It’s Official: There’s a Time Capsule Inside the Head of the Lion from the Old State House

The studio fixing up the statue is trying to figure out the best way to gain access to it without messing up the exterior.

Image Courtesy of Bostonian Society

Image Courtesy of Bostonian Society

Ever since the Bostonian Society took down the lion and unicorn that typically stand atop the Old State House, there has been speculation that perhaps a time capsule is buried inside the lion’s head, containing artifacts that date back more than 100 years.

On Tuesday, historians confirmed the rumors.

Heather Leet, director for development at the Bostonian Society, the non-profit organization that spends its days making sure each facet of the Old State House in Downtown Crossing is in pristine shape, said Skylight Studios artist Bob Shure, who is undertaking the task of restoring the lion and unicorn by reguilding them with fresh coats of gold and silver, respectively, scanned the lion with a special fiber optics camera and saw the time capsule lodged in place.

“It is secured in the head of the lion and held in place by copper bands,” she told Boston in an email. “Bob Shure…is currently assessing the best way to extract the time capsule without damaging the lion sculpture.”

Shure’s studio hopes to figure out the best way to gain access to the shoebox-sized container by the end of the week, and from there will plan a date for its removal. After that, the Bostonian Society would like to make a special occasion of the opening of the time capsule, when they finally get a peek at what’s inside.

“Because so much of the old material in the 1901 time capsule was made of paper, Elizabeth Roscio, the Bostonian Society’s archivist, will be on hand when it is opened, to ensure that proper care is given to these terribly ephemeral materials,” said Brian LeMay, president and executive director of the Bostonian Society.

LeMay is looking forward to finding out its contents to see what was of importance to residents 112 years back. “We are now the ‘posterity’ to whom they were writing. What will they have thought relevant to tell us?,” he said.

The rumor about the time capsule was based on a Boston Daily Globe article published in 1901, which indicated that the person who constructed new versions of the statues placed a square, copper box packed with artifacts from the early twentieth century, such as photos of prominent officials, a map of the local population, two daily newspapers, a directory of state legislators, and political campaign buttons, deep inside the lion’s crown.

The article said:

The work of the coppersmith is completed, and one of the last things he did was to seal a copper box, which is placed in the head of the lion, and which contained contributions from state and city officials, the Boston Daily newspaper, the name of the makers of the lion and unicorn, and others, will prove interesting when the box is opened in many years hence.

Now that it has officially been confirmed, historians are contemplating what they should put inside of the lion’s head, replacing the current time capsule, so that in 100 years people can get a feel for what 2014 was like in Boston.

“The Bostonian Society will be assembling suggestions from the public about what to place inside the time capsule when the lion is restored and replaced atop the east facade of the Old State House next month,” said LeMay. “Perhaps the latest iPhone model?  One share of Alibaba?”

The possibilities are endless, but suggestions can be sent to the Bostonian Society at, or by using the hashtag #LionandUnicorn on Twitter.

Below is an excerpt from the 1901 article about the capsule’s contents:

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