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1920s time capsule found in Dudley at Ferdinand's

Micah Nemiroff | 7/2/2008, 5:48 a.m.
Wearing latex gloves, Mayor Thomas M. Menino (left) and state...
Wearing latex gloves, Mayor Thomas M. Menino (left) and state Rep. Byron Rushing carefully handle newspapers and other documents found inside a time capsule beneath the cornerstone of the Ferdinand’s Blue Store Addition. The capsule was buried by builders in 1922. courtesy of Boston Redevelopment Authority
   

The contents of an 86-year-old time capsule recently found at the Ferdinand’s Blue Store Addition in Dudley Square were unveiled last Wednesday, giving present day Bostonians a glimpse of Roxbury life in 1922.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino joined representatives from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), the Roxbury Historical Society and the city’s legislative delegation at the Dillaway Thomas House on Roxbury Street for a ceremony to reveal the items inside the capsule.

The small copper box was found when contractors working on the demolition of the Blue Store Addition site as part of the city’s redevelopment plan for Dudley Square removed the building’s cornerstone.

State Rep. Byron Rushing, who heads the Roxbury Historical Society, was excited by the find.

“It was great to know the contractor found it, saw it had some significance and decided to give it over to the BRA,” Rushing told the Banner.

Wearing latex gloves to avoid damaging the decades-old documents, Menino, Rushing, state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and City Councilor Charles C. Yancey leafed carefully through the capsule’s contents. The box included about a half-dozen documents that show Roxbury flourishing in the early 20th century, attesting to the site’s significance in years past.

The capsule included copies of the Boston Evening Transcript and the Boston Post, two of the city’s most popular daily publications at the time, old Ferdinand’s furniture advertisements, and a list of the store’s employees.

One of the articles preserved in the capsule reports that former Mayor James Michael Curley attended the dedication of the addition’s cornerstone in 1922 and congratulated Frank Ferdinand for being the kind of progressive businessman the city of Boston needed.

Whether Ferdinand’s views about race were as progressive as his business practices remains unclear. Rushing and other researchers plan to investigate the contents of the capsule, especially the employee list of the Ferdinand building. Rushing said he is particularly interested in finding out whether there were any black employees at Ferdinand’s, or if the employee roll was entirely white.

A predominantly white neighborhood for most of the 19th century, Roxbury’s demographics had begun a gradual shift toward greater diversity by the time the Ferdinand’s Blue Store building was constructed in 1899. The furniture store’s staff, however, may not have reflected the area’s expanding African American population.

The site of the Ferdinand and Guscott buildings has been the source of redevelopment drama for years. Plans have been batted back and forth by private developers and state organizations, the much-discussed relocation of state Department of Public Health workers to the site never transpired, and the buildings have not been occupied in over two decades.

The mayor’s newest plan is to replace the Guscott building and the interior of the Ferdinand’s building with a new government office building, while preserving Ferdinand’s famed façade. Menino last year launched the Dudley Vision Project, announcing that the city would move forward with plans to construct a new library and police station as part of the square’s revitalization.

At last Wednesday’s unveiling, Menino announced the creation of a new time capsule for the Dudley Square neighborhood, to be placed at the site of the planned municipal building.

The city is requesting ideas from community residents as to what should go into the new capsule. Suggestions can be submitted to the Roxbury Historical Society, 183 Roxbury Street, Roxbury, MA, 02119, or via e-mail at info@discoverroxbury.org.