Scientists open 195-year-old time capsule at West Point and find nothing inside
Stars and Stripes August 28, 2023
Dozens of people at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., were surprised Monday when officials opened what was thought to be a nearly 200-year-old time capsule and found nothing inside except a layer of dirt.
“We are not certain if it’s soil or mud or dust,” Paul Hudson, a West Point archaeologist, said in the moments after removing the lid from the box, which is about 1 cubic foot in size. “It may not be anything.”
If anything was placed in the box when it was buried in 1828 in the base of a Thaddeus Kosciuszko monument, no part of it was recognizable when the lid was pried off during the unveiling Monday. Kosciuszko was a Polish-born military engineer who fought in the Revolutionary War and engineered fortifications at West Point in the late 18th century.
“We don’t want to think that they went to all the trouble to put a box in the monument and not put anything in it,” Hudson said. “We will screen [all the silt] through a fine mesh screen to see if we can find any remains in it and determine what, if anything, was in here.”
“Potentially, it was something small and organic that may have come apart over time, but we are just not certain,” he added.
About the only thing that the team did find during the box-opening was a stamp on the lid that read, “E.W. Bank, New York.”
The box was discovered a few months ago when renovations were being done to the 8-foot-tall bronze Kosciuszko monument. Hudson said the box was previously X-rayed, but the scan was inconclusive because the container is made of lead — a metal that’s often too dense for X-rays to penetrate.
“Academy officials determined the capsule was placed in the base of the Kosciuszko monument by cadets in 1828, 26 years after the academy’s founding,” the academy said Aug. 15 when it announced the discovery.
Monday’s ceremony included a panel of scientists and historians and an audience of observers who gathered inside the Robinson Auditorium on the West Point campus to see what might be in the box.
Lt. Gen. Steve Gilland, the academy’s superintendent, said before the box’s opening: “I guarantee you, it’s going to be better than Geraldo.”
Gilland’s comment was a reference to an infamous live-television moment in 1986 when journalist Geraldo Rivera cracked open a sealed vault in Chicago once owned by gangster Al Capone. When opened, the vault was empty.