The box that time forgot
The weather was fair and cold. A man could buy a suit at Jordan's for $38.50 and women's shoes could be had for $8.45. The Russians had just invaded Manchuria. A month earlier, the stock market crashed, but judging from the Boston Herald, no one knew yet that the Great Depression had begun.
On this day, November 25, 1929, a cornerstone was laid for the Bader Building. Behind it, someone tucked a long copper box. In 2005, while connecting Bader with the new clinical building, a construction crew uncovered the box.
"We didn't know what it was," says Mark Rockoff, MD, associate anesthesiologist-in-chief and chair of Children's Archives Committee. "People had ants in their pants wondering what was inside."
The long-forgotten box, opened August 9, was a time capsule. Its contents tell of an era when the hospital's biggest problems were deformities caused by polio, rickets, tuberculosis and other neuromuscular diseases—problems the six-story Bader Building was designed to address. Fundraising was as important as it is today, as shown by a letter from Mr. and Mrs. Louis Stanton Bader of Dover, Mass., pledging $150,000 in honor of their daughter, Constance, for a "Physiotherapy-Neurological building."
"The Department of Physiotherapy sorely needs facilities for the so-called ĺ─˛under-water' form of exercise," wrote Ida C. Smith, RN, then the hospital's nursing superintendent, in her dedication letter. And so a swimming pool was built on Bader's first floor. In keeping with a 1928 New England Journal of Medicine article, extolling the value of ultraviolet rays in treating rickets, the sixth floor housed a solarium. (Rickets wasn't yet known to be caused by a lack of vitamin D; today, fortified milk has virtually eliminated the disease.)
In another letter from the box, Bronson Crothers, MD, one of Children's founding neurologists, urged that Bader be used to educate the hospital's physically and mentally disabled children. "The present method, almost everywhere, is to let the handicapped child struggle against the ordinary difficulties of life, almost unaided, until he is unable to keep up," he lamented. As an alternative he proposed "acute educational experiments," starting in early infancy, to prove early intervention could help—a pioneering concept in the 1920s.
Also in the box were an Annual Report, fundraising brochure, Nursing School bulletin and reports from the Harvard Infantile Paralysis Commission, founded in 1922 to deal with the onslaught of polio. "They didn't know then that polio was caused by a virus," Rockoff notes. Indeed, the reports appeal for funds to research polio's origins, two decades before John Enders, PhD, and colleagues at Children's would successfully culture the virus, earning them a Nobel Prize in 1954.
The existence of other time capsules is suspected, but if none are found, the next opening won't be until the hospital's 200th anniversary. A 2003 time capsule, installed in the main lobby by the Archives Committee, is scheduled for opening in 2069. "I hope they'll be able to say then, 'Isn't it interesting that in 2003 they were so worried about cancer," muses Rockoff.