What could have been saved in stone 200 years ago?
Crews have removed a time capsule dating back to 1795 from the granite cornerstone of the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston, where historians believe it was originally placed by Revolutionary War luminaries Samuel Adams and Paul Revere among others.
The capsule is believed to contain items such as coins, documents, newspapers and a metal plate that was owned by Revere.
Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts William Galvin speculated that some of the items could have deteriorated over time.
Officials planned to X-ray the capsule at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts to get some idea of the contents and possibly details on their condition, then open it soon.
Originally made of cowhide, the time capsule was believed to have been embedded in the cornerstone when construction on the state Capitol began in 1795. Adams was governor of Massachusetts at the time.
The time capsule was removed in the mid-19th century and its contents transferred to a copper box, Galvin said. Its latest removal was due to an ongoing water filtration project at the building. Galvin said the plan is to return it to the site sometime next year.
Pamela Hatchfield, a conservator at the museum, was exhausted after spending hours chiseling and drilling on the massive cornerstone, taking care not to damage the time capsule or coins that were thrown in the mortar that held it in place.
She held up the capsule for viewing by state officials, reporters and contractors involved in the renovation of the Statehouse.
"It's heavy," Hatchfield said. "I feel happy and relieved and excited and really interested to see what's in this box."
Hatchfield said state officials did not know that the time capsule was embedded in the cornerstone until 60 years after some of the nation's leading founding political figures put it there.
"It was first put in there in 1795 by Paul Revere and Sam Adams and was unearthed accidentally when in 1855, there were some amendments to the building," Hatchfield said. "They put the contents back into a new box and placed it in a depression in the stone, which is on the underside."
Galvin said there were notes from 1855 indicating that officials washed some of the contents in the capsule with acid before putting them in the new copper box.
It also was a humid day when the items were restored and, Galvin said, the corner of the Statehouse where the capsule was fixed has had a water leakage problem for 30 years.
"We have to see what held up since that time," he said. "That's the biggest question we have right now are the contents in good condition or not?"
Galvin said the Massachusetts Statehouse is one of the oldest, active statehouses in the country.
The excavation came just months after another time capsule was uncovered from the Old State House, which served as the state's first seat of government. That long-forgotten time capsule, dating to 1901, turned up in a lion statue atop the building. When opened, it was found to contain a potpourri of well-preserved items including newspaper clippings, a book on foreign policy and a letter from journalists of the period.
Critical thinking challenge: Why can't officials be sure about the condition of the contents of the box? What may have damaged the contents?