On Tuesday, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston unveiled the contents of a time capsule set in the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House in 1795 by Samuel Adams, who was Governor at the time, providing a unique snapshot into the Revolutionary period. Included among the contents were several old coins and newspapers, Commonwealth of Massachusetts seal, and an engraved silver plate fashioned by the famous Paul Revere.
The Samuel Adams time capsule is well known to local historians and politicians. It was opened once before, in 1855. Unexpected repairs unearthed the brass container, and the items in the box were cleaned up and some additions were made before re-burying it. Similarly, in December while making repairs on a water leak, the time capsule was once again unearthed. The contents were generally known before it was opened. Museum workers say that there is an account describing them written in 1855 about the ceremonial reburial. Also, the capsule was looked at with an x-ray by the museum prior to the opening.
It weighed 10 pounds, and took four hours to get into. It was a tough nut to crack. There were four screws securing the lid which were 5.5 by 7.5 by 1.5 inches. Conservationists marveled at the excellent condition of the items, particularly the papers included. The capsule contents will be on display at the museum temporarily, but the intention is to once again put it into the ground afterward. The advisability of adding contemporary items for future generations is being debated. Some fear it would no longer be the Samuel Adams time capsule with the inclusion of a flash drive or an iPod. Though risky to include something liquid, even bottled, many have suggested that it might be more appropriate to bury a bottle of Sam Adams beer alongside the other items.
The museum display includes the silver plaque, with an engraving by Paul Revere, as well as coins in silver and copper ranging in date from 1652 to 1855 and a medal made of copper with the image of George Washington. Paper items include the title page taken from the Massachusetts Colony Records, several newspapers and period “calling cards” along with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seal. all items are in archival boxes at the museum, painstakingly cared for by the experts trained to preserve and restore them.
The unveiling drew a distinguished crowd, including Governor Deval Patrick who reviewed the display with Michael Comeau, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Archives and Pam Hatchfield, a museum conservator. This snapshot of the revolutionary history presented by the Sam Adams time capsule provides a tangible link to the people and places Massachusetts residents grow up talking about and taking field trips to learn about. For many natives, the exhibit was a moving and personal experience. During the time that it remains at the museum, it may well become the destination of many pilgrimages for those with family ties to items in the box. Not exactly a historical find, it is a revelation of state and national history, and Sam Adams’ gift is being talked about across the country 220 years later.
By Jim Malone
Image courtesy of Lee Wright – Flickr License