As It Happens

The 'sparkling and wonderful' story behind the time capsule that caused a NYC bomb scare

Workers at a construction site in New York City dug up what first appeared to be a bomb, but turned out to be a time capsule from the iconic '80s nightclub Danceteria.
In the '80s, Marguerite Van Cook, left, owned the Ground Zero Gallery NY gallery with her partner James Romberger, right, in New York City's bustling East Village (Marguerite Van Cook)

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Every now and then, Marguerite Van Cook says she would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic and think: "We put a bomb shell underground in Manhattan."

But whenever that would happen, she'd just tell herself, "Oh, nobody's gonna dig that up!" and go back to sleep.

And then they dug it up.

On Thursday, workers at a construction site in New York City unearthed what first appeared to be an unexploded Second World War-era bomb, but turned out to be a bomb-shaped time capsule from the iconic '80s nightclub Danceteria. 

"I think the expression is gobsmacked," Cook said of the moment she learned they'd found the capsule.  

"I couldn't believe it. I laughed. And then I was horrified. I thought,  'Oh my goodness, what will they make of it if they open it and [see] what's inside?'"

The time capsule hands at Danceteria in 1984. (Marguerite Van Cook)

The contents, according to Cook, include:

  • Hundreds of messages from Danceteria's patrons.
  • Original art from people in the East Village.
  • Mixtapes from the '80s music scene.
  • Papier mâché body parts.
  • Singer Diana Ross's fake eyelash
  • New York promoter Chi Chi Valenti's G-string
  • A video of the three-week bash at Danceteria leading up to the capsule's burial.

And it all started with Cook and some of her compatriots. 

In 1984, the New York artist owned the Ground Zero Gallery with her partner James Romberger in the city's booming East Village when the owners of Danceteria night club asked them to put on a show.

They teamed up with Danceteria promoter Rudolph Pieper to buy a massive fake, empty bomb, and hung it up in the alley outside the club for three weeks. First they partied, then they buried it in the ground for the people of the year 6,984 to dig up.

Marguerite Van Cook rocks a red gown during Danceteria's time capsule bash. (Marguerite Van Cook)

"They built a platform that looked sort of like the thing you'd launch a ship with and the bomb was hung up overhead," she said.

"And there was a crowd there, and a crowd went onto the street, and I had a bottle of champagne that I swung and bashed over ... the bomb, and we gave speeches."

"It was a party. Every night was a party. And the show ran for about a fortnight and we pretty much lived in Danceteria."

In part, she admits, the whole thing was just an excuse to party. But it was also an attempt to preserve something from a special time and place. 

"The East Village in the '80s was an incredibly productive place in terms of the cultural life. We had bands, we had artists, we had theatre, we had performance artists," she said.

"Many of the people who lived there have gone on to be extremely well known, and you know, we were just having a ball and we wanted to leave some of that for the future and also to consider who we were and what our blessings were and, you know, what we had."

Madonna danced through Danceteria in the movie Desperately Seeking Susan, and she performed there in real life, as did Run-DMC, Billy Idol, Duran Duran and many other '80s icons.

The club, frequented by local artists such as Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Vincent Gallo, closed in 1986.

"It was an incredible scene and everybody was just doing their thing,' Cook said. "It was brilliant. It was just sparkling and wonderful.

"We were just having a ball, but basically anything we thought of, we could do, we had the space to do it. There were really no conceptual limits to Danceteria."

The NYPD said the former club's owner John Argento  may be able to pick up the contents of the capsule once they've been thoroughly searched — at which point Cook says the old gang might get together for a reunion party.

A lot of the contents, she said, may not have survived the ravages of time. 

"We are the time capsules at this point," Cook said. "We're the people who have the voice who remember that moment, which was so precious and such an important cultural moment."

Marguerite Van Cook, pictured here in 2009. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

With files from The Associated Press

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