Children fill the time capsule for Philadelphia

Franklin Institute avoids the traditional choices, asks kids to take photos


PHILADELPHIA -- They have captured hope, history, uncertainty or just what they like to eat. The Franklin Institute's millennium time capsule rejected traditional choices such as books or machines and looked instead to the world of its youngest visitors: children.

The institute asked Philadelphia pupils, kindergarten through eighth grade, to snap and send in a photograph of what they felt represented Philadelphia at the turn of the century.

Children took to the streets with disposable cameras or their teachers' Nikons, aiming them at their pets, hot-dog carts, graffiti or the Liberty Bell.

One little girl had someone photograph her right after she woke up. One boy shot Geno's, the South Philadelphia cheese-steak stand that he visits once a week. Others shot reflections of their changing city -- the troubled Passyunk Homes, soon to be demolished, and a chain-link fence and "sidewalk closed" sign blocking Independence Hall.

The budding photographers will be invited back to the institute in 2050 for the capsule's opening.

"What better way to celebrate the millennium than to see it through the eyes of children, who are the next leaders of Philadelphia?" said Dennis Wint, president of the Franklin Institute. "It was really kind of fun to see what kids think about and what's important to them."

There is 6-year-old Rebecca Preston's snapshot of her church's computer, which will surely be a relic when the capsule is opened.

There is Kelvin Cobbs-Jackson's photograph of a police officer on Walnut Street.

"It's good to be a policeman," the 8-year-old said. "You get to carry around a lot of things, like a waistband and a hat and boots."

And then there is Alex Jacobs' depiction of modern nuisances blocking the city's most prominent historic site. Alex, 12, considers himself something of a history buff, his dad being a history teacher and all.

"I know of the Declaration of Independence, and how it took a series of three weeks with Benjamin Franklin at his knees because it was so hot," said Alex. "I'm so fortunate to be living in this city, where history jumps out at you wherever you go."

Alex wanted to capture the old and new of Philadelphia. His original plan was to get Independence Hall with One Liberty Place as a backdrop.

"The way that life goes, that didn't really work out," he said with a sigh. But when he saw the construction in front of the historic site, he decided he liked the irony.

"I wanted to combine the fact that we had this historical building right there, and they're doing road construction right outside of it," he said.

"When I think of the millennium, I basically think of change and the fact that this century has been a dumbfounding lot of inventions, and stuff like that."

Some photographs spoke of hope for the city.

Antonio Rodriguez, 11, chose to shoot the garden at McKinley Elementary School in North Philadelphia. It's one of his favorite places -- where children and teachers plant flowers and other plants, then keep a close watch on the results.

"It shows a botanical garden where we grow things," Antonio said. "There's a painting on the wall of the tree growing. I would hope that my message of growing for the future will be for my city of Philadelphia as well."

It's one of the many optimistic photos that children sent in.

"There were photographs of a lot of really positive things," Wint said.

"I thought there was a certain hopefulness, like with Antonio taking pictures of the garden. It's a really beautiful place and something that had been created by the school. It showed just how important it was to him and his classmates."

Other children's photographs showed the changing world outside their bedroom windows.

David Santana, 9, lives across the street from Passyunk Homes, the South Philadelphia public-housing project scheduled to be torn down in 2002.

"I heard my friends talking about it," David said. "They're going to tear it down. I don't know why they're going to tear it down."

David wonders what will happen to his school friends in a few years. "I think they'll move far away," he said. "I don't want them to move."

But the demise of the rundown structures along the Schuylkill Expressway might turn into an opportunity for David. He said he thinks he might like to be an architect someday.

"I want to build buildings," he said. Yet he worries that in 2050, Passyunk might have buildings that are "really tall, like the Empire State Building. I'm not going to build buildings that tall, because then I'm going to get really tired."

The time capsule was dedicated Friday at the Franklin Institute as part of Millennium Philadelphia's 24-hour celebration. It was funded by Kal Rudman, a local magazine publisher and philanthropist, and his wife, Lucille.

The contents will be stored in a box, which will eventually be housed somewhere on the museum floor until 2050.

And what will the children be doing then?

"My mom said I might be tall, and I might look just like my dad, and my grandma said I might have white hair," David said.

Alex Jacobs, the history buff, will be 62.

"If I'm alive," he warns, then adds: "I'll probably be alive. Who knows? I'll be a psychologist; I'll be a bum on the street -- you name it."

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