Many don’t know she exists, but when Frank Rossi drives through Schenectady and catches sight of the lone lady still standing in Liberty Park, his mind wanders.
She looks different now than when he first saw her in 1950. She’s aged, for one thing. But the years of neglect in her slightly hidden home in the park have done little to erase the pleasant and proud look on her face.
Recently Rossi, of Ballston Spa, has contemplated visiting her at night with a chisel and a mission: to look for a long-forgotten time capsule he and local Boy Scout troops recall putting inside the base of the replica Statue of Liberty. They’re long overdue for the visit, he says.
“At one time, I would travel through there and see her every day,” he said. “And I kept wondering to myself when the hell we’re going to open that capsule.”
No one really remembers just what is inside the capsule that local Boy Scouts and city officials tucked away in the base of Schenectady’s statue. Sixty-two years after the Scouts pitched in two quarters apiece to bring the 8-foot-tall lady to Liberty Park, some remember that there’s a list of all their signatures on a scroll inside her 7-foot-tall base.
Rossi, then 12 and living in Schenectady’s Bellevue neighborhood in 1950, would collect newspapers after school with about 20 other Scouts from Troop 22 in one of their many paper drives to earn the money.
“We accumulated enough newspapers that we then sold to Predel [scrapyard on Edison Avenue]. They sometimes used to bring us an empty tractor-trailer, park it and we would just load it up with our newspapers. They’d weigh it and reimburse us the money.”
A year after Kansas City Scouting Commissioner Jack P. Whitaker came up with the idea to bring Statue of Liberty replicas to cities throughout America, local troops saw their fundraising efforts come to fruition.
It was an endeavor that dovetailed nicely with the Scouts’ basic mission: prepare youth to be responsible and participating citizens and leaders. And there was no better symbol of leadership and American citizenship than Lady Liberty.
On a plaque at the base of Schenectady’s lady, an inscription pays tribute to the 40th anniversary of the Boy Scouts’ inception and its “crusade to strengthen the arm of liberty.”
Just like the 305-foot-tall national monument in New York Harbor, Schenectady’s lady offers an inspirational message: “With the faith and courage of their forefathers who made possible the freedom of these United States, the Boy Scouts of America dedicate this copy of the Statue of Liberty as a pledge of everlasting fidelity and loyalty.”
Rossi, now 73, claims he can “barely remember that far back,” but he still tries. After learning that the city had plans to overhaul Liberty Park, where the statue stands, he made a few calls to reminisce.
“Everybody forgot about [the capsule], I guess,” he said. “I’ve mentioned it to a couple different Boy Scout leaders in the past, and they said they would investigate it, but they never did. We were supposed to open it in 50 years. And 50 years for us guys, well that would make us in our 60s, so it’s definitely overdue.”
He added that he doesn’t “even know if anybody is still around.”
He tossed out random ideas on what might be in the capsule: definitely the scroll, “probably” merit badges, “maybe” mementos provided by city officials.
“It’s there someplace,” he said. “If someone just went over there and decided to look around and dig it up, we would know.”
Bob DiNardo’s curiosity is less demanding. He thinks about the lady when he passes her on his way to Scotia. But he never has the urge for a middle-of-the-night mission with a shovel.
He tells his grandchildren the story of when he was a Boy Scout in Troop 66, out of St. Anthony’s Church in Schenectady, and how he pitched in a quarter or “maybe two” — a day’s pay for a laborer back then — to bring the replica statue to the park.
“They just look at me weird, and say, ‘It doesn’t look too good.’ ” He laughs.
Liberty’s surroundings could be to blame. The small, triangular park is unfortunately landscaped, with berms, hidden paths and tall grass — prompting city officials to push for a redesign of the lower State Street park.
Most recently, the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority accepted a $50,000 grant from the Capital District Transportation Committee and provided its own $20,000 match, which will cover the cost of a redesign study.
DiNardo’s grandson did a little research after hearing the story behind the statue and found that only about 100 replica statues bought by Boy Scouts in the 1950s remain. But according to a Wyoming Boy Scout troop website with a running list of known replicas still in existence, there are more than 200 in 39 states. It says they were all approximately 81⁄2 feet tall, not counting the base, made of sheet copper and weighed 290 pounds. Manufactured by Chicago-based Friedley-Voshardt Co. and purchased through the Kansas City Boy Scout office, the statues cost $350 each, plus freight.
In New York, replica statues were put up in Schenectady, Utica, Oneonta, Olean (Cattaraugus County), Niagara Falls, and LeRoy (Genesee County).
Fading with time
Schenectady’s statue is special if only for the barely-recalled, mysterious time capsule, DiNardo said.
“I called a couple of my friends in the Boy Scouts and said I remembered it vaguely. One of them said he remembers that our names would be put on a scroll, but he recalls that there was a time capsule in the base.”
Other friends aren’t much help. One remembered the statue only vaguely. Another definitely remembered the statue, and one former Scout who now lives in California said he remembers the scroll. Another of DiNardo’s friends said he remembered the time capsule.
“I just laughed about it and said to two of my friends, ‘I wonder what the outcome will be,’ ” said DiNardo.
Give a mystery like this to a Schenectady historian, though, and he’ll tell you what the outcome should be.
“We’re going to redo that park this year anyway,” said City Historian Don Rittner, “and I am going to suggest that before we do, we open up that time capsule. I’d be glad to go down there and dig it up. The park is going to be changed anyway, so I think it would be kind of a cool project.”
Rittner couldn’t confirm that a time capsule was ever put inside the statue, but he knows that a time capsule was buried underneath a headstone in the park in 1943 that was ultimately dug up 50 years later. The time capsule and headstone recognized Alco’s contribution of an M-7 tank used during World War II that helped the British Infantry defeat Erwin Rommel.
“These things were so successful that after the war a delegate called the Desert Rats came out here and there was a big parade and right there in the park they put this monument. So I don’t know if the Boy Scouts have this mixed up,” he said.
Rittner said Liberty Park is already home to a lot of uncovered history. His goal is to unearth it all and turn the park into an archaeological site.
Underneath Liberty Park are several treasures from Schenectady’s past: the site of Clench’s Tavern, where President George Washington once stayed; the site of a house in which George Westinghouse Sr. and his son lived; the beginning of the first railroad tunnel in America; and a portion of the settlement where the 1690 Schenectady Massacre occurred.
“That area is one of the most archaeologically historic sites in Schenectady,” he said. “There’s a bigger story there, and that time capsule could easily be a part of it.”