Boston Time Capsule Unearthed

Thomas Venema time capsule
Museum officials open the time capsule

Last month, workers repairing a leak at the Massachusetts State House in Boston uncovered a time capsule that was originally placed in the building’s cornerstone in 1795.  It took conservators from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts nearly seven hours to remove the box from its encasing.  Then, the box was moved to the museum to be X-rayed and more properly examined.  In a press conference at the museum earlier this week, officials from the museum and the Massachusetts Archives opened the time capsule with tools that included a porcupine quill and a dental pick.

The brass time capsule, which had turned green with age, measured 5.5 by 7.5 by 1.5 inches, just a bit smaller than a cigar box.  Its contents weren’t really a surprise, since the original time capsule had been removed in 1855 during some repairs to the building, and its contents were cleaned and documented before it was put back.  However, even after X-raying the box, museum officials didn’t have any idea what kind of condition the capsule’s contents would be in, or the details of what was inside of them.  Among the first items removed from the time capsule included folded newspapers in an astoundingly good condition, including copies of the Boston Bee and the Boston Traveller.  There were also 23 coins, whose dates ranged from 1652 to the mid-19th century, as well as a silver plate with fingerprints still on it that bore an inscription dedicating the State House cornerstone.

The inscription of the plate reads that this was the cornerstone of a building “intended for the use of legislative and executive branches of the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts”.  The plate is believed to have been made by Paul revere, the metalsmith and engraver who had placed the time capsule there in the first place.  Overall, it took nearly an hour to remove all of the items from the time capsule.  MFA conservators are now at work preserving the contents, which will probably go on display at the museum later on in the year.  It’s planned for the time capsule to be returned to the cornerstone, although it isn’t yet certain whether state officials will add any new objects to it before they bury it once again.

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