200-Year-Old Bottles, Newspapers Preserved in Washington Monument Cornerstone

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Inside the cornerstone
Inside the cornerstone

The cornerstone of the Washington Monument contains three glass jars containing newspapers, and maybe more.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy showed off the contents of the recently-discovered 200-year-old cornerstone, which was hollowed out to make room for a time capsule that commemorated the monument’s dedication on July 4, 1815.

The well contained three glass bottles, two of which measure about 11 in. by 5 in., while another one is roughly 8 in., appear to be in good condition.The cornerstone was sealed with mortar, and bottles were tightly packed.

The bottles have yet to be removed, as conservators from the Walters Art Museum will figure out the best way to remove them without rendering any damage. As with the 100-year-old time capsule that was discovered inside the base of the monument last year, an X-ray appointment is in the cornerstone’s future.

Lance Humphries (left) discusses the cornerstone)
Lance Humphries (left) discusses the cornerstone)

Peering over the 1,000-pound cornerstone, Conservancy Restoration Chair Lance Humphries could make out the names of four newspapers that were visible through the bottles. They were the Niles Weekly Register, two copies of the Federal Gazette and the Baltimore Daily Advertiser. If you’ve never heard of them, that’s okay. They’ve all since shuttered thanks to a paper that hit the scene about 20 years later.

“The Sun was not in existence until the 1830s, so there’s no representation of the Sun inside,” Humphries said.

The newspapers were likely made of paper made from old rags that was more durable than the paper made today, enabling them to survive. They’re tightly packed, so other items — such as a print of George Washington or coins — could be inside.

“They were trying to show us what was going on in their world the day this was happening,” said Lance Humphries, the conservancy’s restoration chair.

It was a time of great excitement, as citizens celebrated America’s victory in the War of 1812 and the role of the city where the monument sits in that triumph.

“It was a big day for Baltimore,” Humphries said.

For all of its potentially glorious contents, the cornerstone could’ve potentially been lost to history. Thousands of people attended the ceremony where the cornerstone was laid, but its location was lost to history. It took the $5.5 million restoration project that’s currently ongoing at the monument to unearth it.

As crews were digging a sewage pit at the northeast corner of the monument on Monday, Lewis Contractors foreman George Wilk II noticed a cube emerging from the dirt. That was unusual, signaling it might be a good find. Turns out, it was the cornerstone.

The pit where the cornerstone was found.
The pit where the cornerstone was found.


Once they dug around it, the giant cube was then moved. The lid, which is inscripted with the names of stonecutters William Stueart and Thomas Towson and stonemason Stater Stevenson, was removed on Tuesday night. As of Wednesday, the jars inside are still in the cornerstone. The contents will now be turned over to the Walters staff.

There’s plans to unveil the contents of the 100-year-old time capsule around the monument’s bicentennial celebration in July. Given the puzzle posed by figuring out how to properly extract the contents of the cornerstone, it’s not known whether the contents of this will also be on display.

Along with finishing the restoration and figuring out how to preserve two time capsules, the conservancy has another big job before the summer celebration: figuring out what to leave behind in their own time capsule.

Any ideas?



Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is the editor of Technical.ly Baltimore and an editor-at-large of Baltimore Fishbowl.

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  1. Thank you for the idea. Our concern over electronics is technology will be quite different 100 years from now and will the future be able to read our current technology- maybe-maybe not.

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