Hidden 1901 Boston time capsule yields small red book

By Bob Salsberg ,AP

WOBURN, Massachusetts — A 113-year-old, shoebox-sized time capsule was removed Thursday from the head of a lion statue where it had long sat, hidden in plain sight, atop one of Boston’s most famous landmarks.

When the copper box was carefully pried open, it revealed at least one mystery: a red, hardcover book with no visible title or markings. The contents of the book — and the rest of the items in the box — will remain a mystery for a bit longer, as they were deemed too fragile to remove immediately.

The time capsule’s presence at the Old State House had only recently been confirmed. The Bostonian Society, which oversees the building, had expected it to contain a potpourri of photographs and newspaper clippings from the period, along with a missive to future generations penned by a group of Boston journalists.

“I’m absolutely delighted by the conditions inside the box,” said Brian LeMay, the society’s president, noting little sign of mold or water damage. Historians had feared the contents could have been destroyed had the box been improperly sealed.

The time capsule was placed inside the lion’s head in 1901 and then forgotten, even as waves of tourists visited the building that once served as a fulcrum of British rule in the northern colonies and later as the first seat of Massachusetts state government.

In 1770, British soldiers opened fire on a crowd of protesters outside the building, killing five in what came to be known as the Boston Massacre.

The society first learned of the possible existence of the time capsule three years ago from the great-great-granddaughter of Samuel Rogers, a craftsman who had worked on renovations to the building and was believed to have placed the box in the lion’s head and catalogued its contents. A 1901 article from The Boston Globe surfaced later, alluding to contents of a copper box “which will prove interesting when the box is opened many years hence.”

The box was removed Thursday by Robert Shure, president of Skylight Studios in suburban Woburn, where the copper and gold-leaf lion statue had been brought for refurbishing.

Shure placed the box on a table and used a drill and other tools to cut it open. The bright red book was the first object seen inside.

Elizabeth Roscio, archivist for the Bostonian Society, speculated that the book could be a Rogers’ family history, but LeMay was less certain.

“I’m as anxious as anyone in this room to just grab it and look inside,” he said. But Roscio explained that to avoid possible damage, the contents must be removed and examined in a temperature-controlled setting. They could go on public display at the Old State House later this year.

In accepting the gift from the past, the society has also decided to leave one for the future.

A new time capsule, made of titanium, will be inserted back into the head of the lion. Suggestions on what to include are still being solicited, LeMay said, but one item will be a medal from the 2013 Boston Marathon, during which three people and 260 were injured in a bombing.