A time capsule is not just an artifact of science fiction. They actually exist and have been created and later found for centuries. For those who may not know, a time capsule is a container that stores a selection of objects specifically chosen as being representative of the present time, buried for discovery in the future.
What makes time capsules so significant as well as surreal is not only what is found inside them, but the fact that a message is being conveyed from generations past. And that’s exactly what happened in 2014 when a time capsule was mistakenly found by plumbers. Its contents revealed much of what this country’s foundation was based upon, and it adds another layer of importance to American history.
Sam Adams and Paul Revere were prominent names in the establishment of the United States. Revere had a huge part in the Declaration of Independence. And on December 11, 2014, a box was accidentally found and within it, pieces of history.
To give you an idea as to the meaning of these findings, the executive director of the Massachusetts Archives, Michael Comeau, stated: “This is the stuff that leads us to Sam Adams, to Paul Revere. [It helps us to] better understand not only what happened before us but also helps to better understand ourselves, because it’s this power of memory, of shared memory and heritage.”
A time capsule is a container that stores a selection of objects that are chosen as being typical at the present time and then buried for discovery in the future. Time capsules have actually been regularly created since the 19th century.
But this particular box predates the 1800s and is potentially the oldest one ever found. And what makes this time capsule even more remarkable is that it was assembled by some of the most important figures during the period when the United States was being formed.
And they chose to bury it in one of the country’s most iconic buildings…
During the beginning stages of construction of the Massachusetts State House, this time capsule was inserted intentionally into the building’s cornerstone. The iconic National Historic Landmark was completed after three years and can be seen still today in the Beacon Hill/Downtown area of Boston.
The building is difficult to miss regardless, with its golden dome. But its hidden time capsule adds a new element to the building’s rich history.
It was not the first time that this time capsule has been discovered. In 1855, sixty years after it was originally placed inside the building, a group of workers came across the box. They took the items out of the box and put them inside a stronger brass box with a bunch of new items.
The Governor at the time, Winslow Harley, took the capsule and organized a ceremony. He then placed the box back inside the cornerstone of the building. And then 159 years later, the box was to be discovered again.
And the box was found under similar conditions…
One day on December 11, 2014, not unlike the last time the time capsule was found, a group of plumbers found the box. The workers then informed Pam Hatchfield, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts Head of Objects Conservation.
“We received a call from the state house about a time capsule found in the cornerstone of the building,” Hatchfield said. “There were a lot of historical reports about the time capsule.” She was understandably very curious as to its contents.
A team of experts and riggers arrived at the building to retrieve the time capsule. They assumed that it wouldn’t take long to remove the box from the cornerstone. But in the end, the operation took seven long hours.
“We didn’t really know what we were getting into until that day,” Hatchfield said later. “We had riggers working with us to make sure the stone could be safely suspended so that I could get underneath.”
So did she and her team get what they came for?
Although Hatchfield and her team underestimated how tough the delicate operation would actually be, she remained determined. After chiseling away at the cornerstone for a long time, she finally broke through.
The time capsule fell into her hands, and she was immediately surprised by a couple of old coins that were sitting on top of the box. Word on the street is that Winslow Harley placed these coins as a way of wishing the capsule good luck before placing it back into the cornerstone.
Hatchfield used an instrument (usually handled by dentists) and a porcupine quill to open the box and inspect its contents. The opening was clearly a big event, and everyone who was there took it seriously as the room was absolutely silent.
“I think the most exciting thing about this process really was the big reveal that evening to finally have an opportunity to look inside that box and see what was there and be able to show it to others,” Hatchfield said.
The question remains: what’s in the box?
People gasped as the box was opened. There was a random assortment of items, but each object was instantly recognizable. Of the objects in the time capsule, five of them were newspapers that had been published in the mid-1800s, including the Boston Bee and Boston Daily Traveler.
Experts on the scene chose not to unfold the papers out of fear of damaging the pages. But these papers were just the surface of what else was to be found in the capsule.
Michael Comeau, the executive director of the Massachusetts Archives, was one of the experts involved with the opening of the time capsule. What stood out to Comeau were the coins inside. “They deposited a number of items in the initial insertion in 1795. They included some coinage of the time,” he said.
Not only were there an assortment of coin denominations, but the coins also varied in their condition. And there were 24 of them.
And there was something particularly fascinating about one of the coins…
Of the 24 coins in the capsule, one of them had an additional level of historical importance. “There were a couple of things that were found that I found so exciting,” said Libby O’Connell, HISTORY’s Chief Historian. And what she stated about the coin really adds a layer of significance to an already rich history.
“One was the pine tree shilling from 1652 and the 17th century Massachusetts Bay colony produced their own currency which was illegal from the point of the King of England…So, having these coins was a way of saying ‘we have been an independent people for a long, long time.’”
It wasn’t only the coins that were adding layers of significance to the story. There were other remarkable items in the time capsule. One of the items was a copper medal with George Washington’s face on it and a paper seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
It was actually the official emblem of the state during that time. There were also a bunch of colonial records dating as far back as the 1600s.
And then something else in the box took the investigation down another path…
What was considered to be the most important item in the time capsule was the mysterious silver plate, which included an important message on it. “They had put in a silver plate which basically said the purpose of the mission they had,” Michael Comeau said.
This silver plate essentially told the experts why the time capsule was even stored in the first place. What could possibly be written on a silver plate that would explain such a grand and meaningful event?
The experts were surprised by the fact that the silver plate had names on it. And these names were the people who created the time capsule. Hatchfield read the plate’s message aloud upon discovering it:
“This cornerstone of a building intended for the use of the legislative and executive branches of government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was laid by his Excellency Samuel Adams Esquire, governor of the said commonwealth, assisted by the most worshipful Paul Revere, grand master, and the right worshipful William Sculley, deputy grand master.”
These names might ring a bell…
Sam Adams and Paul Revere incredibly important figures in American history. Sam Adams was one of the Founding Fathers, and Revere served as a militia officer during the American Revolution and was a silversmith by trade. It’s very probable that Revere was the one who engraved the silver plate.
Revere is best known for his “midnight ride,” in which he rode through the night to warn rebel forces about the British soldiers came to arrest Adams. And because of that, the rebels successfully fought them off.
The third party in the making of the time capsule was lesser known; a man by the name of William Scollay. He was originally a real estate developer, but he had important ties with the mason lodge of Massachusetts, similar to Revere and Adams.
But when the American Revolution began, he became a militia officer, and a square was even named after him. The time capsule is actually one of the only remainders of William Scollay’s legacy.
And his legacy was just as important as the other two…
While Scollay wasn’t as famous as Sam Adams and Paul Revere, there is no doubt that he was just as important in this chapter of history. The real estate developer from Boston was heavily involved in the Masonic Lodge of Massachusetts.
Being that Adams and Revere were also into real estate and had ties to the Masonic Lodge, the three had important roles in their connections that explain how and why the time capsule was stored inside the State House’s cornerstone.
According to Libby O’Connell, the Chief Historian, many of America’s present values were heavily influenced by the Freemasons’ values. Adams and Revere’s masonic beliefs were tantamount to what it meant to be American.
“What’s important about the Freemasons is that they believe in very radical, revolutionary concepts of equality and liberty,” O’Connell said, “Today, those are things that we take for granted, but 400 years ago, these guys were on the cutting edge of what became an ideology of the republic.”
And the burying of the time capsule was celebrated…
Michael Comeau was positive that the three men performed a Masonic ceremony when burying the time capsule. “Samuel Adams was a mason. He was attended by Paul Revere, who was the grand master of the grand lodge of Masons of Massachusetts,” he said. “This was a mason ceremony, start to finish.”
Not only was the ceremony a Masonic tradition; it also commemorated a date that holds significance for millions of people: the 4th of July.
Comeau further said that “The date that they chose of the laying of the cornerstone was highly significant because remember, this was July 4th. This is 1795. This is the 20th anniversary of American independence.”
According to experts, Adams and Revere were mindful of the importance that the then 20th anniversary signified. Expert Bill Galvin believed that these men knew that the State House was more than just a building. They were conscious of the fact that it was a symbol what made the young country so great.
And they needed to pass on a message for the future…
Michael Comeau supposed that Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and William Scollay were well aware that they were living in a special time and they aimed to share a part of it with future generations. Hence, the reason for the time capsule.
“They were aware of the fact that they lived in turbulent and important times,” Comeau stated. “What was happening then was really something very special. I think they were aware of that fact. I think they were trying to pass that message on forward.”
The essence of a time capsule in general and specifically this one, is that the creators, in this case, the founding fathers, are essentially communicating with us from another era. As Libby O’Connell said, “Paul Revere touched these things. Sam Adams touched these things.”
“This is like a voice coming to us 200 and many years later.” Michael Comeau described it as “a tangible bridge to history. It’s a tangible bridge to people like [Paul] Revere and [Sam] Adams.”
The time capsule was just one example of the greatness of the era…
The experts all agreed that the time capsule was just one example of all the great things that had been done during that era. “I think that those two remarkable, big figures were men of action,” Bill Galvin said. “They clearly were people who not only debated things in a time when so much of politics is a conflict with words and inaction. They were men of action who got things done.”
Like the capsule itself, Sam Adams’ and Paul Revere’s values have stood the test of time. “I think that’s why our founding generation always resonates with Americans because the ideals that they pass forward never really are absent from our lives,” Comeau said.
It’s also important to understand the facts and figures behind this remarkable piece of history. The box weighed only 10 pounds and measured 5-1/2 x 7-1/2 x 1-1/2 inches. The small metal container clearly weighed a lot more in its significance.
CNN Correspondent Alexandria Field described the box in a straightforward way in her report of the capsule, saying: “The box itself is actually pretty small, just 5 and a half by 7 and a half inches.”
Remember Pam Hatchfield? She became something of a celebrity after the opening of the box…
Ever since Pam Hatchfield unveiled the time capsule, she’s become something of a celebrity. Since the opening, she appeared on a number of news channels such as Greater Boston on WGBH News. And it was during that appearance that she discussed the events with Michael Comeau.
Historians from Massachusetts and beyond have praised Hatchfield for her determination to unearth one of the unknown chapters of American history.
William Galvin believes that the discovery of the time capsule is so more than just a history lesson of sorts. It proves how significant the state of Massachusetts was and in the formation of the country.
Without this state, America would look a lot different. “These symbols, when they were placed in the State House in 1795…represented the aspirations of the founding fathers and those who came after,” Galvin said. “The history of Massachusetts is the history of America.”
It doesn’t always take a time capsule to reveal significant parts of history…
Terese Frydensberg Refsgaard lives for the hunt. And her weapon of choice is her metal detector. In 2018, Terese discovered something she never could have imagined. While she was out for a walk with her metal detector, she came across something truly unique.
The dental assistant liked to spend her spare time hunting for treasures. Terese spent her leisure time as an amateur archaeologist. She scoured the Danish countryside for lost remnants.
Terese gained a reputation for her digging. She eventually received an invitation to join a group of archaeology hobbyists. Although it didn’t promise anything, it was nice to have a support system.
It was in November that Terese had the opportunity to search the island of Hjarnø, off the coast of Denmark. While it only spanned a bit over a square mile, the island was an exciting prospect for explorers.
The island of Hjarnø was chosen for a reason…
Back in 2008, archaeologists stumbled upon remnants of a stone structure on the island of Hjarnø. Tests were later done on the stone and the materials dated back to the year 5200 B.C. These were actually the remains of a Stone Age settlement.
Terese and her friends in the group fantasized about finding something similar. Once the group settled on the island, they split off in different directions to cover as much ground as possible.
Then Teresa heard that exciting sound…
Then Terese heard a beep from her metal detector. After hearing that exciting sound, she pinpointed the spot that set her detector off. While she knew that a beep could mean nothing, she held her breath in anticipation.
Digging carefully so that she wouldn’t damage anything precious, she pushed her shovel into the ground. She then carefully examined each piece of dirt and tossed it aside if nothing seemed important.
She was looking for the special piece that set off the signal…
Terese then found a metal fragment! She only hoped for it to be gold, but it was too early to tell. She kept on digging, but she had a good feeling about the piece she found. But she didn’t expect was about to happen.
Terese unearthed even more metal pieces. They were all intact and covered with intricate loops. Other pieces she found had precious stones in the center. These metal relics must have come from masterful craftsmen of the time.
Terese was aware that archaeology hobbyists could spend years looking for treasure with no success, so it was surreal for her to suddenly unearth these pieces. She found herself with 23 pieces of jewelry in her hands!
She called over to her colleagues. They were all astonished and could hardly believe the treasure laying before them. After taking a closer look, they confirmed that the jewelry was gold.
But what they didn’t know was what they were doing on the island of Hjarnø…
Amazingly, the objects dated back to the 6th century, meaning they had no relation to the island’s Stone Age. They even predated the Viking era, where tribes were known to constantly steal and stash loot all over Europe.
Terese decided to get a professional involved to solve the mystery of the newfound jewelry. Mads Ravn is a researcher from the Velje Museum. He predicted that the artifacts were of Roman origin and that early Danes must have traded for them.
According to historical records, the creation of these gold pieces came during a major disaster. There was a cataclysmic volcanic eruption roughly around the same time which killed over 100,000 people. People in Europe were unaware of this event.
And that is likely because it occurred thousands of miles away in El Salvador. But the effects of the volcano spread to Europe, where unusual weather patterns were devastating the harvest.
And they weren’t able to explain what was happening…
Early Europeans could only blame the gods for punishing them with such famine. Mads Ravn guessed that the Danes could have bought these treasures and buried them as an offering. Terese’s findings were then displayed and available for study.
Two different museums in Denmark are displaying her groundbreaking finds, and she’s even helping the staff unlock more of the mysteries behind the artifacts. They have the potential to reveal a new chapter of the country’s past.
Brad Martin is a lifelong metal detector enthusiast from Green Mountain Metal Detecting. He’s found all kinds of treasures from the earth. But the Vermont man didn’t expect what would become the greatest find of his life.
Though some treasure hunters might prefer to search through a sandy beach, Brad likes to sweep the regions of Vermont. Due to his rapport with the people in the area, Brad has been given free rein over thousands of acres of privately owned land.
And then on a regular hike, he stumbled upon something great…
Brad decided to hike into the mountains in search of an area that is known to contain the ruins of an old building. When he got there, he saw a large hole in the ground and tons of dilapidated stone walls. Brad was convinced that his next big find would be here.
He then found his first find of the day: a tombac button. He would later understand that this type of button was popular in the 1700s, but fell out of fashion due to its brittleness. But this button’s discovery meant that other hidden treasures were likely yet to be found.
Brad’s next find was a copper coin. The surface had been worn out over time, and Brad guessed that it was either a British halfpenny or a coin from another early colony. Then Brad pulled something out of the ground. He believed it to be an old clock hand, but he later said it was likely the trigger-guard plate from an old musket.
As the sun began to set on this relatively successful day of detecting, Brad decided to make his way back to his truck. He was detecting as he walked, and his device suddenly picked up a reading a few yards from the road.
His metal detector signaled a solid 79, which was around the same reading that the other findings read. So he began digging. Brushing off the soil, he unearthed a massive silver coin in great condition. After cleaning the coin, he realized he had discovered an incredible 1780 Spanish Eight Reales.
Spanish silver coins came in five variations during the time they were made: 1/2, 1, 2, 4, and 8 Reales. The 8 Reales is the most valuable and sought-after. Finding a coin like this was one in a million.
After doing research, Brad learned that this coin ended up being one of the most counterfeited in the world. Britain heavily copied this coin in order to cripple the Spanish economy during the Anglo-Spanish War of 1796-1808.
Although Brad isn’t in it for the money, his finding is surely worth a pretty penny. But aside from its value, it’s just another day in Brad’s life of hunting treasure.