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Saturday, December 07, 2013
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Sunday Guardian among historical treasures revealed
On September 30, 1934, a time capsule was sealed at St Mary’s College, Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain. It remained intact and untouched, kept behind a stone plaque, in the school courtyard for the next 79 years. On August 19, the 150th anniversary of the founding of St Mary’s by the Holy Ghost Fathers—a Catholic congregation that came to T&T from Europe in the 19th century—the capsule was opened in a ceremony performed by former student Christopher Ramdhanie, revealing a treasure box of Trinidad history inside.
Pride of place belonged to a 1934 broadsheet copy of the Sunday Guardian. Though carefully folded all those years ago, the newspaper is now crumpled and browned and, while the main headline informed readers “Pan-American Airways Move To Obtain 100-acre Airport for Trinidad,” the front page was largely dominated by news of T&T’s batting performance in the Intercolony cricket final in Georgetown, Guyana. T&T made 126 that day on a “tricky wicket.”
Also inside the glass capsule, carefully cut open by Ramdhanie with the assistance of Nestor Lambert and John Allum, past and current presidents of the Past Students Association, were three coins. One, a copper coin, was corroded green by oxidisation. The others had illegible inscriptions, but the profile of King George V could be seen on one of the silver coins, possibly a twelve-cent piece (half shilling.) There were also copies of the now defunct Port-of-Spain Gazette and the Catholic News.
The snapshot of pre-World War II, pre-Independence daily life, was revealed to members of the press and acting principal Nigel Joseph at a gathering at the college, overseen by conservation experts Danielle Fraser and Afesha Blackwill of the National Library's heritage division. Fraser carefully removed the items from the capsule. Because of their fragility and the fact they had occupied the same environment for more three quarters of a century, she explained, they would need to have moisture added before they could be fully opened.
Fraser said: “They are in good condition, I’m happy to see no mould. They'll be put in a chamber and we will add water vapour as slowly as possible, as part of the humidification process, to relax the paper fibre so it doesn’t tear.”
Once restored and cleaned, the items will be displayed in a museum exhibition in the Centenary Hall of the college from October 15-25. The exhibition will be open to the public. On October 9, a documentary on the history of St Mary’s College will be shown. And capping off the 150th anniversary, on December 6, another time capsule will be sealed.
Lambert, who attended the school as a student from 1958-63, said the capsule would contain some of the 1934 material as well as uniforms from different stages of the school’s history and newspapers printed on the day. Allum, a student from 1964-69, said the college had sought the “expert advice of the Nalis conservators on how to undertake the capsule opening process.” He added that it was “great to be a part of history.”
There are still former students from 1934 alive today, though they did not attend the ceremony. Ulric Cross, the most decorated Caribbean war hero of WWII, former Appeal Court judge and diplomat, would have been 17 when the time capsule was buried.
Cross, born in Port-of-Spain in 1917, was awarded a government scholarship, qualifying him for free secondary school education, after scoring the highest marks in the country at the Exhibition Examination, aged 11. He attended St Mary’s College and later took his first job as a copy editor at the T&T Guardian.
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