What’s in the Mystery Box? First Lutheran Church, IBA Officials Crack Open Time Capsule

In the very last stone in the bottom corner of the basement of the old Villa Victoria Arts Center lay the cornerstone of the old building, and inside that cornerstone was the surprise of the summer – a 123-year-old time capsule from when the center was the predecessor of the First Lutheran Church in the Back Bay.

On Wednesday morning, in the sanctuary of the First Lutheran Church in the Back Bay, officials from the Church and from IBA gathered to present the metal box time capsule buried on Oct. 16, 1898, and open it to see what was inside.

“This box seems to have passed out of memory and thought,” said Rev. James Hopkins of the First Lutheran Church of Boston. “We’ll get to see what was important for posterity in the eyes of our forefathers.”

Vanessa Calderon-Rosado, director of IBA, said the Lutheran Church had met at the Arts Center for many years, when it was a German-speaking church as well. However, the congregation built a new facility in the Back Bay and moved there in the mid-1900s. IBA was formed in 1968 as the result of a protest against Urban Renewal demolition, and large amounts of affordable housing were built. In addition, the church had been purchased in 1980 to host arts and cultural events, as well as their bi-lingual pre-school. That all came to a halt a few years ago when a renovation project at the church went sideways, and it eventually was condemned. In November, IBA began the demolition of the building, with the hopes of raising money and building a brand-new center in its place.

During demolition, however, they found a pleasant surprise.

“During demolition we came across this box buried inside the cornerstone of the building,” she said. “We actually called our preservation consultant and told her we found a box and it was sealed…She said maybe we should open it and it could be a time capsule. We decided to reach out to the church and open it together. We believe anything inside will be of historical importance to both the church and to us as curators of the space.”

As a precaution, they even had a German translator in the house to read any important messages that might be written in the native tongue of the former congregation.

After a prayer by Rev. Hopkins, a craftsman was able to unseal the metal box, and it was opened.

Inside was mostly papers, which had eroded significantly over the years despite the seal. There wasn’t gold or precious treasure, but in a way there was treasure, as it revealed documents and papers that told the story of the German immigrant congregation that once gathered in the South End – a congregation long absorbed into the life-stream of America and lost mostly to the current Back Bay Lutheran worshipers.

The materials buried in the box include the following:

•A hymnal;

•A catechism;

•A copy of the Augsburg Confession;

•The history of the congregation;

•The constitution of the church;

•Signatures of the parish’s officers;

•Church papers;

•Newspapers – The Telegraph (written in German) and The Herald, both dated October 16, 1898

•And several coins (a quarter, nickel, dime and penny from 1898).

Of the materials included in the box, parts of the newspapers were intact along with the coins.

The Boston Herald from Oct. 18, 1898 told the harrowing story of a water tragedy where some 68 people were reported to have drowned, with heroic efforts by rescuers to save people.

“This history had gone unknown and buried in a box for 123 years until now when it has been uncovered again,” said Rev. Hopkins.

Also on hand for the opening were former leaders of the First Lutheran Church in Boston, including Rev. Ingo Dutzmann (1997-2019) and Rev. Walter Reuning (1967-1997).

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