n 1986, broadcaster Geraldo Rivera spent two hours of live television milking the opening of Al Capone’s “secret” vaults, which turned out to be as empty as Rivera’s pre-show promises of finding untold riches.
There was far less suspense but much more substance at Blessed Seelos Parish on Nov. 12 as Father José Lavastida, pastor, presided at a prayer service that preceded the opening of a 50-year-old time capsule buried in the ground in front of St. Vincent de Paul Church on Dauphine Street.
The stainless-steel time capsule was designed to look like a NASA spaceship – the space program had captured the nation’s imagination at that time – and astronaut Scott Carpenter and his wife attended a Mass in November 1966 in honor of the parish’s 100th anniversary.
Dale Burke was just 9 years old when he sat next to Carpenter at the Mass that day and saw the spaceship lowered into the ground.
“We all came out here after Mass, and the capsule was sitting on top of a table, and you deposited your pictures in there,” Burke recalled.
Unfortunately, even though the capsule was sealed and pressurized, water had seeped into the underground bunker, turning most of the photographs and paper documents into mush.
Dr. Emilie Leumas, archdiocesan archivist, was able to retrieve several coins, a plastic car, a First Communion prayer book, several doubloons and two oval-shaped medallions bearing the image of Auxiliary Bishop Jean M. Laval, who served as pastor from 1911-37.
As Leumas continued to pull waterlogged material from the capsule, Father Lavastida said, “A cell phone case! Joking.”
“I was expecting the material was going to be in better shape, but there was a good 2 to 3 feet of water (in the vault),” Father Lavastida said. “But the day was beautiful. We began with morning prayer, which was a spiritual experience.”
The granite marker that sealed the capsule will be moved to a fountain area on the side of the church. The old time capsule site will make way for a bike rack “to make it inviting to the people of the neighborhood who want to come to Mass on their bikes,” Father Lavastida said.
A 2016 time capsule will be placed inside a column in the church sanctuary, with a bronze plaque requesting that it be opened in 2066.
“It will be above ground,” Father Lavastida said, smiling.