About a dozen workers spent more than seven hours yesterday excavating a copper box from the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House in Boston. Historians believe Revolutionary-era patriots Paul Revere and Samuel Adams placed the time capsule in the cornerstone in 1795, the year construction on the building began. It is thought to contain coins dating back to the 1600s, an engraved silver plate and newspapers, among other artifacts.
According to historical accounts, Samuel Adams (who by then had become governor of Massachusetts), Paul Revere and William Scollay placed the original contents of the time capsule in 1795, in a ceremony that started in downtown Boston and ended at the State House, then under construction. Located atop Beacon Hill on land once owned by the state’s first elected governor, John Hancock, the State House was completed in 1798. The Federalist-style building, sometimes called the “New” State House,” replaced the Old State House on Court Street as the seat of the Massachusetts government. The latter building built in 1713, is the oldest surviving public building in Boston and now houses a historical museum.
This past October, the Old State House saw its own time capsule excitement, when officials opened a 113-year-old container that had been encased in the head of a golden lion statue on top of the building. Its contents, including sealed letters, photographs, and newspaper articles, were found to be in near-perfect condition.
The capsule placed by Revere and Adams in 1795 was first removed from the State House cornerstone in 1855, during emergency repairs to the building, and its contents were placed in a copper box, replacing the original cowhide container. It was then reburied and did not see the light of day again—until yesterday.
When workers repairing a water leak at the State House spotted the time capsule, they called in the staff from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. As reported in the Boston Globe, the excavation began at 9 a.m. yesterday, when workers dislodged the cornerstone from the building and propped it up on wooden blocks so that one of the museum’s conservators, Pam Hatchfield, could slide underneath. Hatchfield painstakingly tapped away at the block from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., taking periodic breaks to warm up out of the wind and snow. As she worked, tiny coins fell out of the plaster encasing the time capsule. Public officials had tossed in the coins, which appeared to be silver, for good luck during the 1855 reburial ceremony.
The corroded copper alloy box that finally emerged from the plaster late yesterday afternoon was a little smaller than a cigar box. State police transported the box to the Museum of Fine Arts, where it will be X-rayed to determine the contents. According to state officials, the time capsule is expected to contain a collection of silver and copper coins dating from between 1652 and 1855; a silver plate possibly fashioned by Revere, a renowned silversmith; newspapers; the seal of the Commonwealth and a title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records, among other possible artifacts.
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, who was on hand for the time capsule’s excavation, told the Globe that there is concern that some of the coins may have been damaged, as they may have been washed in acid before the box was reburied in 1855. Though the box will be opened sometime next week and the contents examined, it will ultimately be placed back inside the State House cornerstone, though officials have not yet decided whether they will add additional items to the box before reburial.