Paul Revere’s time capsule and its newspapers

Massachusetts State House in Bostom

This guy’s like me — always reading! Park with Massachusetts State House in center background. Public domain image courtesy of Mark Buckawicki, Wikimedia Commons.

Earlier this week, historians opened up a time capsule from the Massachusetts State House in Boston. The time capsule was originally buried by Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and William Scollay, a local developer.

It’s a small box that contains goodies such as some newspapers, some coins, a Massachusetts commonwealth seal, an inscribed silver plate and a title page from the era when Massachusetts was a colony. Around 1855, the box was opened, the contents cleaned up and some new coins were added before the capsule was reburied.

I’d love to read the stories in those newspapers. I’m guessing stories of the day, what was going on socially and possibly a few advertisements here and there. Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll find a way to transfer the contents onto the Web without damaging the papers.

I wonder: What did Paul, Samuel and William think as the box vanished from their sight, never to be seen again in their lifetimes? Did they ride off for a tankard of ale afterward at a local tavern, get into conversation and speculate about all of us and what we’d be like? Did they imagine the technological improvements we’ve experienced since 1795? Did they think about what kind of newspapers and books we’d write and read?

Time capsules speak in their own way. They tell us what people of the past valued enough to send to the future and they act as the voices of our ancestors.

It’s too bad we can’t talk to people like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Given his love of gadgetry, TJ would be particularly fascinated by iPads, iPods, smartphones and the Internet, don’t you think?

When I was in elementary school, we buried a time capsule on the grounds of the school. As I recall, we put in items such as a yearbook and some toys typical of our era. I did have the chance to see what happened to the capsule, since my grade school was later converted to an administrative center. The time capsule was dug up and its contents displayed during a party to celebrate the closing of the school. The paper contents had yellowed with time but were still readable.

Walking around the hallways of my elementary school that day was also a trip through time. As a project, our art teacher let us paint historical buildings on the walls in the hallways. The hallway walls were covered over with new paint but our artwork is still there underneath, waiting to be discovered. Maybe someone doing repairs will find them someday – an artistic time capsule.

I wonder if any time capsules have ever had letters in them so that the people of the past could communicate with the people of the future. And if they did, what did the letters say?

Blog readers: Have you ever participated in a time capsule project? If you wrote a letter that would be included in a time capsule for future generations, what would you want to say?

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “Paul Revere’s time capsule and its newspapers

  1. My letter would read “Dig deeper we buried a local vampire under here, he’ll probably need out to stretch his legs about now.” 😉 We joined in with a town time capsule when I was in school, I helped write an article for the school paper which was popped in with it. There’s no way of knowing what’ll happen to my blog posts and other writings up here on the surface but it’s nice to know someone will definitely be reading something I wrote when they dig up the capsule.

  2. Time capsules are the coolest little treasures. I read an article about the uncovering of this one earlier in December. The article went on to speak of another time capsule found a few months earlier in a lion statue at the Old State House, just a few miles away, also in Boston. This time capsule had been last uncovered in 1901 and contained, among other things, an envelope marked with the words: “A message to posterity from the daily newspapers at City Hall.” When the envelope was carefully opened it was found to contain NOTHING. It was probably just a great journalistic joke. The basic human sense of humor never seems to change much.
    http://a.msn.com/01/en-us/BBgFQID

  3. Servetus

    If you know the name of the newspaper and the date of the issues involved, and have access to an academic research library, it’s quite likely that you can read the paper via a database called America’s Historical Newspapers, 1690-1876.

  4. I heard about this. It was on television and also, oddly, the sports guys on NESN were talking about it, I guess because it was a local event. I’ll bet the boys DID go have a nice tankard of ale.

    You think it was a Sam Adams brew?

  5. Isn’t this cool? It took archivists almost all day to slowly take stuff out. Some of it will be going on display – fingers crossed it will be available online, too. After that they plan to rebox it up and put it back in the statehouse? (Oh, to read their thoughts then…and what they’d think now!)

  6. Ooh–story idea: a time capsule is opened, the letter is addressed to someone in the crowd and it contains a riveting or shocking or illuminating message. *scampers off to fiddle with plot ideas*

  7. Yes, I have participated in a time capsule event, but you know I can’t remember where or when. Maybe when they open it up I will remember.

  8. When I was a tyke it seemed my elementary school was burying a time capsule every year. I have no recollection of ever seeing one dug up.

    Who knows? Maybe my school was just making a big show of burying its trash.

  9. I vaguely remember we did one in elementary school, but I have no idea if it was really buried anywhere!

    Have you looked at the Colonial-era newspapers on the Maryland State Archives website? They’re a fascinating glimpse into the time. (And a great research tool for writing a time-travel story. 🙂 )

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