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Remembrance of Things PresentThe Invention of the Time Capsule$
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Nick Yablon

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226574134

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226574271.001.0001

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“P.O. Box to the Future”: Temperance, Insurgence, and Memory in San Francisco, 1879

“P.O. Box to the Future”: Temperance, Insurgence, and Memory in San Francisco, 1879

(p.69) Two “P.O. Box to the Future”: Temperance, Insurgence, and Memory in San Francisco, 1879
Remembrance of Things Present

Nick Yablon

University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines the hundred-year time capsule (or “Antiquarian Box”) that the eccentric dentist and millionaire Henry D. Cogswell deposited in San Francisco in 1879, in a drinking-fountain monument to Benjamin Franklin. While acknowledging Cogswell’s impulse to commemorate himself, it emphasizes how he permitted San Franciscans, regardless of class, ethnicity, and gender, to contribute messages or objects. This embrace of ordinary experience, and of contemporaneous printed ephemera and material culture, represented a departure from existing libraries and historical societies, and from older “cabinets of curiosities.” It echoed, instead, the synoptic approach of panoramic photographers. Yet, Cogswell’s capsule also echoed Eadweard Muybridge’s panoramas in its effort to erase the anti-capitalist and anti-Chinese insurgence convulsing the city in the form of Denis Kearney and his Workingmen’s Party of California. Cogswell’s ulterior motive for his monument—confessed to his future recipients—was to instill temperance and a capitalist work ethic among the poor, thereby discouraging them from becoming “hoodlums” or Kearneyite revolutionaries. Despite its apparent boosterism, the project thus betrayed fears of impending class insurrection, fomented by the ongoing depression. Perhaps detecting this intent, workingmen (including the radical, Henry George) repudiated Cogswell’s gift, expressing their animosity both in words and violence against it.

Keywords:   San Francisco, material culture, monuments, archives, nativism, Denis Kearney, temperance, historical societies, Henry George, work ethic

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