We’ve had some excitement here in Boston over the last few weeks. The Old State House is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city. When Boston’s original Town House, built in the 1650s, burned in 1711, officials chose to rebuild on the same site. In 1713 the new building was erected to house the official offices of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was the seat of the Royal Government, housing the Royal Governor’s offices, the Massachusetts Assembly, and the courts of Suffolk County. At the peak of the roof on the side of the building facing the harbor were placed statues of a lion and a unicorn as symbols of the Royal authority.
From a balcony just beneath these statues official proclamations were read. It was just under this balcony that the Boston Massacre occurred in 1770. In July of 1776, the townspeople of Boston listened for the first time to the words of the Declaration of Independence as it was read from the balcony. Shortly thereafter the lion and the unicorn were torn from their perches and burned. During restoration work on the building in 1882, new statues of the lion and unicorn were placed where the originals once stood.
At the turn of the century, additional restoration work was done. When the lion was returned to its perch in 1901, it included something new. A time capsule had been placed inside the crown, a gift to the future. Flash forward to 2014. Restoration work is once again being performed. While reviewing the work done during the 1901 restoration, a reference from a 1901 newspaper is discovered that discusses the time capsule. The company doing the restoration work looked, and discovered that yes, indeed, the time capsule was there.
After spending time determining how best to remove the capsule without damaging the statue, it finally taken from its hiding place last week. During a ceremony on October 9, the capsule was officially opened and the items contained within it saw the light of day for the first time in more than a century. The capsule was filled with newspapers, cabinet cards, photographs, buttons from the 1900 presidential campaign, a GAR button and badge, wood from inside the lion placed in 1882, and much more. The city is now working on developing a list of items to be placed in a new time capsule that will be implanted into the lion’s crown to detail current life in Boston. Only two items are definitely being included: a photograph of Marty Walsh, the current mayor, and a medal from the running of the 2013 Boston Marathon, to remind the future of the horror of terrorism.
Reading all of this made think that a great idea for today’s genealogists is to create your own personal time capsule. What items would you include for the future to know what life was like for your family? When you are choosing items, remember to keep a few things in mind.
- Use paper as well as digital formats. Who knows if the media on which you store your digital items will still be readable in a century? It may physically degrade, or it could simply be a matter of technology that is so old in a century that there will no longer be any machines capable of reading it.
- Include black and white as well as color dyes. As anyone with forty-year-old photographs knows, the dyes in color photographs fade over time. Black and white fade at a much slower rate, and can still be easily seen a century or more later.
- Write a letter by hand. There is much to be said for the joy in reading the handwriting of an ancestor. It brings a feeling of personal connection. Remember to use acid-free ink on archival paper, to improve the odds for survival.
- Choose an environment proof container. And be careful of what you put into it. Modern materials are often manufactured using chemicals and plastics that can provide off-gasses that could be harmful in the long term to items contained in capsule.
- Choose whom to leave the time capsule with. Charging a specific family member/members with preserving it is a great step. Include information about that in your will, so future generations will know of its existence. Another great way to preserve it is to put it on deposit at a library or archive, with directions that it is not to be opened until a certain date (e.g., in 100 years, 40 years after my decease, 10 years after the decease of my last surviving child [or grandchild], etc.). This vastly improves the odds that the capsule will not be accidentally lost to fire or theft, as it might be in private hands.
Tell your story and make sure it is heard by future generations. A time capsule is a different way to do this. To find out more about the Old State House time capsule in Boston, read Here’s What’s Inside the Old State House Time Capsule From 1901 in Boston Magazine.