Time Capsule at West Point, Initially Thought to Contain Only Dust, Reveals Historic American Coins

by Michael Nguyen
Time Capsule

Contrary to initial disappointment during a livestreamed opening, a time capsule at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point dating nearly two centuries back has yielded significant artifacts, the institution announced on Wednesday.

The well-concealed contents were more elusive than initially anticipated.

Previously believed by cadets to have been inserted into the foundation of a monument, the lead container was in fact home to six American silver coins with mint dates ranging from 1795 to 1828, along with a commemorative medal, according to an official news release from West Point. These items were ultimately discovered amidst the sediment that appeared to be the box’s sole contents during its ceremonial unveiling on Monday at the New York academy.

Paul Hudson, an archeologist at West Point, commented on his initial experience of discovering the items. “Upon my initial findings, it struck me how impactful it would have been had these artifacts been discovered during the public event,” said Hudson. He returned to his lab following the public disappointment, meticulously combing through the sediment using a fine wooden pick and brush.

“In due course, I noticed the rim of a coin protruding from the sediment,” Hudson recounted during a phone interview, adding that even this minimal discovery was at least a promising start.

Hudson expressed his shared disappointment about the anticlimactic live event, which had been unfavorably compared to the infamous 1986 televised opening of a vault in a Chicago hotel, thought to belong to gangster Al Capone, that revealed only dirt. The assembled crowd at the U.S. Military Academy had been eagerly awaiting the revelation of military memorabilia or historical documents when the time capsule was unsealed.

Hudson noted that the controlled environment of a lab was perhaps the better setting for extracting the delicate items. He intends to further analyze the sediment for additional clues as to what else might have been inside the capsule.

It appears that the box may have been compromised by moisture or sediment through a damaged seam, potentially leading to the degradation of any organic material that may have once been inside, such as paper or wood.

Among the surviving artifacts were various coins: a 1795 nickel, an 1800 Liberty dollar, a 25-cent coin from 1818, a 10-cent and a 1-cent coin from 1827, and a 50-cent piece dated 1828. Additionally, an Erie Canal commemorative medal from 1826 was discovered. Expert assessments suggest the potential value of these coins could range from several hundred dollars to well over $1,000, depending on their condition.

These discoveries appear to corroborate the academy officials’ hypothesis that the capsule was placed by cadets around 1828 or 1829, coinciding with the completion of the original monument honoring Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko. A committee including 1829 graduate Robert E. Lee, the future Confederate general, was involved in the monument’s dedication.

Kosciuszko was instrumental in designing wartime fortifications for the Continental Army at West Point and passed away in 1817. A statue in his honor was later added to the monument in 1913.

The ongoing effort to preserve and analyze the time capsule and its contents will continue. “There is still much to be gleaned from this find to enrich our understanding of both the academy’s and the nation’s history,” Hudson concluded.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Time Capsule

What was initially thought to be inside the West Point time capsule?

It was initially believed that the nearly 200-year-old time capsule contained nothing more than silt or sediment, as observed during a livestreamed event.

Who made the discovery of the coins and medal in the capsule?

Paul Hudson, an archeologist at West Point, made the discovery after taking the lead box back to his lab and meticulously sifting through its sediment.

What specific items were found in the time capsule?

Six American silver coins dating from 1795 to 1828 and a commemorative Erie Canal medal from 1826 were discovered in the time capsule.

How does the discovery affect the estimated value of the capsule’s contents?

Various expert assessments suggest that the coins, depending on their condition, could be valued from several hundred dollars to well over $1,000.

What does this discovery indicate about the time capsule’s origins?

The items found in the capsule seem to confirm academy officials’ theory that the box was placed by cadets around 1828 or 1829, possibly during the original monument’s completion.

Who was honored by the original monument where the time capsule was placed?

The original monument honored Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Revolutionary War hero known for designing wartime fortifications for the Continental Army at West Point.

How was the condition of the capsule compromised?

It appears that moisture and sediment may have seeped into the time capsule through a damaged seam, which could have led to the degradation of any organic material inside.

What are the next steps for the discovered items?

Paul Hudson stated that the preservation and analysis of the time capsule and its contents will continue, as there is still much to learn that could enrich the understanding of the academy’s and the nation’s history.

How has this discovery been compared to other high-profile unsealings?

The initial disappointment of the time capsule’s opening drew comparisons to the 1986 televised unsealing of a vault purportedly belonging to gangster Al Capone, which also turned out to contain nothing but dirt.

What future insights does Paul Hudson expect from further analysis?

Paul Hudson believes that further analysis of the sediment and the items themselves could yield additional clues, enriching the understanding of both the academy’s history and the nation’s heritage.

More about Time Capsule

  • U.S. Military Academy Official News Release
  • Expert Assessments on Historic American Coins
  • Thaddeus Kosciuszko Biography
  • 1986 Televised Vault Opening
  • History of Time Capsules
  • Preservation and Analysis in Archeology
  • Revolutionary War Fortifications at West Point

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SarahT August 31, 2023 - 1:31 am

it’s kinda like a real-life treasure hunt, isn’t it? Kudos to Paul Hudson for not giving up and digging deeper. Literally.

CatherineQ August 31, 2023 - 5:54 am

I’m just thinking bout the cadets back in the 1820s. Do you think they imagined we’d be so thrilled about their time capsule nearly 200 years later?

Phil_W August 31, 2023 - 9:32 am

Gotta say, this adds a new layer to West Point’s history. Not just a military academy but a keeper of time and history. Who would’ve thought?

AlexaM August 31, 2023 - 11:21 am

This makes me wonder what else is buried out there in other places. It’s like, the past is still speaking to us, if we care to listen.

TimHunt August 31, 2023 - 4:57 pm

What’s next? Are they gonna auction these coins? Because depending on the condition, some of them could be worth a lot, you know.

JohnDoe47 August 31, 2023 - 7:15 pm

Why’d they even decide to open it live? If it turned out to be another Al Capone’s vault, that’d be a major letdown. Glad it wasn’t tho.

Mike_J August 31, 2023 - 10:32 pm

Wow, just imagine being that archeologist. One moment, you’re disappointed, thinking you found nothing but dirt. And then, boom, historic coins! Mind blown.


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