Green-Wood time capsule yeilds soggy stash

Not so great discovery: A time capsule was discovered in the historic Green-Wood Cemetery and merely six 19th-century, water-damaged books detailing the graveyard’s history were found inside.
Courtesy of Green-Wood Cemetery

A time capsule was discovered in the historic Green-Wood Cemetery, but the contents were only slightly more interesting than what Al Capone’s vault revealed.

The time capsule, found stashed inside a wall of the cemetery’s crematorium by a construction worker last week, revealed no astounding blast from the past, but only six waterlogged 19th-century books about the cemetery’s history — all of which were already a part of Green-Wood’s library.

The weather-beaten metal box with “Green-Wood Cemetery 1838-1954” etched on its lid was likely stowed inside the wall by Green-Wood officials in 1954, the year the crematory’s cornerstone was laid, said Jeff Richman, the official historian of the 175-year-old graveyard.

Cemetery brass long suspected there was a time capsule buried among the 487-acre graveyard’s 560,000 permanent residents, which range from abolitionist Horace Greeley and the infamous William “Boss” Tweed. A photo of the time capsule being placed was found nearly 20 years ago in the cemetery’s archives, according to Richman.

“It’s a great thing they felt the most important thing to put in these time capsules were histories of the cemetery,” said Richman, who admitted he was hoping to discover a more intriguing cache of artifacts.

“You open up a time capsule and you’re always hoping that there is something fascinating in there that you have never seen before, and that turned out not to be the case,” he said.

Green-Wood officials stuffed the tomes inside the rainproof box nearly six decades ago, but wrapped them in plastic, which caused condensation to collect inside the plastic wrap for years, ultimately destroying the books, said Richman.

Green-Wood officials called in retired Brooklyn College professor Anthony Cucchiara, an expert in the preservation of water-soaked artifacts, who advised cemetery staff to freeze the sodden books in order to halt further deterioration.

“They were unsalvageable,” said Richman, but “we have copies of them all in excellent condition,” he added.

The cache included a copy of “A Handbook for Green-Wood,” published in 1867 by the cemetery’s first historian, Nehemiah Cleaveland, and a copy of the 1847 publication “Green-Wood Illustrated,” by the same author.

The dilapidated books will be trashed, said Richman, but the metal box they were found in will have a spot in the archives.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at

Expert opinion: Retired Brooklyn College professor Anthony Cucchiara, an expert in waterlogged artifacts, advised Green-Wood officials to freeze the books to prevent the sopping-wet tomes from further deterioration.
Courtesy of Green-Wood Cemetery

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