Members of the Central Paving crew working to expand and reconstruct Campus Road for the Oneida County Department of Public Works unearthed a bit of history on June 29 when their shovel glanced against a copper box, a time capsule. Buried by members of the class of 1890 a few days before their graduation, the box had remained buried beneath a stone marker for 128 years. The contents will be revealed on Tuesday, July 9, at 12:30 p.m., when the capsule will be open on the Burke Library steps.
Alas, the discovery was not quite as surprising as one might think. Were it not, however, for the careful attention of Annual Giving Director Fred Rogers who noted “bulldozers and backhoes menacing the 1890 stone” marker on May 30, the capsule may never have been noticed. Rogers knew that the stone, placed by the class of 1890, marked the spot where a capsule might have been buried. He alerted the appropriate facilities management personnel of the possibility and the need to move the stone out of harm’s way. The chiseled stone was moved to the "foyer" of the College cemetery, according to Rogers, joining the many others rescued and placed there by alumnus Leigh Keno '77.
Associate Director for Planning & Project Management Barry Rivet, who is overseeing the road project for the college, alerted Eric Teller of Delta Engineers, Architects, & Land Surveyors, who is managing the project for the county, to “keep an eye out for the time capsule.” As the excavator removed the stone and continued digging, Teller used a shovel to make sure any buried capsule would be retrieved unharmed. After only a few minutes, he found a copper box. Director of Special Collections Christian Goodwillie and Special Collections Coordinator Mark Tillson took the box and began the process of drying it.
According to a local, now-defunct newspaper of the day, the Utica Herald, June 24, 1890 was a hot, 90-degree day on which the “campus-day exercises” were held two days before Commencement. At the conclusion of the “literary exercises,” the class marched, following the college band, to an area near the entrance to the college where the engraved 1890 stone had been placed. They positioned the box beneath the stone, and each member took a turn shoveling earth on top of the capsule. The 40 members of the class came from Boonville to Wampsville and from Bulgaria to Brooklyn, but primarily from towns throughout Central New York.
Members of the archaeology department faculty and the College’s library special collection staff along with President David Wippman plan to open the time capsule next Tuesday. Because the box appears to be somewhat infiltrated by water, by holding the event outside on the library's porch, possible mold and mildew will dissipate in the air rather than in the library. A previous capsule opening produced yellowed newspaper clippings and College catalogues and programs. “I remain hopeful that one will be found to harbor doubloons or an actionable stock certificate that could add to the College endowment,” Rogers commented wistfully.
Those unable to attend the opening but who are curious to observe the event may watch Hamilton’s Facebook Live event at http://www.facebook.com/HamiltonCollege. It could be an important moment in Hamilton history. Or it could be a mushy mess of old newspapers.