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100-Year-Old Time Capsule Discovered During Baltimore’s Washington Monument Restoration

The Mount Vernon Place Conservancy (Conservancy) reports that in a niche in the Washington Monument’s base, a sealed copper box has been discovered behind a 1915 plaque commemorating the Monument’s Centennial.

Since January, the Monument has been undergoing a $5.5 million restoration by the Conservancy. George Wilk II, Project Superintendent for Lewis Contractors, made the initial discovery while investigating how the plaque was attached to the wall. The plaque dates to the Monument’s Centennial in 1915, and was designed by noted Baltimore sculptor Hans Schuler and cast by the Roman Bronze Works foundry in New York.

Washington Monument in Baltimore Md.

“We are restoring the interior plaster finishes in the Monument, most of which have been reworked many times over the years because of water damage,” said Lance Humphries, Chair of the Conservancy’s restoration committee. “We realized that the plaster behind this plaque was in effect a time capsule from 1915 because this area has been sealed for 100 years. We were hoping that the plaster in the niche might give us clues as to the appearance of the original plaster in the museum room. Little did we realize that there was an actual time capsule stashed behind the plaque.”

New research indicates that while the Monument was celebrating its Centennial in 1915, plans were underway to create the bronze plaque detailing the history of the monument. It was installed on Defender’s Day 1915 (September 12), and a copper box placed behind it reportedly containing copies of various commemorate programs, issues of The Sun, and other items.

After the copper box is revealed, it will be taken to the nearby Walters Art Museum for safekeeping while work on the Monument restoration continues. Conservators from the Walters’ staff will assist in the eventual opening of the copper box, considering the possibility that its contents have been exposed to the Monument’s dampness for a century and may be in poor condition. A date for opening the copper box has not been set.

Julia Marciari-Alexander, Executive Director of the Walters added, “The Walters is known for its world-class conservation efforts and we are honored to partner with the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy to provide a safe home for some of Baltimore’s most cherished historic artifacts,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, executive director of the Walters Art Museum. Similar items were placed in the Monument’s cornerstone when it was laid on July 4, 1815, in then Howard’s Woods. To date, that stone buried deep in the Monument’s foundation has not been located.

time_capsileHenry H. Hopkins, President of the Conservancy noted of this latest discovery. “Throughout the Monument’s restoration these finds, such as the signatures found in the subterranean vaults when our work began early this year, and the various craftsmen’s initials and dates found chiseled into the stones, really put us in touch with the Monument’s long history.”

Baltimore’s Washington Monument, a nearly 180 foot tall marble column surmounted by a colossal statue of George Washington, was designed by architect Robert Mills. When work began in 1815 it was the first monument erected to honor the nation’s first President. Decades later Mills designed the more well-known monument in the nation’s capital.

Restoration work on the Monument will be completed in the spring of 2015.

Formed in 2008, the Conservancy’s mission is to restore and manage the Washington Monument and park squares of Mount Vernon Place in partnership with the City of Baltimore. The Monument restoration is the first phase of a multi-year project.

The Monument’s reopening and bicentennial will be celebrated on July 4, 2015, with a patriotic celebration that includes the official rededication of the monument followed by a family festival in Mount Vernon Place presented by Bank of America.

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