Digging deeper into the time capsule!

It's hard to believe that it has been just over a year since we discovered the 1901 time capsule in the lion statue that sits atop the Old State House! As the anniversary of the time capsule approached, I began to think about one of my favorite items from the capsule and I was curious to learn more about it.

When I was examining the items that were found in the time capsule, I was able to organize them into four categories: materials associated with the 1901 restoration of the Old State House, materials that pertained to Boston newspapers, items representing the Grand Army of the Republic, and items that related to local and national politics.  However, there was one item that didn't fit into any of these categories - a bill for tuition and one piece of music, dated January 1, 1901 and addressed to John A. Silver.  When the news picked up the story of the time capsule last year, this seemingly random document didn't get any coverage and it wasn't included in our temporary exhibit of time capsule items.

John Silver cabinet card
John Silver was well represented in the time capsule, he was listed on a parchment scroll of city employees and he was included in a group photograph of men who worked on the restoration of the Old State House.  There were also eight cabinet cards in the time capsule, including one of Silver.  Cabinet cards were a type of portraiture where a photograph was mounted on a board, which allowed the sitter to autograph the back of the portrait.  The back of Silver's cabinet card helpfully included the following inscription "Boston, Feb 20 / 1901, John Aaron Webster Silver, Deputy Superintendent, Public Buildings, City of Boston, Builder by Trade, 36 years old last December the 28th 1900." Many of our visitors have asked if we know who was responsible for assembling the time capsule.  While we don't know the answer for sure, there are few clues that lead us to make a guess. Though many men were represented in cabinet cards and published portraits, there were only four business cards in the time capsule, two for men who worked for the Boston Herald, one for Samuel Rogers, and one for John Silver.  Samuel Rogers seemed to have also included a brief biography and a roster of his G.A.R. post in the capsule.  Due to these personal items, we guessed that he was likely one of the men who assembled the contents. The inclusion of the bill of tuition made out to John Silver, along with his business card, lead us to speculate that he was also one of the men who put together the time capsule in February 1901.  The bill for tuition is a far more personal item than anything else that was found, and it's my guess that Silver tucked this random item into the capsule while he was putting other items in as well.  Or maybe it was accident and he later scoured his desk looking for the missing bill!

Bill for tuition and one piece of music, 1901
But why is this bill for tuition important?  Besides providing a clue that John Silver was one of the men who assembled the time capsule, it made me curious to learn more about the document itself and John Silver as a person.  By looking at the bill, we can see that it is for one term, beginning on October 31 and costing $15.00, and that one piece of music cost 25 cents.  The bill is issued by A. de Andria, of 45 Hemenway Street.  I checked the 1900 Boston city directory and found a listing for Alcide T. De Andria, who had an occupation listing of music teacher.

It seems likely that this would be a tuition bill for one of Silver's children, but confirming that would require additional research.  As such, I searched the 1900 Federal Census and found a listing for a John A. W. Silver, with a birth date and occupation that matched the man I was researching.  From the census, I learned that he was born in Maine, his father was born in England and his mother was born in Pennsylvania.  His wife, Cora, was born in New Hampshire in June 1862.  John and Cora were married in 1884, and the census also confirmed what I suspected, that they had one son, Earl, born in November 1888.  As a twelve year old at the time that the tuition bill was issued, it seems very likely that the music lessons were for him to study under Alcide de Andria.

My co-worker joked that this additional information about the Silver family has made "history come alive!" and I have to agree with her.  Learning more about the men who assembled the time capsule reminds us that these were real people, who had families, went to work, supported their children's extracurricular activities, and essentially, were not all that different from Bostonians today. October is Archives Month, designated as such by the Society of American Archivists to raise awareness about the value of archives.  Celebrate by using primary sources to learn more about your own family history, or by delving deeper into a topic that interests you.  I might be slightly biased, but I believe that it's really through archival materials that we can connect to history to make it truly come alive.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager