In 1795, then Massachusetts governor Samuel Adams, American Revolution patriot Paul Revere and real estate developer William Scollay placed a box-shaped capsule in a cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House in Boston. Construction of the state Capitol had just begun at the time.
Emergency repairs were made to the structure's foundation in 1855, leading to the accidental removal of the box originally made of cowhide. The contents were then transferred to a new copper box before the container was placed in a depression in the stone.
The cigar box-sized container had not been unearthed again and in essence nearly forgotten until workers who were conducting repairs for a water leak at the historic building last week accidentally discovered it.
Pamela Hatchfield, head of Objects Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts, was then called for her expertise.
On Dec. 11, more than two centuries after the time capsule was originally buried, Hatchfield and several workers successfully extracted the box from its burial place. The nearly 220-year-old container was then taken to the Museum of Fine Arts where it will be X-rayed to determine its contents.
The box is believed to include a collection of ancient silver and copper coins from between 1652 and 1855, newspapers, an engraved silver plate, cards, and Massachusetts Colony Records.
"What we know the box contains, based on the notes that we have, is a Paul Revere plate, papers and coins from the 1600s," said Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin. "It may contain other stuff, too; we don't know that yet."
There were some concerns over the contents, though. For one, there was water damage in the particular part of the building where the time capsule was buried, which prompted the workers to go there in the first place before eventually finding the ancient box.
Galvin also said that it was a very humid day when the box was restored in the mid-19th century, and there were notes that indicate that contents were washed in acid.
"The cause of this whole effort is that there's been a substantial water problem now for about 30 years in this corner, so there's been additional deterioration," Galvin said. "We don't know how much has deteriorated over time."
Some of the coins that were tossed along with the box in the 1855 restoration, however, appear to be in good condition so officials are hopeful that the box also withstood the test of time and protected the contents.
Galvin said that the time capsule will be opened next week. The public may also have the opportunity to see the contents on display at least for a limited time because these will likely be returned to their original site.