1795 Boston time capsule opened

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(CNN) — More than 200 years after Samuel Adams and Paul Revere first buried it in Boston, it took an hour Tuesday to remove all the objects crammed inside a tiny time capsule.

“They said it was hermetically sealed, and I think they really meant it,” said Pam Hatchfield, head of objects conservation for the Museum of Fine Arts.

Among the stash Hatchfield removed from the 1795 time capsule: Five folded newspapers, a Massachusetts commonwealth seal, a title page from Massachusetts colony records, an engraved silver plate and at least 24 coins.

It was a painstaking process.

It took seven hours to remove the time capsule from the Massachusetts State House, and more than four hours for officials to loosen the screws that were holding it shut before Tuesday evening’s ceremony, Hatchfield said.

At the broadcast event, which took place at the museum, Hatchfield used tools that included a porcupine quill and her grandfather’s dental tool to help her safely remove the contents of the 10-pound box, which was uncovered during repairs for a water leak at the State House last month.

The box-shaped capsule was placed in the State House cornerstone in 1795 by Revere, the metalsmith, engraver and Revolutionary War hero; Adams, the brewer and governor of Massachusetts; and William Scollay, a local developer, when construction began. Revere was responsible for overlaying the State House dome with copper.

The time capsule measured 5.5 x 7.5 x 1.5 inches, officials said.

It’s not the first time the box has been uncovered. In 1855, during some other repairs, the time capsule was removed and its contents cleaned, only to be put back in the cornerstone for almost 160 years. The box’s materials were noted in reports of the time.

But this time, historians have had the opportunity to go through the contents with modern tools. After its removal December 11, the box was taken to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, X-rayed and given a thorough once-over.

And historians and preservation experts said they were excited to have a chance to open the box and see inside.

“Tonight is a new chapter in a story that began in 1795,” Malcolm Rogers, director of the museum, said before the capsule was opened.

As she looked at newspapers shortly after opening the box, Hatchfield said, “the paper is in amazingly good condition.”

The collection of coins recovered from the time capsule included half-cent, one-cent, half-dime, 10-cent and 25-cent coins. Another set of coins included a pine tree shilling from 1652 and a copper medal showing George Washington.

Conservators at the museum will work on preserving items removed from the time capsule.

Then the objects will be on display for a while. Eventually, the time capsule will be placed again in the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House, said William F. Galvin, secretary of the commonwealth.

One question still remains, Galvin said: Will officials put anything new in the time capsule before they put it back?

“The governor has wisely suggested that we might,” he said, “so we’ll think about it.”


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