In an elaborate ceremony steeped in tradition, a time capsule dating to 1795 was returned on Wednesday to the cornerstone of the Massachusetts Statehouse, with a set of 2015 US mint coins and a silver plaque added to its contents for a future generation to discover.
A procession of freemasons marched up Beacon Hill as a fife and drum corps, clad in Colonial garb, played on the statehouse lawn. Military units stood at attention and a 19-gun salute was fired, all part of an effort to approximate the historically documented atmosphere of 4 July 1795, when the newly built cornerstone was drawn by 15 white horses from Boston’s Old South Church, across Boston Common to the construction site for the new state capitol.
On that day, the then Massachusetts governor, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere, then Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Masons, presided over a ceremony in which the time capsule was first deposited into the cornerstone.
During Thursday’s ceremony, Governor Charlie Baker joked that Adams is today better known to many people as a beer-maker than a key Revolutionary-era figure. But he said it was humbling to consider that the original capsule was placed just 15 years after Massachusetts adopted its constitution.
“What makes this time capsule so unusual is it’s not an interpretation from a historian, it’s not a passage in a text book, it’s the story that our predecessors from that Revolutionary time wanted us to know and understand,” Baker said.
The original container included an engraved silver plaque, a medal in honor of George Washington and a set of coins including one believed dated to the mid-1600s.
The capsule was removed in 1855 during construction of a new wing of the building. Its contents were transferred to a sturdier brass box and new items, including coins and newspapers, were added. Rediscovered last year during a water filtration project, the box was gingerly excavated from the building and later opened by conservators at the Museum of Fine Arts.
The latest contents, not revealed until Thursday’s ceremony, were a 2015 US mint coin set – including dollar coins of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson – and a silver plaque commemorating Thursday’s event.
As was the case in 1855, the contents were placed in a new container, this one made of stainless steel with an oxygen-free interior to prevent deterioration.
The secretary of state, William Galvin, who presided over the ceremony with Baker and Harvey Waugh, current Grand Master of the Massachusetts Grand Lodge of Masons, said it could be hundreds of years before the box is opened again but when it is, “the history we made today will be fondly remembered.”
Groups of invited schoolchildren, wearing T-shirts that read “Time To Go Back”, watched the ceremony along with state workers and curious tourists.