Time Capsule Reveals “Grapeshot”

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.

Facebook PhotoWhen 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.

Thomas MacMillan PhotoBellantoni 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.

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posted by: Curious on April 29, 2013  6:07pm

Very cool find!  Good thing no reporters were nearby when it was opened, they could have been killed by that cannonball :)

posted by: cedarhillresident! on April 29, 2013  7:29pm

what ever. Glad they got to experience the joy of opening it. Any video on line of that?

posted by: Edward Francis on April 29, 2013  8:44pm

All is well that ends well!

posted by: Bill Saunders on April 29, 2013  9:01pm

New Haven once again misses the boat, on what could have been turned into a great, interactive crowd-drawing event.  History?/Mystery. All of the exoerts could have been present for the opening.  It would have been nice to see them outside of their offices.

posted by: Truth Avenger on April 30, 2013  5:48am

Kudos to Rob Greenberg, who seems to be a tool of history in this matter, for his dogged persistence in setting this discovery in motion.  I don’t understand how, having played such a critical role in the discovery, anyone would have the temerity to bar him from the dramatic moment of discovery when the capsules were opened. 

Thank you to New Haven Independent and Mr. Macmillan for giving credit where it is due, a story no one would be talking about were it not for Greenberg’s well-considered hunch and follow-through,and the Independent for “unearthing” the facts of the story, ugly as some of them may be.