Sometimes, old news is good news.
Construction workers who were renovating the old Harry L. Bain Elementary School in West New York found an unusual artifact in a wall – a September, 1915 edition of the now defunct Evening Mail newspaper, published 14 months before the school was completed.
The paper, dated Sept. 23, 1915, boasts cover headlines like “Ford Inspects K-Boat,” about a visit by automaker Henry Ford to a New York Navy yard with his son, and “Berlin Agrees To Warn U.S. Ships; U-Captains Deny Hesperian Shot” as several nations engaged in World War I.
The president at the time was Woodrow Wilson and the county was two years away from itself entering World War I.
Superintendent of Schools Clara Brito Herrera revealed the old paper to the public during the school reopening ceremony (see other story: “Fresh halls, fresh walls”). The paper is being held at the “West New York Museum,” which is an office in the town’s public library.
“I tell you, it’s a little buried treasure,” Mayor Felix Roque said a few days later. “It means that we have a lot of history in a great town.”
Perhaps this means the town is a bit closer to finding a time capsule that was buried in 1898 and never found.
Meanwhile, the town reopened the renovated school for students in grades pre-K through six (see cover story). It was renovated with $50 million in state funds.
“This is an amazing find that we have here.” – Patrick Cullen
The Evening Mail was published in New York from 1867 to 1924.
The edition of the paper found in the wall was published the day before a cornerstone laying event for the school.
Town historian Patrick Cullen was ecstatic. “This is an amazing find that we have here,” he said from the West New York Museum, which also happens to be his office. “It’s a time piece in remarkably good condition, considering where it remained for over 100 years. It preserves history. Even though it’s not a local newspaper – it’s a New York paper – we can make several observations.”
Going into historian mode, Cullen also noted that West New York Town Hall was dedicated a day before the paper came out.
“I offered it to Bain’s principal,” Cullen said, “and she said that she’s very grateful for the offer and she’s going to consult with the library staff to see where it can be best preserved.”
Asked if he thinks the school placed the paper as a future memento, Cullen said that’s one possibility.
“There are two schools of thought,” he said. “They may have indeed put there in there for a time capsule, and I applaud the supervisor or workmen who did that. The other thing is, I remember when my father would take me on plumbing jobs in the 1960s and ’70s. When they had to rip open walls to lay new pipe, they’d actually see crumbled up papers used as insulation. So that might have been serving as a couple of purposes. Maybe a time capsule, or filling up a gap.”
Nearby, Frank Pizzichillo, a Bain graduate and amateur historian who sometimes helps Cullen, remarked, “If they had my mindset, though, I’d do things like that. In my house, I had an old wall and I was putting up new walls over it, and wrote my name and my kids’ names over the dates, until Sandy knocked it down.”
Both men are repositories of information on the town, rattling off tidbits such as Babe Ruth playing at Miller Stadium with Lou Gehrig, and that Town Hall was once a baseball park where the Brooklyn Dodgers played on Sundays.
How has the paper’s condition held up after a century and change?
“There are some tears along the creasing, along the fold of the main paper,” Cullen noted. “And that would probably have to be restored. If I use tape, that’s non-reversible. So I would have to use some other materials to bind this together, like the components to make rice paper, to use as a paste.”
The paper also has to be protected from light, which can disrupt its ink chemicals and cause more yellowing, Cullen said.
“This is probably in poor to fair condition,” he added. “It’s amazing that we can read most of the articles, and that it survived being in the cavity of the school’s brick wall.”
Currently, the museum is looking to collect vintage photographs, paintings, postcards, news clippings, memorabilia, journals, diaries, videos, musical or spoken recordings from residents. This is part of the town’s 120th anniversary celebration slated for July 2018.
Donations will be accepted anytime during the museum’s business hours. Those are Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m to 12 p.m. and 1-3 p.m. It is located on the second floor of the West New York Free Public Library, at 425 60th St.
Cullen can be contacted at (201) 295-5137 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hannington Dia can be reached at email@example.com