Along with rare views of the city, the restoration on Baltimore’s Washington Monument turned up a small box that leaders hope will be a trove of city history. The contents, however, will remain a mystery at least for the time being.
While working on the massive Mt. Vernon restoration project, workers found a box in the base of the 180-ft. monument that’s believed to be a 100-year-old time capsule. The copper box was found earlier in October behind a plaque commemorating the monument’s July 4 centennial.
“I was ecstatic,” said finder George Wilk II, Project Superintendent for Lewis Contractors. “Like a kid in a candy store. Ecstatic.”
Initially, Mt. Vernon Conservancy Restoration Committee chair Lance Humphries wanted Wilk to check behind the plaque as part of an ongoing effort to learn more about the wall finishes in the base of the monument. The area behind the plaque was the only spot that hadn’t been checked.
“I was hoping there would be a time capsule of wall finishes back there, which we knew would likely be true because no one’s been behind this in 100 years. And there was a real time capsule back there,” Humphries said.
After Wilk told him about the find, Humphries discovered a Baltimore Sun article from 1915 about the time capsule. It lists copies of commemorate programs from the monument’s centennial celebration, issues of the Baltimore Sun and documents from the 100th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner as potential contents. If the celebrations sound familiar, don’t worry, you’re not stuck in a time warp. The city just finished celebrating the bicentennial of the Star-Spangled Banner, and the restoration of the monument is being undertaken in advance of its 200th birthday next year.
“That’s what they did in 1914-15. That’s what we’re doing in 2014-15. And it’s what they’ll be doing in 2114-15,” Humphries said of the celebrations of the Star-Spangled Banner and monument.
Though baseball wasn’t listed among the potential contents, students of the game will likely take note that 1915 was the final year for the Baltimore Terrapins. They were the city’s original Federal League team, who bear responsibility for the Orioles shipping a young pitcher named Babe Ruth up to Boston.
No one will know for sure what’s inside until the capsule is opened. Once workers moved the plaque away and examined the box for the first time on Wednesday morning, Wilk found that the box was soldered shut. Humphries hopes the seal will help preserve the contents. But when factoring in water damage that the base of the monument has seen over the years, opening the box will be a delicate process.
As a result, workers will move the box to the nearby Walters Art Museum on Wednesday afternoon. Conservators will then begin to determine the condition of the capsule, and the best way to open the box.
In addition to awaiting the opening, Humphries will begin preparing a new capsule. The discovery prompted the Conservancy to begin preparing its own box to leave behind on the Monument’s 200th birthday. We asked him what would be inside.
“Things that people will understand 100 years from now. Someone said, ‘What about a phone?’” Humphries said, pointing to our trusty iPhone. “Well, that won’t work 100 years from now.”