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Time Capsule

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

With 10 weeks left until the end of 2021, it seems fitting to consider what we might put into a time capsule that future generations might open to understand the strange world that was so incredibly different from the one just two years ago.

Here are a few items I’d throw into a box I’d bury or shoot into space.

— Masks. Even with so many events where people aren’t wearing masks, including huge gatherings of fans at sporting events, masks are still a part of our lives in 2021.

— A Netflix app. I’m not a streaming TV person. Most of my regular TV watching involves sports or movies (many of which I’ve seen a few times before). Still, I got caught up in the “Stranger Things” phenomenon and am now impressed with the storylines from “Madam Secretary,” which include prescient references to our withdrawal from Afghanistan and to the potential (and now real) pandemic.

— Pet paraphernalia. The number of homes with pets has climbed dramatically, as people who seemed unwilling or uninterested in having dogs are out with their collection of poop bags, leashes and pieces of dog food to entice the wayward wanderer in the right direction.

— A zoom app. Even with people returning to work, many of us are still interacting with large groups of people on a divided screen. Future generations may find all this normal and the start of eSocializing and virtual working. Many of us today are still trying to figure out where to look and avoid the temptation to scrutinize our own image.

— Cargo ships. The year started off in March with the blocking of the Suez Canal. For six days, the Ever Given kept one of the world’s most important canals from functioning, blocking container ships from going from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. As the year has progressed, concerns about shortages and supply chains have triggered fears about empty shelves.

— A small model of the Enterprise. The ship from the show “Star Trek” seems apt in a 2021 time capsule in part because William Shatner, who played the fictional Captain James T. Kirk (or admiral, if you’re also a fan of the movies), traveled briefly into space. In many ways, the science fiction of the past — a telephone that allowed you to look at someone else — is the fact of the present, with FaceTime and the aforementioned zoom.

— Competing signs. Protesting seems to have returned in full force this year. As the year comes to a close, people who do and don’t believe in vaccinations often stand on opposite sides of a road, shouting at cars, each other and the wind to get their messages across.

— A syringe. We started the year with people over 65 and in vulnerable groups getting their first doses of a vaccine that has slowed the progression of COVID-19, and we’re ending it with the distribution of booster shots for this population and, eventually, for others who received a vaccine eight months earlier.

— Take-out menus. I would throw several take-out menus, along with instructions about leaving food at a front door, into the time capsule. While numerous restaurants are operating close to their in-dining capacity, some of us are still eating the same food at home.

— An Amazon box. Barely a day goes by when I don’t see an Amazon delivery truck in the neighborhood, leaving the familiar smiling boxes at my neighbors’ front doors.

— Broken glass. I would include some carefully protected broken glass to reflect some of the divisions in the country and to remember the moment protesters stormed the capital, overwhelming the police and sending politicians scrambling for cover.

— Houses of gold. I would throw in a golden house, to show how the value of homes, particularly those outside of a city, increased amid an urban exodus.

— A Broadway playbill. My wife and I saw a musical for the first time in over two years. We were thrilled to attend “Wicked.” The combination of songs, staging, acting, and lighting transported us back to the land of Oz. Judging from the thunderous applause at the end from a fully masked audience, we were not the only ones grateful to enjoy the incredible talents of performers who must have struggled amid the shutdown.

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The Smithtown time capsule sits in the hole it will remain inside for 50 years. Photo by Pat Biancanello

Smithtown’s Sesquarcentennial year, which began on March 3, 2015, has come to a close.

Smithtown concluded its yearlong 350th birthday celebration this past March 3 with the burial of a time capsule on the lawn in front of Patrick R. Vecchio Town Hall.

“I think it surpassed anything that any of the members of the committee might have guessed or hoped for,” Maureen Smilow, of Smithtown 350 Foundation, said in a phone interview. She was one of the members of the foundation, which was responsible for organizing the events over the course of the year.

Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) was also involved with many of the events over the course of the year.

“I think that the public who participated in the events will take a lot out of it because they were living history,” Vecchio said. “For me the last year was a wonderful experience.”

“The gala ball that was held in the midst of basically a blizzard turned out to be a huge success,” Vecchio said when asked which of the events were most memorable for him. The gala dinner-dance was held at Flowerfields in St. James last March.

A time capsule buried in 1965 in front of Town Hall was opened to kick off the celebrations on March 3 a year ago. The Sesquarcentennial year got off to a rocky, yet funny start.

Supervisor Pat Vecchio makes his contribution to the Smithtown time capsule. Photo by Pat Biancanello
Supervisor Pat Vecchio makes his contribution to the Smithtown time capsule. Photo by Pat Biancanello

“The smell was unbelievable,” Smilow said about the moment the half-century-old milk can was opened. “Everyone on stage had to stand back, it was horrendous,” she said laughing.

The can was not properly sealed when it was buried, so over the course of 50 years moisture got in and reeked havoc on the contents, which were arguably not that exciting had they been in mint condition. The milk can contained two hats, a phone book, a local newspaper, a flyer for pageant tickets and an assortment of coins.

Before members of the town board assembled in colonial costumes at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts to open the capsule, they first had to find it.

Members of the parks department searched for the 1965 time capsule in the area they believed it was buried, but after a lengthy search that involved poking a metal rod into the Town Hall lawn, finally it was found. A few days later, it was discovered that the town engineering department, who buried the capsule 50 years ago, had left a map with the precise location.

“That was more humorous than anything else,” town historian and Smithtown 350 Foundation member Brad Harris said in a phone interview. “Had we known there was a map in engineering all that time, we would have saved a great deal of effort and time by the parks department.”

Harris said that he envisions the Smithtown residents who open the 2016 time capsule in 2066 will have a more pleasurable time opening this one, thanks to the efforts of Smilow. They will find a smartphone, baseball cards, menus from town restaurants, letters from community members and Smithtown students, and pieces of memorabilia from the 350th anniversary celebration events, among many other things.

“This time, my good friend Maureen Smilow, really was very careful about how things went in there and how they would be preserved,” Harris said. “We took care so that they would be there for people who open it. We hope they will get a cross section of what the community was like. I think it was a great time capsule.”

Smilow said she ordered a marker for the new stainless-steel, waterproof time capsule. That way it will be both easy to find and preserved in 50 years.

Smilow mentioned the parade that took place on Sept. 26 as one of her favorite events from the year. She said there were more than 2,000 people marching in the parade, which was led by Richard Smith from Nissequogue, who is a direct descendent of the town’s founder Richard Smythe.

Harris said one of his favorite events was the fireworks display that was on the same day as the parade, at Sunken Meadow State Park.

“They were spectacular,” he said.

Some other memorable events included the unveiling of Richard Smythe’s life-size statue in front of the Damianos Realty Group building on Middle Country Road in September and the recognition of Marie Sturm last March, the oldest native-born resident of Smithtown.

Recently appointed Smithtown Highway Superintendent Robert Murphy, who attended High School East and lived in Smithtown for most of his life, said that he was glad to learn more about the town that he grew up in during the year in an interview Tuesday.

Harris reflected on what the Smithtown 350 Foundation accomplished in executing all of the events, both large and small.

“I just think the year and the celebrations we pulled off over the course of the year made it a memorable one for the members of the community,” he said. “I think they’ve got lasting memories of the Town of Smithtown and some of its history. I hope that’s what sticks.”

Smilow was also proud of how successful the year was.

“It was a great year,” she said. “Everyone was really happy. It was just amazing how we had all of these people from different walks of life, different ages and backgrounds coming together.”

Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

Take members of the Smithtown Town Board, dress them up in 17th century garb and the rest is history.

Officials commemorated the town of Smithtown’s 350th anniversary sponsored by the Smithtown 350 Foundation Tuesday with the opening of a time capsule and were joined by residents who braved the snow to attend the event at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

Town historian Bradley Harris hosted the night’s proceedings and was joined onstage by Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) and his colleagues who wore elaborate 17th century period clothing and read passages from the Richard Nicolls Patent of 1665 — which outlined instructions for governance under English rule of what are now the states of New York and New Jersey.

Throughout the presentation Harris and those town officials that participated onstage engaged in playful

Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides
Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides

banter and delivered light-hearted jokes that often got a rise out of the Long Islanders who watched from their seats.

As the night progressed, Harris often pulled from the pages of history and delivered facts about the founding of Smithtown that those in attendance might not have otherwise known.

Despite the witty quips and wisecracks exchanged in the theater room of what used to be a local cinema, the 71-year-old historian and Saint James resident was quite serious and resolute about the importance of preserving history and the passion he holds for his community.

“This town is very interesting because it started with one man’s dream to carve out a niche for himself where he would be his own master and I think that’s [Smithtown founder] Richard Smith in a lot of ways,” Harris said. “He’s left us so many things to venerate.”

During the course of the event, eyes were drawn to a 50-year-old milk can worn with age, which sat to the far right of the stage. The dirtied metal time capsule was originally buried in 1965, and thanks in large part to the town Engineering Department, which had a precise map of its location, its contents were ready to be shared for the first time with audience members.

Town officials and residents were on their feet and the excitement filling the room was palpable. With a hard crack of a hammer, the time capsule was forced open and placed on the long table, where Vecchio and his colleagues were seated.

Among the contents contained within the milk can were: two dusty hats, a phonebook, a local newspaper, a flyer advertising tercentenary pageant tickets and an assortment of aged coins.

James Potts a resident of Smithtown, who has lived in the area for 63 years, was among those in attendance. Potts’ father was the town surveyor, and, due to this, Potts claims to have a very strong knowledge of the town’s history.

Asked about the night’s presentation, Potts said he was very happy with how things shaped up.

“As you can see from how the theater filled up, it shows you the extent of the connection in this town with the residents and basically the pride in the town that they live in,” said Potts.

While he enjoyed the event, Potts expressed some disappointment with the contents of the time capsule and felt as though there could have been more items included that could have better illustrated what life was like on Long Island in the early 1960s.

Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides
Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides

Also expressing his dismay with the time capsule finds was Harris, who as a historian expected a lot more.

“It was the era of Kennedy’s assassination, and I would’ve thought there would have been some commentary on that, but there was nothing and that’s a little disappointing,” said Harris. “The guys who made up the time capsule certainly were trying to stir interest in the past and they did that, but what we learned tonight was very limited.”