Workers fixing a leak at the Massachusetts State House in Boston in December 2014 unearthed a time capsule placed in the building’s cornerstone more than two centuries ago. 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.
In October 2014, 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 2014.
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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 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, 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 was a little smaller than a cigar box. State police transported the box to the Museum of Fine Arts, where it was X-rayed and carefully opened. The time capsule was found to contain silver and copper coins dating from 1652 to 1855, newspapers, a medal depicting George Washington, and a silver plaque believed to be engraved by Paul Revere.
The collection was placed on display at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts until June 2015. Then the 220-year-old time capsule was reburied—with modern currency added for future generations to rediscover.
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