Nearly 150 years after it was shot out of a cannon at the Battle of Gettysburg, and after spending over a century entombed underneath the New Haven Green, an ancient cannonball returned to the light of day on Monday.
The grapeshot ball was among 30 artifacts recovered Monday from two time capsules buried on the New Haven Green in April of 1909. Click on the video to watch Nick Bellantoni, the state archaeologist, show off some of the items found when he and other scienists cracked open the copper capsules Monday at Quinnipiac University.
The grapeshot was on display in the atrium of City Hall Monday afternoon as Bellantoni and others announced the results of the capsule-opening.
The tubular copper containers were found recently, encased in a barrel-shaped mass of concrete that was unearthed when Superstorm Sandy toppled the Lincoln Oak last fall on the New Haven Green. The oak was planted in 1909 to mark the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. At the time of the planting, members of Admiral Foote Post #17 of the Grand Army of the Republic, placed the two capsules in concrete under the tree.
When the barrel came up last fall—along with old skulls and bones—local historian Rob Greenberg (pictured holding a capsule) began to suspect it contained a time capsule. He eventually got the city bomb squad to X-ray the concrete lump, revealing enough evidence that Bellantoni and others worked to scan the concrete further, and crack it open to find the capsules.
At the press conference Monday afternoon, Drew Days, a Proprietor of the Green, publicly thanked Greenberg for his dogged pursuit of his time-capsule theory, which “kept us focused” on the possibility. (He barred Greenberg earlier in the day from watching the capsules being opened.)
Days is a member of The Committee of the Proprietors of Common and Undivided Lands at New Haven, a self-selecting private group that has owned the New Haven Green since the early 17th century. Having been found on the Green, the capsules and their contents belong to the Green. Days said all the recovered materials will be donated to the New Haven Museum.
Bellantoni said the two copper cylinders measured about 10 inches long by four inches in diameter. One was filled with artifacts from Feb. 12 and 13, 1909, the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, including commemorative Lincoln coins ...
and a medal of the Grand Army of the Republic. The other contained items from April 9, 1909, when the Lincoln Oak was planted, including an edition of each of the several daily New Haven newspapers published that day.
The capsules contained a number of fragile documents, including a history booklet, and two Grand Army roster books. Bellantoni said the first task is now to stabilize those documents, to keep them from deteriorating.
Bellantoni (pictured) said he’s used to “wild goose chases” after alleged time capsules, and was initially skeptical that the concrete barrel might contain a message from the past. The copper tubes were very difficult to extract, requiring high-powered saws and drills and even a jackhammer. “To me it was like they were never meant to be found,” Bellantoni said.
Bellantoni offered an update on the skeletal remains found with the concrete barrel when they tree toppled last fall. The bones belong to several people who died in the late 1700s, he said. They’re now being analyzed at the Yale anthropology department. Days said a re-interment of the remains is planned for October, and preachers from each of the three churches on the Green will officiate.