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Boston Time Capsule Reveals Colonial Trove

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In this country, we now know the contents of a time capsule that is nearly as old as the country itself. Here's Bruce Gellerman of WBUR in Boston.

BRUCE GELLERMAN, BYLINE: Patriots Paul Revere and Sam Adams were there on July 4, 1795, when a time capsule was placed under the cornerstone of Massachusetts's new state House. Sixty years later in 1855, the capsule was discovered during repairs, its contents documented and new items added, placed in a small, brass box and buried again under the cornerstone. Last year, the time capsule was rediscovered and taken to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Last night, 220 years after it was first sealed, the box was reopened, slowly.

PAM HATCHFIELD: Conservation happens at a glacial pace.

GELLERMAN: Museum conservationist Pam Hatchfield used a porcupine quill and her grandfather's dental pick to carefully remove the contents.

HATCHFIELD: OK, now...

MICHAEL COMEAU: We're down another layer.

HATCHFIELD: This is going to be interesting.

GELLERMAN: Hatchfield and state archivist Michael Comeau began removing newspapers from 1855 from the box - The Boston B and Evening Traveler - then a colonial treasure trove.

HATCHFIELD: Oh, my gosh. These look like these 1795 coins. There's a pine tree shilling...

COMEAU: The pine tree shilling from 1652 is right there. Wow.

HATCHFIELD: Spectacular.

COMEAU: How cool is that?

GELLERMAN: At the bottom of the box was an engraved silver plate the size and shape of a smartphone, inscribed with the names Revere and Adams. State archivist Michael Comeau.

COMEAU: This is that bridge to people, like, you know, Sam Adams and Paul Revere, and then you look at the individuals and say, well, maybe it's something more than that. Maybe it's the bridge back to their principles and the purpose of their ideals. It's really kind of exciting.

GELLERMAN: The contents of the time capsule will go on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and later, resealed perhaps with items from today and then again, hidden under the state House cornerstone for future historians to discover. For NPR News, I'm Bruce Gellerman in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.