” Woodall says. “This is supposed to be mysterious and fun,” she notes, especially for those who open the time capsule – no sooner than 2093.
Until then the collection, known as “COLL.0032,” is labeled: “Closed. Non-circulating.”
Story by Shelley Wolf
Photos by Aaron Joseph