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The Benjamin Franklin Memorial Time Capsule

Do you know about the time capsule in Washington Square?

The Benjamin Franklin Memorial was gifted to the city by Henry Cogswell. Cogswell was a dentist whose investments made him one of the city's first millionaires, and he was also a crusader in the Temperance Movement. The statue was originally installed as a temperance fountain in 1879, and a lead box time capsule was placed underneath it.

In April of 1979, 1,000 people gathered in Washington Square for the opening of the time capsule, an event that was led by then-Mayor Diane Feinstein. Inside the capsule was an issue of Harper’s Magazine from 1872, an almanac, copies of several different newspapers, a bud vase, a wooden puzzle, coins, a rock, a string of buttons, some of Cogswell's personal papers, and a letter from a 14-year-old boy named Sackett Cornell in which he detailed what he thought the world would be like 100 years in the future. You can read more about that here: There was also a molar tooth that was said to have belonged to Maximilien Robespierre, an influential figure in the French Revolution.

After examining the contents, a new time capsule was installed. Just a few of the items that made their way into that capsule were poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a pair of Levi’s jeans, restaurant menus, birth control pills and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. The time capsule is scheduled to be opened in 2079.

*The contents of the 1879 time capsule are now the property of the California Historical Society.


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