By Jennifer L. Warren
WEST POINT – The phrases used to describe the historic event at the United States Military Academy last Monday morning were extensive, intriguing and impressive: something that deals with our Army and nation’s heroes, an incredible story, powerful inspiration, a link between the past to the present and future, a once in a lifetime.
Hundreds- including cadets, Academy and Museum officials, as well as other experts in historic artifacts- gathered at Robinson Auditorium at Thayer Hall to witness that marvel when a nearly 200 year-old, one square foot steel cube, discovered in the Thaddeus Kosciuszko monument’s base earlier this year was methodically opened. Kosciuszko (1746-1817), a Polish General, military engineer (selected by George Washington to build up West Point’s defenses during the Revolutionary War), was known for his bravery, kindness, patriotism and incredible strength of character, and once dubbed by Thomas Jefferson as “pure a son of liberty as I’ve ever known,” epitomized a true hero.
The nostalgic box, deduced by officials to be a time capsule purposely placed at the base of the monument, celebrating Kosciuszko’s stature in 1828, 26 years after the Academy’s founding, brought with it incredible excitement at the unveiling.
“No one has any idea what’s inside this, so this is a really exciting moment,” said Superintendent, Lieutenant General Steve Gilland during his Opening Remarks.
There was plenty of speculation, particularly by present cadets, who in video footage before the time capsule’s opening, offered their guesses of the prospects: boots, a diary, class ring, or perhaps even another time capsule. Meanwhile, experts hypothesized: monument blueprints, class lists, everyday military items. There was further constant buzz around campus for weeks leading up to the event.
Regardless of the exact contents, Brigadier General and Dean of the Academic Board, Shane Reeves, reminded guests of the bigger picture, perspective of the day’s magnitude.
“This is something that hardly ever happens; it deals with heroes, such as Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who are woven into our history,” emphasized Reeves, who proceeded to point to the main attraction. “That box has been sitting there for 194 years at West Point, and it’s not really important what’s in there, but make no mistake about it, I hope it’s cool, awesome, and I can’t wait to see what’s in there, but at the end of the day, this is a time to pause, reflect upon history and be inspired by our connection through time.”
Diligently using a chisel and shears, the expert duo of men called upon to conduct the reveal, finally opened that enigmatic, symbolic box, seemingly only discovering an assortment of cryptic silt, containing some specified samples for later examination. What was noteworthy was the actual lid, bearing the inside insignia, “EW Banking NY” as well as 13 concentric circles on its outside. Those too were scheduled for future investigation, a process containing still more lessons on this unique process, which rarely provides immediate answers.
“This whole thing didn’t happen by accident; it was clearly a manufactured box placed at the monument with an intention,” said Michael Diaz, a Curator from the West Point Museum and one of the men who opened the box. “These are breadcrumbs that should lead us to the next clue; this is how history works, and hopefully the box will go to the Museum someday and be stored there.”
Turns out those breadcrumbs were signs of more to follow. After further investigation of the contents of the box, more tangible finds were unearthed. Six silver American coins, including; 1 Liberty Dollar, 1 50-Cent, 1 25-Cent, 1 10-Cent, 1 5-Cent and 1 1-Cent, ranging from 1795-1827, along with a Commemorative 1826 Erie Canal Commemorative Medal were found. Again adding to that bigger story, the one that is bound to continue to evolve, add further excitement, and reveal the potent connections that link the past to now and beyond.
“There is no better time than this to take the opportunity to take a moment and be inspired by our Army’s and Academy’s connection through time,” said Reeves. “That is all represented by that capsule and one of our nation’s true heroes.”