Mudder plucker! Downtown time capsule waterlogged

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SHE’S SO HEAVY: It took three guys to move this cornerstone.
OH, BOY: Dozens of people gathered to see the contents of the capsule, which was buried in 1950.
A REEL MESS: The capsule’s microfilm and newspapers containing information about the building’s construction were destroyed by mud and water.
BUSTED: A broken rubber seal destroyed the microfilm inside this glass container, according to archivist Toya Dubin.

A throng of onlookers who gathered to watch transit officials open a time capsule Downtown on Wednesday were disappointed when the capsule turned out to contain a pile of mud.

The items inside the 64-year-old concrete capsule, buried in the cornerstone of the former New York City Transit headquarters building on Jay Street, included a glass box of microfilm and some newspapers, but all of it was destroyed by a break in the seal that allowed mud and water to pour in. Just a lone nickel survived. A Transit Museum spokesman tried to look on the bright side, as is his job.

“It is obviously disappointing, but it is an interesting discovery in and of itself and it offers a lesson on how difficult it is to make an effective time capsule,” said Eli Rumpf.

Officials including New York City Transit president Carmen Bianco, Transit Museum director Gabrielle Shubert, and New York University honcho Alicia Hurley gathered in the drizzle for the unveiling.

First, a team of workmen raised the cornerstone with a chain and pulley and pulled out the small, concrete-encased square hidden underneath. Then, they spent several minutes delicately chiseling away at the sides of the concrete box as the crowd of about 100 jockeyed for a good look at the old-timey splendor catching light for the first time in decades.

After about 10 minutes, the laborers finagled the top off the box to reveal the soggy mess inside.

City officials placed the time capsule under 370 Jay St. in 1950, when the building was under construction. The 14-story structure between Willoughby and Johnson streets served as the transit agency’s headquarters from 1951 until 1990. The agency continued to maintain operations in the facility, including its cash-handling, until 2006, but it has sat mostly empty since then. The building is now being taken over by New York University, though it won’t make way for the futuristic complex the school said it would build on the spot when it first announced expanding there in 2012.

Blueprints said that the time capsule contained microfilm that held details about the original construction of the building.

But now the architects will have to go without that information, since professionals on hand declared the microfilm too far gone to save.

Bianco laughed it off when he was asked if he was disappointed.

“I did not know what to expect,” he said. “But this is very exciting, isn’t it?”

One bystander was a good sport, even though all of her careful positioning was for naught.

“All I saw was dirt and mud,” said Marge Brown, who works nearby and decided to come to the unveiling. “It is a letdown, but it was fun to come watch.”

Other passersby were amused by all the excitement.

“What were they expecting to be in there? Jay Z? Or maybe the pope?” Aubrey Oliphant asked.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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