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124-year-old time capsule unearthed in former school

WCVB Boston logo WCVB Boston 8/10/2018
© Provided by Hearst Television, Inc.

Demolition crews recently unearthed a 124-year-old time capsule in an old school being demolished to make way for condominiums.

A couple of weeks ago, a demolition worker discovered the time capsule in a hollowed-out granite slab that was part of a stairway of the old Swampscott Middle School, according to resident and planning board member Angela Ippolito.

“The underside of one of the slabs had been hollowed out and cemented over,” Ippolito told the MetroWest Daily News. “Curious to see something so odd, he chipped away at it and discovered a copper box.”

Officials described the copper box, now green after undergoing more than a century of oxidization, as dented but in “good shape.”

In the box, they found items ranging from old newspapers and drawings to a list of woman voters and town annual reports. The box also contained a veteran’s wartime medal – and even parchment with the names of Swampscott veterans who fought in the American Civil War.

The time capsule was buried on April 28, 1894, at the dedication of Swampscott’s first high school The Phillips School, on the hilltop property that the Phillips family donated to the town. The building's construction costs at the time were $45,000.

“Locating it in the midst of a complete demolition of a 105,000-square-foot building was like hoping to find the proverbial needle in a haystack,” said Ippolito. “Needless to say, its discovery was a thrill.”

The school served as both a high school and a middle school. It underwent minor alterations in 1915, a major renovation in 1936 and another addition in 1969.

a close up of a piece of paper © Provided by Hearst Television, Inc.

“A second time capsule from the 1936 renovation was also believed to be buried on-site,” said Ippolito, “but to date has not been uncovered.”

Local historian Lou Gallo and Groom Construction worked together to put the copper box and its contents in town officials’ hands.

“The contents were rolled up and packed very tightly into a copper box about the size of a large shoebox with the top missing,” said Ippolito.

Town officials brought the historical contents to Andover-based Northeast Document Conservation Center.

“Paper-conservation specialists are assessing the contents and will make recommendations for their handling and display,” said Ippolito. “The biggest challenge is unrolling the tightly rolled contents and flattening the newspapers.”

After being in a copper box for 124 years, pieces of parchment are brittle and stiff, and Ippolito says specialists plan to humidify them to make flattening easy.

The specialists will also supply recommendations for any further work needed, officials said.

“In a few weeks or so the contents should be available for public viewing,” said Ippolito. “An event will most likely be scheduled at Swampscott Town Hall. Stay tuned.”

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