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Contents of Old State House time capsule revealed

Bostonian Society

The time capsule included sealed letters, photographs, and newspaper articles in near-perfect condition.

By Kiera Blessing Globe Correspondent 

Finally Boston, the wait is over. The Old State House time capsule has been opened.

The Bostonian Society’s archivist, Elizabeth Roscio, removed the century-old contents from the box Tuesday, finding them to be in better condition than anyone at the society expected, said Heather Leet, the society’s spokeswoman.

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“You open the box, and it’s like they put the stuff in there yesterday. Everything looks like it was just written yesterday,” Leet said, meaning the box must have been air- and water-tight. “Elizabeth is getting more and more excited about the contents. . . . She was initially wary because she thought it would just be a bunch of mold.”

The time capsule was found in the head of a golden lion statue that had been perched atop the Old State House in downtown Boston — hidden in plain sight and enduring rain, sleet, and snow — for more than 100 years. The capsule was found in late September and removed from the statue’s head Oct. 9.

The capsule had “quite a few things packed into the box,” Leet said, including sealed letters, photographs, and newspaper articles in near-perfect condition. The pristine letters have not been opened, for fear of damaging the envelopes, Leet said. They will probably be steamed open.

“One of the coolest things, I thought, was the Teddy Roosevelt and McKinley button,” Leet said. She also described an ad from The Boston Globe, which had “this man with a top hat and big globe body, so that was kind of funny.”

Among the items the society did not expect was a wooden piece of the original lion statue from the 1880s.

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The capsule held several Civil War-related items, Leet said, probably because Samuel Rogers, the man who put the capsule together, was a Civil War veteran. Some photographs and business cards of people the society did not recognize were inside, probably from people Rogers knew, Leet said.

As for the mysterious red book, Leet said it was probably just a space-filler.

“Foreign Relations of the United States in 1896,” she said, laughing. “Basically, the secretary of state would publish the book annually.”

The Bostonian Society hopes to put the contents on display by November, Leet said.

The gold-coated copper statue was placed on the Old State House in 1901, along with a palladium-coated unicorn. The statues were taken down in September for restoration.

The time capsule’s existence had been rumored since 2011, when Rogers’s great-great-granddaughter found a letter that mentioned it was placed inside the lion. But the existence of the time capsule was not confirmed until September.

The copper box was pulled from the statue last week and opened, but the society said it will wait to unpack it so that specialists can take their time.


Kiera Blessing can be reached at kiera.blessing@globe.com.