An honor guard on white horses clopped along Beacon Street, backed by fife-and-drum music. More than a thousand Freemasons in Masonic aprons and regalia marched toward the State House. Top officials stood at attention for a 19-gun salute that echoed across Boston Common and beyond.
Beacon Hill was engulfed in historical pageantry and celebration Wednesday as a new generation returned to the past in preparation for the future — a 1795 time capsule, recently unearthed, was placed back in the cornerstone of the golden-domed State House.
The ceremony was anchored by the physical piece of history, a direct link to the early days of the Commonwealth. The time capsule, filled with a collection of coins, one dating to the 1600s, a copper George Washington medal, and a silver plaque commemorating the building of the State House, was first placed in the cornerstone by Governor Samuel Adams and Paul Revere on July 4, 1795.
What makes the time capsule so unusual, Governor Charlie Baker said in remarks to the gathering of officials, nearly 500 schoolchildren visiting the State House, and throngs of onlookers gawking at the spectacle from Beacon Street, “is it’s not an interpretation from an historian, it’s not a passage in a textbook, it’s the story that our predecessors in that revolutionary time wanted us to know and understand.”
Baker, the state’s 72d governor, offered a meditation on “our future,” and everyone’s small place in the long sweep of history. “What will history reveal about us? About the decisions we made . . . and how we chose to live our lives?” he wondered aloud. “How will we aspire to be great and to carry on the legacy of our forefathers?”
Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who moderated the event, also tied the ceremony to the values that animated Adams and Revere.
“That spirit, that led to a revolution that created a country,” Galvin said, “and that led to a state that led a country, is still alive today. And it’s that spirit that we commemorate.”
Revere, as Grand Master of Masons of Massachusetts in 1795, conducted a Masonic Cornerstone Ceremony in the same manner as the one conducted more than two centuries later by Harvey J. Waugh, who now bears the same title.
“Today, we are living history,” Waugh said before leading Wednesday’s ceremony, which included pouring corn, wine, and oil on the cornerstone.
The time capsule was unearthed during construction in 1855 and reinterred that year in a brass box that included some newspapers and coins of the day, other items, and a new inscription on the plaque.
It was rediscovered last year during a State House project and gingerly excavated in December by Pamela Hatchfield, head of objects conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts.
After being displayed at the MFA, the relics were put in a new, higher-tech box (stainless steel filled with humidified Argon gas for preservation purposes, according to a statement from Galvin’s office) along with some additional items from the modern day: a set of 2015 US coins and a new silver plaque commemorating the ceremony, with the names of Waugh, Baker and other officials.
On Wednesday at about 9:30 a.m., the Spirit of America Fife and Drum Corps in traditional uniforms began playing Colonial-era medleys. Soon after, an honor guard of six National Lancers on horses made their way up Park Street to Beacon Street and the State House. They were followed by four Clydesdales pulling a white wagon carrying a replica cornerstone. And behind the wagon were more than 1,000 Freemasons. The crowd — and especially the schoolchildren, many waving small US flags — appeared riveted by it all.
After the singing of the national anthem, other observances, and remarks from officials, Waugh and a group of Grand Lodge of Massachusetts officers performed the elaborate, traditional ceremony on the building’s front steps.
After the pouring of corn, wine, and oil — emblems of nourishment, refreshment, and joy, respectively — on the cornerstone, it ended with a prayer from a grand chaplain of the Grand Lodge, the Right Worshipful Rev. Richard E. Haley.
“May the structure herein to be dedicated,” he said, “rise in beauty and strength and be preserved to the latest of ages, a monument to the liberty, the patriotism, and the loyalty of the people for those whose service it is now dedicated.”
Then the time capsule was placed in the cornerstone, which was sealed shut for its return to the State House foundation Thursday. There are no plans to open it again.
Event over, the hundreds of schoolchildren began preparing to leave a ceremony best encapsulated by the words on T-shirts worn by most of them: “TIME TO GO BACK.”