A Time Capsule Had Been Hiding In The Washington Monument For Two Centuries

Published on 06/28/2021
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The Washington Monument, grand as it is, required some care. This landmark in Baltimore was built as an ode to the first president of the United States, but it was at risk of becoming more of a public danger than a lovely tribute. As the workers got to work, they were taken by surprise. They found a unique relic lying below the column. They were confused and annoyed at first, but they started to realize how important it was. In fact, it went on to shed light on the history of the United States of America.

Workers Renovating The Washington Monument In Baltimore Has Uncovered A Hidden Centuries Old Time Capsule

A Time Capsule Had Been Hiding In The Washington Monument For Two Centuries

They Should Not Have Been Shocked

The workers had been placing a septic tank below the ground when they found it. If they knew their history, they would not have been shocked by it. After all, this was the side of the Washington Monument that gets the most sunlight in the first half of the day. Masonic beliefs have always said that this is where you should expect to discover something special tucked away. What exactly did they find?

Shouldn’t Be Surprised

They Should Not Have Been Shocked

What They Saw Down There

You must be curious to hear what they discovered. The workers saw that there was a granite block in the ground. All right. We know that does not sound all that exciting, but just you wait. You see, this was actually the cornerstone of the monument! There was much more to it than meets the eye.

What They Found

What They Saw Down There

Excitement All Around

On the other hand, Lance Humphries was thrilled when he learned about this. He works as the executive director of the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy. It is a non-profit organization that aims to preserve the historic landmarks in the region. Humphries explained what made him so happy about it. He said, “It’s well known that they laid a cornerstone, but they never actually mentioned where the cornerstone was actually placed in the building. So, it’s pretty neat to have found it.”

Excitement

Excitement All Around

Not As Excited At First

At first, the workers were not thrilled by the find. Luckily, they came around and realized how big of a discovery this was. They stopped the work on the historic site right away to retrieve it with their hands. They brought the block out of there and noticed a strange thing about it. Why had it been hollowed out?

Not As Thrilled

Not As Excited At First

It Was Not Actually Empty

Despite this, the block was not actually empty. As a matter of fact, it is the opposite! They found relics that hailed from a previous era inside of it. The items must have added by folks who assumed that they would be interesting to people of generations to come. The stone container revealed a lot of secrets that had remained in the dark for two centuries. We are glad that the truth has finally come out.

Not Empty

It Was Not Actually Empty

A Man Called Maximilian Godefroy

At any rate, the world had been a different place when the cornerstone was buried in the ground. The history of the Washington Monument started in 1810. This was when the residents of the city started to raise funds for the construction of a monument dedicated to the first president of the nation. They did not want for anything but the best, which is why they wanted Maximilian Godefroy for the project.

Maxmillian Godefroy

A Man Called Maximilian Godefroy

His Designs Were Rejected Many Times

The architect was prominent in his field, but many of his designs for the monument got rejected. We are sure that he was not pleased with all the refusals. He had to start from scratch each time it happened. On the other hand, the Baltimore Washington Monument Society wanted to hold a competition. They invited people from different parts of the globe to submit ideas and plans for the tribute.

Rejected Designs

His Designs Were Rejected Many Times

Someone Else Took Over The Job

In the end, the committee made the call to hand over this huge undertaking to a fellow American. It is no joke to immortalize the first president of the United States! In 1814, they found the best person for the job in the form of Robert Mills. He whipped up a couple of designs before he settled on a plan with a huge pillar that protruded into the sky. Originally, he wanted a statue of George Washington on top of it.

The Job Went To Robert Mills

Someone Else Took Over The Job

The Design That Won

What exactly did Robert Mills have in mind when he came up with the design? He said that the column would “possess solidity and simplicity of character, emblematic of that of the illustrious personage to whose memory it is dedicated [Washington] and harmonizing with the spirit of our government.” However, was it possible to pull off such a thing?

The Design

The Design That Won

He Did Not Have Total Freedom

The truth is that his plans were a bit restrained. In his mind, the column was going to be decorated lavishly to give the memorial even more grandeur. He wanted balconies to wrap around the pillar, as well as a terrace atop it. These would give visitors the chance to take a better look at this structure.

A Bit Restrained

He Did Not Have Total Freedom

They Had To Simplify It

That was the vision. As we all know by now, it is hard to make everything you want into a reality. For one, the funding of the project was an important factor. There were also concerns about the final appearance of this pillar. They had no choice but to simplify his designs, which meant cutting out the balcony idea. Aside from that, they also had to remove the fine carvings on the surface of the pillar.

They Were Simplified

They Had To Simplify It

The Sculpture Of George Washington

This is how we wound up with a plain and unpunctuated pillar with a sculpture of George Washington on top of it. Even though they hired an American designer for the project, this statue was the work of an Italian. Enrico Causici designed the piece that was added to the top of the column in 1829.

The Washington Sculpture

The Sculpture Of George Washington

Why It Is Called The Monumental City

Regardless, the Washington Monument went to be one of the biggest attractions in Baltimore. Even though it did not have the originally planned decorations, people liked it. As a matter of fact, the city has since become known for this structure. This is the reason some people call it “The Monumental City.”

The Monumental City

Why It Is Called The Monumental City

It Is Now A National Historic Landmark

When it was built, the Washington Monument was actually outside the city limits. This is no longer the case. Since then, Baltimore has expanded to the point that the monument is now sitting at its heart. The significance of this grand structure received official recognition in 1971 when it was decreed a National Historic Landmark.

A National Historic Landmark

It Is Now A National Historic Landmark

The Site Had Been Deteriorating

Sadly, the National Historic Landmark status has not made it immune to deterioration. This is far, as it is now almost two centuries old. The surrounding area of the monument was fenced off in 2010. It was renovated to make it more durable and safer. The reports said that the project cost around $6 million.

Deteriorating

The Site Had Been Deteriorating

A Ton Of Work To Be Done

It was not easy to restore the Washington Monument to its former glory. They had to tighten the joints to ensure that it was not going to topple over. On top of that, they had to retouch the masonry. Do not worry, they did not forget about the topmost piece either. The statue got its fair share of TLC as well.

A Lot Of Work

A Ton Of Work To Be Done

It Saw A Couple Of Upgrades

This was not all. The heating and lighting systems of the site, together with its security technology, got an upgrade. It had a big impact on the overall appearance of the site. The 19th-century structure has since been adorned with alarms and CCTV cameras. Doesn’t that sound like a pretty strange image?

It Had Some Upgrades

It Saw A Couple Of Upgrades

The Contrast Is Really Stark

You will find a number of touchscreen devices at the bottom of the structure. This contrast is made even starker by this addition! However, they have proven useful since they offer historical information about the site. Aside from that, the cameras on top deliver live feeds that offer great views of Baltimore.

A More Obvious Contrast

The Contrast Is Really Stark

There Were Even More Problems

Let us hear more about the actual renovation. The plan was to finish the project by the end of 2014. As usual, it was hard to stay on schedule with such a big project. Faith Millspaugh is the vice-president of the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy. She explained why it was delayed. In 2015, she told the Baltimore Business Journal, “You find more problems when you start digging into things.”

More Problems

There Were Even More Problems

They Finished It Just In Time

We are just glad that they managed to wrap it all up by mid-2015. After all, it was completed just before the 200th anniversary of its construction. For one, Millspaugh had been thrilled with the result of the project. “The monument has been restored to its original condition – the way it was originally built. They wanted to do everything historically correct[ly],” she informed the Baltimore Business Journal.

Finished Just In Time

They Finished It Just In Time

The Project Was A Success

It was a huge success! By the end of the restoration, it was more pleasant to look at. It was also more stable. In terms of sprucing up the site, the workers ended up getting more than they thought they would. We are talking about the discovery of the cornerstone, which is essentially a time capsule.

A Success!

The Project Was A Success

A Time Capsule From Long Ago

But how old was it? In reality, it is nearly as old as the structure itself. The cornerstone was buried in the ground after it was filled with things of interest for the members of future generations. It was laid there on July 4, 1815. On that day, around 30,000 people attended the event. This was the last time that anyone saw the cornerstone in nearly two hundred years.

How Old Was The Capsule

A Time Capsule From Long Ago

How Important It Was

We can see why people went to the site and attended it. They must have known that it was a historical event in the making. In 2015, Humphries talked about the significance of the Monumental City to the United States. He told Baltimore magazine, “Baltimore was proud of the role it had played in the War of 1812 and proud to build the first monument to George Washington.”

Its Importance

How Important It Was

Left There For Two Centuries

For two hundred years, the cornerstone located in the northeast section of the structure laid in wait. At long last, it was unearthed from six feet below the ground during the renovation project. This was great timing too. After all, they could share the contents of the time capsule at the bicentennial celebration.

Undisturbed For 200 Years

Left There For Two Centuries

What Was Inside Of It

We bet that you want to know what was hiding inside! When they lifted the lid of the cornerstone, they found four glass jars. Each and every one of them had been stuffed with all kinds of things. They found a few newspapers that were dated at the start of July 1815. This was the time that its construction began, so those who made the time capsules must have wanted to share what it was like in those days.

What It Contained

What Was Inside Of It

It Was Not All That Surprising

On top of that, they also left a portrait of George Washington inside the cornerstone. There was also a copy of an early presidential speech of his. They left a few coins and an etched copper plate as well. While none of the items came as a total surprise, they helped paint a picture of what life was like in 1815.

Not Too Surprising

It Was Not All That Surprising

What They Meant To Say With It

That was the plan of the residents who left those things inside the cornerstone. Humphries talked about the items they left inside: “Newspapers and coins were pretty typical of cornerstones and time capsules of the time. [These people] were trying to show us what was going on in the world at that time.”

What They Were Trying To Show

What They Meant To Say With It

There Was Also A Sculpture

At any rate, it looks like Humphries was pleased to find a sculpture in the time capsule. When he spoke to WBAL, he explained, “It was amazing to see inside the cornerstone that there was this beautifully carved decorative panel of the stonemasons and the stone carvers from 1815.” What a great find!

Several Sculptures

There Was Also A Sculpture

It Was In Good Condition

But the most impressive thing was the way the items have been preserved. Everything inside the time capsule looked like it was in good working condition. There was a little visible water damage, but they did not find anything major. It looks like the glass jars used for it had been the right choice.

In Good Condition

It Was In Good Condition

They Were Carefully Arranged

The jars had been arranged carefully inside, which helped preserve the items. On top of that, each one seems to have been themed in its own way. One of the containers was devoted to George Washington. This came with a photo of him, a copy of his speech, and a medal that was decorated with his likeness.

Carefully Arranged

They Were Carefully Arranged

What Was Going On At The Time

There was a different jar that seemed to revolve around current events. This is what we guess based on all the copies of the Federal Gazette inside of it. It was interesting to see that one of them even came with an article about the cornerstone. The date on it read July 6, 1815. Aside from that, there was also a bible in a different container. We can’t wrap our heads around the fact that it came from 1812!

Affairs Of Their Day

What Was Going On At The Time

The Declaration Of Independence

However, the jars had something in common. They each came with a copy of the Declaration of Independence. This was something that caught the eye of Humphries. “While it is well-known that the monument is the first erected to George Washington, the selection of this item for such a prominent placement adds new meaning to the monument and [increases] its significance,” he told CNN.

A Copy Of The Declaration Of Independence

The Declaration Of Independence

They Added Context To The Site

Why was the important document added to the time capsule? Humphries tried to answer this question by saying, “American national independence was fresh in the minds of Baltimoreans of July 1815. They had just played a key role in [securing] that freedom during the Battle of Baltimore the previous fall.”

Giving Context

They Added Context To The Site

It Was Not The Only One

As you can imagine, history lovers were thrilled to hear about this development. We are sure that the same goes for all the fans of the Washington Monument and Baltimore. The truth is that this is not exactly one-of-a-kind. There was a different time capsule found on the same site only months before this!

There Was Another

It Was Not The Only One

A Century After It Was Made

In October 2014, they found a different container. This one was buried exactly a hundred years after the first one, in 1915. It was linked to the back of a bronze plate that commemorated the century that has passed since the construction of the monument. Like the first one, it was also very patriotic.

From 1915

A Century After It Was Made

A Painting Of Francis Scott Key

The second one came with general items that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Washington Monument. This is quite fitting. It came with newspapers, as well as a photo of the Declaration of Independence and a painting of Francis Scott Key. In case you do not remember what you learned in history class, he was the person who wrote the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Francis Scott Key

A Painting Of Francis Scott Key

The Two Time Capsules

Who would have thought that the Washington Monument had two time capsules at the same time for a while? Humphries did not seem bothered by this. He said, “Few buildings have two time capsules. These items speak to the antiquity and symbolic importance of the monument in the history of our country.”

Two Time Capsules

The Two Time Capsules

They Had Different Intentions

From the look of things, the two time capsules were created for different reasons. The first one placed an emphasis on American sovereignty and George Washington. On the other hand, the second one was more focused on some of the wars and battles that the country took part in in the past century.

Made With Different Purposes

They Had Different Intentions

It Was A Poignant Touch

If you ask Humphries, he will tell you that the older time capsule was more poignant than the other. After all, it came with the copies of the Declaration of Independence. In an interview, he told Baltimore magazine, “When you pull that out, you literally feel what [the people] were thinking when they placed those items in that cornerstone. I think it’s revealing, too, that the word ‘Memory’ is engraved a bit deeper than all the rest of the words in the inscription on the original dedication plaque.”

Poignant

It Was A Poignant Touch

What Works Of Art Can Reveal

The newly discovered time capsule is not the only unexpected glimpse into the past on record. Gemma Ramirez can tell you all about this. She had been working on a statue of Jesus Christ in Spain at the time. Together with her team of art restoration experts, she noticed something odd as she went about the job at hand. She was surprised when she learned about all the secrets that this work of art was hiding.

Secrets To Reveal

What Works Of Art Can Reveal

Something Was Hidden Inside

The years had not been kind to the statue in question. In fact, there were several visible scars on it by then. There was a fissure on the surface of the figure, and this damage was what caused Ramirez to look more into it. She was surprised to find something tucked away inside of it!

Something Hidden

Something Was Hidden Inside

It Was Not A Common Fissure

At first, Ramirez and her colleague assumed that bugs ate part of the statue and lived inside of it. It was a wooden piece, so it would not have been surprising if this were the case. To her surprise, this was not what was actually going on. All of a sudden, it dawned on her that it was more significant than that.

Something Significant

It Was Not A Common Fissure

The Restorers Were All Experts

It is not new for Ramirez and the team to work on old pieces such as this one. They worked at the Da Vinci Restauro company. It is based in the Spanish capital of Madrid. For two decades or so, the team has worked on the restoration of artworks that has special significance.

Experienced Restorers

The Restorers Were All Experts

All Types Of Art

Da Vinci Restauro does not only work on status but all kinds of art. This includes antiques and paintings too. Gemma Ramirez and Ángeles Comba both hold fine art degrees. In 2000, they started the company and have  since worked with a large array of pieces. They have become known in the field for their work.

Dealing With All Kinds Of Arts

All Types Of Art

It Was Not Just Them Either

Mind you, the two of them are not the only members of the team. Da Vinci Restauro is made up of a bigger team of specialists. They are all experts in their fields. Some of them might be masters at the restoration of architecture, whereas others have received training on woodwork instead.

Not Just Them

It Was Not Just Them Either

Their Expertise Has Served Them Well

Da Vinci Restauro is concerned with paintings as well. It goes without saying that the work they need to perform on a piece is determined by its nature and history. On the bright side, it seems like the team is more than capable of dealing with everything regardless of the material of the objects brought to them.

Expertise

Their Expertise Has Served Them Well

Equipped To Deal With Just About Everything

If the team members have to restore an old structure, they are up to the task. The wide skill set of the group means that they can fix up surfaces inside old houses and buildings. On top of that, they also have experts who know how to repair wall decorations, floors, and roofs.

They Can Fix Anything

Equipped To Deal With Just About Everything

An Example Of What They Do

Among others, the Da Vinci Restauro team has worked on the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. It is a cultural center that was once plagued by various issues that have built up over the years. For one thing, there was a stairwell and a fountain that had split. It is amazing to think that they managed to fix them!

An Example Of Their Restoration

An Example Of What They Do

When They Work With Churches

The experts on the team have dealt with deteriorating churches in the past as well. It is not surprising to hear that this is the case. After all, the structures are often packed with delicate and valuable works of art. It is not at all uncommon to find statues, furnishings, and paintings inside these holy structures.

Dealing With Churches

When They Work With Churches

The Heart Of A City

There are plenty of reasons behind the importance of the restoration of these structures. They are typically the heart of a place in many cities in the country. We want them to stay preserved so that they can also be enjoyed by the members of future generations. As you can imagine, however, money is also important when it comes to this line of work. People tend to be drawn to specific areas that have historical works of art.

Heart Of A Culture

The Heart Of A City

These Restorations Are Very Valuable

The Da Vinci Restauro team knows that tourism is important in Spain. Tourists usher money into the local communities, so it is important for the locals as well. On top of that, these structures and works of art are important to the cultural identity of a place. No doubt, the experts are doing valuable work.

How Important Restoration Are

These Restorations Are Very Valuable

How To Restore Its Former Glory

Thanks to restorations, old works of art can enjoy a new shot at life. Paint tends to fade after some time, but a skilled restorer can make it look new once more. It is not strange for a painting to accumulate a lot of dust and dirt over time. Once they are gone, hidden details might reveal themselves to the viewer.

Making The Old Appear New

How To Restore Its Former Glory

Their Job Is Not Easy

Of course, it is not easy to perform restoration work. It is important to be very cautious. Ideally, a piece will not see a lot of damage. In an ideal world, it should remain recognizable and retain the spirit that the artist intended it to have. The experts have to use the same material used by the creator.

It's Not Easy

Their Job Is Not Easy

It Received Global Attention

The experts on the Da Vinci Restauro team are not newbies. They have been in the field for quite some time already. However, one of the restoration projects received a lot of attention in 2017. You see, people got wind of the work that they performed on a statue at a church in the north of Spain.

Catching International Attention

It Received Global Attention

Cristo Del Miserere

Located in Sotillo de la Ribera, the Church of Santa Agueda houses a unique statue. Called the Cristo del Miserere, the wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ ended up getting a lot of media attention once its secret came out. Prior to the arrival of the restorers from Da Vinci Restauro, it was not a secret that the piece was not in tiptop condition.

Cristo Del Miserere

Cristo Del Miserere

Time Had Not Been Kind To It

This wooden artifact had taken on a lot of damage over the years. For one thing, it was very dirty and desperately needed to be cleaned. This was not the only problem that it had. You see, the backside of the arms of the figure was separating from the crucifix. Originally, they were attached to each other.

Time Had Taken A Toll On It

Time Had Not Been Kind To It

The Crack Was A Strange One

The good news is that these are not things that the Da Vinci Restauro team could not solve. They went on to work on the piece, but they experienced a setback. Ramirez had been working on it when she realized something. There was a crack on the surface of the figurine, and there was something inside it!

Time Had Taken A Toll On It

The Crack Was A Strange One

It Was Not Made By Insects

At first, Gemma Ramirez thought that this was just a hole made by bugs. They must still be eating the wood from the inside. In the past, she had seen this happen to wooden pieces. She realized that she was wrong when she took a closer look at the fissure. With her colleagues, she saw what was hiding in there.

Not From Insects

It Was Not Made By Insects

What Its Purpose Really Was

It then dawned on her that the fissure must have been made on purpose. The team found out that it was a compartment that was hiding something special. They were able to pry the figurine open to see what it was. We are glad to report that they were not disappointed by what they found inside of it.

Hollow On Purpose

What Its Purpose Really Was

They Found Two Letters Inside Of It

Even though there are wooden figurines out there, it is often done to make the piece less likely to crack. The restorers managed to retrieve two leather parchments from the statue. There was text on them! This turn of events took the whole team by shock. This is not something that they saw every single day.

What They Found Inside

They Found Two Letters Inside Of It

The Material Was Durable

Based on the location of the parchments, the person who left it inside the figurine wanted to keep it there for a long time. The material also pointed them in this direction. It was made of vellum, which is known for durability. There is no way that normal paper pages would have survived that long.

Made Of Vellum

The Material Was Durable

It Was Written In The 1700s

Let us hear more about the two parchments. The pages are clearly old since they came with a yellowish tinge that likely developed through the years. To be specific, they are a few centuries old. The words are now attributed to Joaquin Minguez, a chaplain at the Cathedral of El Burgo de Osma, in 1777.

From The 1700s

It Was Written In The 1700s

How They Found The Scrolls

After the shocking discovery, Gemma Ramirez got to talk about the experience with the Daily Mail. “The document of the 18th century appeared when we were dismantling the Christ of the cross. The wood is hollow inside, and the sculptor introduced the two [scrolls], which we have found,” she explained.

The Scrolls

How They Found The Scrolls

It Came As A Huge Surprise

Without a doubt, Gemma Ramirez has seen a lot of amazing works of art over the course of her career. This one, however, is one of the most shocking things that she has discovered. How often do you find secret messages, after all? It is now time for us to hear what the letters said in the first place.

A Surprising Discovery

It Came As A Huge Surprise

What The Writer Said

The content of the letters talked about what it was like in the time and place during the creation of the statue in question. In a different part, the author said that the figurine was the creation of a man by the name of Manuel Bal, who is said to have made similar works of art for other churches in the area.

The Letter Inside

What The Writer Said

The Economy Of Spain Back Then

The scrolls came with references to the Spanish economy in those days as well. Minguez had been very descriptive when he talked about the kind of food that was typically produced in the area. He talked about barley, rye, oats, and wheat. On top of that, he talked about the wine of the region.

Referencing Spain’s Economy At The Time

There Were Grim Aspects In The Letter Too

There Were Grim Aspects In The Letter Too

Aside from the economy and the agriculture, Minguez also talked about other more sobering parts of life back then. He mentioned specific diseases and infections that plagued the area. On the bright side, he also talked about what the public did for entertainment. They liked to play ball games and cards too!

Grim Aspects Of Life At The Time

There Were Grim Aspects In The Letter Too

The Political Landscape At The Time

Minguez went on to explain that the city of Madrid focused on the court system when it comes to the political landscape then. He went on to inform the readers about Spanish rulers. In the letters, he mentioned King Carlos III. The monarch ruled over Spain for almost three decades in the 18th century.

The Political Landscape

The Political Landscape At The Time

He Was An Enlightened Despot

From 1734 to 1759, King Carlos III also served as the King of Naples on top of his position in Spain. In more recent years, he has been referred to as something of an “enlightened despot.” What does this mean? Well, it is nothing but a reference to the way he is credited for the brief revival of the Spanish economy and culture in those days.

An Enlightened Despot

He Was An Enlightened Despot

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