Bethlehem time capsule preserves city’s history

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The 2018 Bethlehem community time capsule is part of a new exhibition located at the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts. The capsule will be filled with pictures, documents and other pieces of Bethlehem’s history to be buried for 50 years. (Isabela Madrigal/B&W Staff)

The city of Bethlehem celebrated its 275th birthday in 2016, recognizing its history since the Moravians christened it on Christmas Eve in 1741. In 2068, Bethlehem residents will once again celebrate its history by opening a time capsule that will be buried this year.

“Time Capsule Bethlehem: Our City Then and Now” is a five-month exhibit that showcases highlights of the historic city’s most significant moments, people and places.

The exhibit displays artifacts donated from various individuals and organizations within the Bethlehem community to create a story of the city’s history. Visitors can also contribute to history through the interactive timeline and time capsule featured in the museum exhibit.

The idea for the exhibit developed from a conversation between Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites staff members about how their collection itself is like a giant time capsule for the city.

“Ninety-eight percent of our collection are donations from community members and organizations within Bethlehem,” said Lindsey Jancay, the director of collections and programming for the Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites.

Jancay said the purpose of the exhibit is to provide a fun and interactive way to illustrate the history of Bethlehem to the community and those who helped create the exhibit with their donations.

“We want people to think that history is happening now,” Jancay said. “We are recording history at this very moment.”

Part of the exhibit is the time capsule, to which community members can submit offerings online. Those submissions will be voted on before being included in the capsule.

“We wanted people to help us create an engaging moment 50 years from now, at this institution,” Jancay said.

Jancay said the interactive timeline allows visitors to add their own history to what is already printed by the museum. It helps visitors recognize that history happens at many different levels.

Events posted on the timeline are split up by color, indicating the event as a local, national or international occurrence in history. The interactivity component allows people to think about their own stories relative to the larger events on the timeline.

Barbara Diamond, a museum volunteer and representative of the Bethlehem Historic District Association, added to the interactivity of the timeline by helping to create a documentary showing interviews with residents of the historic district and neighborhood.

QR codes that link to video clips of interviews conducted by Diamond and other volunteers for the Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites appear next to certain events on the timeline.

Diamond said the idea for the documentary stemmed from the passing of a fellow volunteer. The oral component of the timeline was added to help visitors hear real life stories of the history of Bethlehem straight from residents’ memories.

Diamond said it is important for people who live in Bethlehem to understand the city’s history. She said her contribution of the exhibit’s oral history component will allow people to learn about Bethlehem in a more interesting way.

“The people will gain more depth into the stories of the history through these videos,” she said.

The name of the event, “Time Capsule Bethlehem: Our City Then and Now,” inspires interactivity in the exhibit. Marketing coordinator Caitlin Nelson was involved in the name selection process.

“Since I had to create the logo, we needed a name first,” Nelson said. “Lindsey (Jancay) loved the name ‘Time Capsule Bethlehem,’ which is where the ideas for the exhibit spiraled from.”

After living in Bethlehem for the last 20 years, Nelson admits she was one of the community members who did not realize the extent of the city’s history.

Diamond said the goal and importance of an exhibit like this is to make sure the local community comes together to learn more about and contribute to the history of the city.

“The impact of this exhibit is going to be felt mostly by the community,” Nelson said. “There are a lot of people who live in Bethlehem or around the area that truly do not realize the historical significance of the city.”

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