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A Mysterious Newspaper Box ‘Time Machine’ Showed Up in Chicago

It’s filled with old issues of the “Chicago Reader.”

As more and more people get their information online, there’s been one definite infrastructural casualty: the newspaper box. As a 2015 Newsweek article reports, the number of boxes on street corners has declined steadily over the past decade. Earlier this month, the Village Voice, New York City’s storied alt-weekly, put out its last print issue. Fans scoured the city for the red receptacles that, up until now, had housed it every week.

So residents of Chicago’s Lawrence Avenue were surprised when, just a few weeks ago, a Chicago Reader newspaper box arrived on their street, next to a public garden. They were even more surprised by what it held: decidedly out-of-date copies of the Reader, including the first ever issue, which was published in 1971.

As the (online edition of) the Chicago Reader describes it, the newspaper box was collaged all over with previous issues, and filled with a supply of old papers that was repeatedly replenished as passers-by helped themselves.

Locals—who started calling the box a “time machine”—were delighted, but confused. Was this a marketing ploy? A statement about the Reader’s new ownership? An attempt at putting out the recycling gone very wrong?

As Reader reporter Michael Miner eventually found out, the answer has more to do with history and nostalgia. The box was decorated, delivered, and continually topped off by a former Reader reporter, who rescued the box from a recycling yard a decade ago and the back issues from the paper’s office even earlier, when they were going to be thrown out.

The reporter, who is using the pseudonym “Ian Crusken,” wishes remain anonymous—“the focus is not a particular employee but the many people who went into creating the culture, the paper, the content,” he told Miner. He made the box, he said, because he liked the idea of “three or four hundred people in apartments reading 44 year old stories of Chicago.”

He recently refilled it with his last stack of old issues, and expects them to get snapped up soon—at which point this newspaper box, too, will disappear.

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