Hundreds of Needham residents gathered Monday morning on the hill behind to spell out “Needham 300” and become part of a historic photo taken from a helicopter overhead.
Afterward, many stood in front of a stage set up on Memorial Field to witness another historic event—the opening of a time capsule closed 50 years ago in 1961 during the town’s 250th anniversary celebration.
With state and town officials watching from on-stage, Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick and Selectman Dan Matthews revealed the items inside the time capsule.
It was a light-hearted ceremony, as Matthews commented on the capsule’s contents and joked that he wanted to “find out if my socks are still in there, too.” (They weren’t.)
First, he pulled out a bag containing wooden nickels and buttons from the town’s 250th anniversary celebration. Among them was a button representing the “Brothers of the Brush”—“a whole bunch of guys [who] stopped shaving for a year,” Matthews explained.
Another button shared the Visitors’ Vow: “This badge attests that I have deposited 50 cents with the jubilant citizenry celebrating Needham’s 250th anniversary,” Matthews read. “Although my contribution entitles me to absolutely no privileges, I pledge wherever I wander and with voice pitched at maximum volume to advertise, praise and extol this most unparalleled celebration…”
“At least, unparalleled until today,” Matthews noted.
Next, they unwrapped a box containing a reel-to-reel tape of the rededication ceremony that started Needham’s 250th anniversary celebration.
“We’re going to get this on a CD or a Blu-Ray or something and then we’ll widely distribute it. Maybe YouTube or somebody’s Facebook, but we’ll be fine,” Matthews said, to laughs from the crowd.
The capsule also contained a film recording of the 250th celebration.
Next, they pulled out a copy of the proposed Needham zoning bylaws from 1960.
“It seems to run, I guess, to about 20 pages, which makes it about 10 percent the length of the current bylaws,” Matthews said. “Maybe some people would rather turn back the clock.”
Needhamites of 50 years ago must have believed zoning and planning laws would be of particular interest to future generations, as there were several related documents pulled out of the capsule—including an item whose relevance to modern-day issues made the crowd, and town officials, roar with laughter.
“Some things don’t change,” Matthews said. “This planning report addresses the ‘critical issue of downtown parking.’ So there’s a number of things that endure over many generations.”
Also pulled out were a 250th anniversary ribbon, ballpoint pen, silver-certificate dollar bill and several coins from 1961—a 50-cent piece featuring Ben Franklin, a Washington quarter, a penny bearing the “new-fangled design of the Lincoln Memorial on the back," according to Matthews, and a silver Roosevelt dime.
There also was a Town Meeting warrant from that year and the town clerk’s records as published by the Needham Times.
“In those days, they held the elections in March. They moved it to April about 20 years ago in hopes of increasing turnout,” Matthews noted. “Actually, I think we have more turnout today than a lot of our town elections since then.”
Also inside the capsule was a letter from the 1961 Board of Selectmen to the committee organizing the town’s 300th celebration.
“May your celebration depicting the town’s increased prosperity and success over the last 50 years be an inspiration and a happy and heartwarming occasion,” selectmen wrote in the letter, read by one of the Needham 300 co-chairs, Valerie Herman.
Needham 300 Committee co-chairman Bill Tilburg read a letter written by a sixth grader in 1961.
“My name is Terry Gill. I am going into the sixth grade at William Mitchell School. I am 10 1/2 years old and will be 61 years old when this letter is opened,” Tilburg read. “My dad is chairman of the Planning Board. I enjoyed the 250th anniversary.”
Other items pulled out of the capsule included: a one-act play titled “Taxes: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”; a program from the 250th celebration; a voter’s information handbook compiled by the League of Women Voters of Needham with corporate sponsorship; a speech dedicated to Needham veterans; a handbook for Town Meeting members; and a Needham 250th anniversary peddler’s permit.
“The bearer is permitted to sell, trade, purvey, tell lies and shoot the bull to any and all retail stores and emporiums in this city during the anniversary year,” Matthews read from the permit. “Note: This is not a permit to cheat, steal, deface property, harm small animals or wolf whistle at our beautiful women. Permit fee paid: $1.”
Also included was a postage stamp from 1961, which cost just 4 cents.
The time capsule contents will eventually be placed on display for the public to view, officials said.