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Federal Plaza Project in New York City Reveals 1968 Time Capsule

February 11, 2013

Removing Content from the Time Capsule

It was 1968. Television news brought the tensions of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement into living rooms across America. A Presidential election saw Richard Nixon defeat Hubert Humphrey, and the nation was rocked by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. 60 Minutes and One Life to Live debuted on television, while Hair broke new ground on Broadway. U.S. figure skater Peggy Fleming won gold at the Grenoble winter Olympics, and the summer games were held later the same year in Mexico City. Mr. Rogers welcomed us to his neighborhood, Rowan and Martin had us laughing, and Yale admitted its first female students.

In New York City, at a lower Manhattan federal building construction site, workers sealed and buried a small copper box behind the cornerstone at the structure's spacious plaza. This time-capsule would remain there, hidden for 44 years until rediscovered during the Lafayette Plaza Renovation Project.

When the project team removed the cornerstone of the federal building as part of the renovation, they were surprised to find the small, tightly sealed copper box. Realizing they had discovered a time-capsule buried more than 40 years earlier, Project Manager Ali Tabar said, "We felt like we had found a national treasure."

When it was opened the box revealed documents, pictures and newspapers from 1968, the year the building was completed. Included in the capsule were:

  • Black and white pictures of the construction of 26 Federal Plaza
  • Copies of newspaper articles that chronicled the construction of the building
  • A letter from the Regional Administrator commending the project team
  • An organizational listing of the GSA Public Buildings Service leasing division
  • The 12-page leasing contract for the space
  • Front pages of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and New York Daily News, each dated April 30, 1968.
A Photograph Inside the Time Capsule

In looking at the photos from the box, Tabar also commented, "The images included construction equipment on the project site. Comparing the construction equipment of 40 years ago to construction equipment used today, we can see how much progress we have made in developing newer and better technology."

GSA requested some help from the National Archives and Records Service for their expertise in preserving and repackaging the contents of the time capsule so that it could be reinstalled when the project neared completion. The team decided to bury a new time capsule with the older one. Consistent with the contents of the 1968 time capsule, the second provides insight into the life and times of GSA employees in 2012. It includes the following:

  1. Biographies and photos of Regional Administrator, Denise Pease, and PBS Regional Commissioner, Joanna Rosato
  2. Organizational chart of PBS Region 2, with pictures of the PBS Board of Directors
  3. Progress photos of the Lafayette Plaza renovation, rendering of the final plaza, and a tenant bulletin dated July 2012
  4. Sustainability scorecard for 26 Federal Plaza, article regarding NuEnergen and the U.S. General Services Administration Partnering to Save Taxpayer Dollars
  5. Pictures of the World Trade Center towers (dated 2001) and the new 1WTC, rendering of complete 1WTC, New York Times front page from 9/11/12, and a 9/11 commemorative coin
  6. GSA pins with the star logo and commemorating the 50 and 60 year anniversaries of GSA

It's 2012. Nightly television news brings the world economic situation and political unrest around the world into living rooms across America. A Presidential election saw incumbent Barack Obama defeat challenger Mitt Romney and win a second term in office. In the digital age, the Encyclopedia Britannica, after 244 years, discontinued its print edition. U.S. swimming phenom Michael Phelps became the most medaled Olympian in history at the London summer Olympics, and gymnast Gabby Douglas the first African American woman to win the individual all-around gold medal. Summer and winter games now alternate in two year cycles, and the next winter games will be held in 2014. A 2009 revival of Hair closed in September, 2011. Reality shows dominate television, and the student population at Yale is now half female.

In New York City, at a lower Manhattan federal building construction site, workers sealed and buried two small copper boxes beneath the stones of the structure's newly renovated plaza. The boxes will remain there, hidden until rediscovered perhaps during some future project.

Special thanks to PBS employees Rob Pajer, Kyle Brooks, and Ali Tabar and Patrick Connolly of the National Archives and Records Administration for ensuring the material from 1968 was handled appropriately and the 2012 material lasts for years to come.

Last Reviewed: 2022-01-28