Baltimore’s Washington Monument

Treasures in century-old time capsule revealed.

VisitBaltimore-logoGiven the recent protests in Baltimore that spiraled out of control, I am happy that there is good news from the city — and that news takes us back into history. The fabled obelisk on the Mall in Washington, DC. may be the best-known memorial to the first president of the US.

But an older one is in nearby Baltimore. Time capsules from 1815 and 1915 discovered during renovations of Baltimore’s Washington Monument, revealed a Bible printed using a miniscule font dating back to 1812 and what could be one of the earliest existing photographs of the Declaration of Independence that opened at the city’s famous Walters Art Museum.

Baltimore's newly restored Washington Monument.
Baltimore’s newly restored Washington Monument. (Flickr image)

The 1915 time capsule was discovered last October behind a bronze plaque commemorating the monument’s Centennial. It contains more than 50 items, including an iron spike, a map of trade routes from the port of Baltimore to the Panama Canal, a picture of Francis Scott Key and what could be one of the earliest existing photographs of the Declaration of Independence, taken in 1903 by L.C. Handy, the son-in-law of famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.

The monument’s original 1815 cornerstone, found in February, contained three glass jars that were put in the ground as the nation’s first civic monument to George Washington was being built.  Contents from the first jar include a published copy of Washington’s Presidential farewell address, ten United States coins in copper, silver and gold, a “Joseph Sansom” medal of Washington and a medal honoring the Duke of Wellington’s successful military campaigns in the Spanish Peninsular Wars. The second jar contained a copy of the Bible published in Baltimore by John Hagerty in 1812. Like a small volume in the first jar, it celebrates advances in local printing technology, being printed in miniscule “Diamond Type” developed at the Baltimore Type Foundry.

The smallest jar held examples of the Federal Gazette from July 5 and 6, 1815. The latter date includes a full account of the laying of the cornerstone. The presence of this jar was a complete surprise as the original accounts suggest that the cornerstone was laid and sealed on July 4. Perhaps the most important item found in the well is a copy of the Declaration of Independence, reprinted in the Federal Gazette on July 3, 1815, the day before the cornerstone was laid.

The monument, the first to honor George Washington in the United States, celebrates its bicentennial on July 4 and re-opens to the public following a $5.5 million restoration. Select items from both the 1815 Cornerstone and 1915 Time Capsule will go on display at the Maryland Historical Society this Independence Day.