X-Rays Reveal Lincoln Oak Mystery

With the help of the police bomb squad’s X-ray team, Rob Greenberg found new evidence of a long-held theory—that tangled beneath the roots, skulls, and bones below the Green, a century-old secret message has waited to be discovered.

The message, artist and historian Greenberg believes, lies at the center of the barrel-shaped lump of concrete that was unearthed—along with ancient bones—on Oct. 30, 2012 when the Lincoln Oak toppled on the Green during Superstom Sandy.

This past Thursday, with the help of police spokesman Officer Dave Hartman, Greenberg enlisted the services of the bomb squad to X-ray the concrete barrel. They discovered what appears to be a “void” in the center, possibly with some kind of object inside. Greenberg said he believes the object is a time capsule embedded in the ground when the tree was planted in 1909 on the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

Melissa Bailey File PhotoThe concrete is attached to the bottom of an engraved granite stone (pictured) that was embedded in the ground at the base the tree. When Sandy knocked the tree over, it not only unearthed skeletal remains; it pulled the granite stone and the attached concrete barrel out of the ground as well.

Greenberg, an artist and historian who has long been fascinated with the New Haven Green, was on the scene when the parks department hoisted the granite plaque out of the roots of the tree last fall. He noticed that the concrete footing had an unusually uniform shape, as though it had been poured into a barrel that had since rotted away. Click the video above to watch the concrete lump being pulled from the roots, as recorded by Greenberg on his iPhone.

Greenberg wondered: Why would anyone do bother to dig a hole, put a barrel inside, then pour in concrete? Why not just pour concrete right into the hole?

Maybe the barrel was in fact a form for a concrete-wrapped time capsule, Greenberg concluded.

He embarked then on months of research into the history of the Lincoln Oak, uncovering an uncanny coincidence in its history. (More on that below.)

Greenberg found no record of anyone burying a time capsule buried beneath the tree. But with the help of Officer Hartman, he finally got a chance Thursday to see for himself if something might be inside the concrete—perhaps an important message from the past, tucked away for over a century and waiting to be discovered.

X-Rays Mark The Spot

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAt about 1:15 p.m., Hartman and Greenberg (at left in photo) arrived at the Pardee Rose Garden in East Rock Park, where the parks department has been storing the barrel.

Sgt. Raymond Johannes and Yale cop Charlie Hebron, members of the city’s bomb squad, joined the crew. They set about readying their X-ray equipment.

Hebron pulled out the squad’s XR200 X-ray source, a battery-powered handheld unit that sends out X-ray pulses. Johannes said the squad had never X-rayed concrete as thick as the barrel.

The two assembled three panels of re-usable X-ray film and set them vertically on one side of the barrel. Five feet away on the other side, Hebron set down the XR200 and set it to deliver three rounds of 50 pulses.

After the unit finished beeping and clicking, Hebron (at left in photo) and Johannes (center) rolled the panels one by one onto a scanning drum that they slotted into “the breadmaker,” a Logos X-ray developer hooked up to an IBM laptop. The panels would pick up whatever rays made it through the barrel, creating a picture of the density of the object.

As they waited for the results to come up, the men joked about what they might find. A pharaoh’s curse? A demon asleep for 100 years? A note saying “Sorry, we already got it”?

“What I’m hoping for is if we do find something, we can present it to the Proprietors [of the Green, the little-known self-perpetuating quintet that controls the park] and the mayor’s office and say it would be a wonderful story to have someone diamond-cut it open,” Greenberg said. “And that way preserve the barrel and open it up as an exhibit. ... Maybe even re-plant a new time capsule from today.”

After the first panel was developed, it looked like Greenberg’s hopes might not come to fruition.

“Nothing so far,” Hebron announced.

Then the second panel, the middle one, came up.

“There’s something in there,” Hebron said. He pointed to the laptop screen, which showed a hollow space right in the middle of the barrel. Variations in color density indicated there might be object in the hollow area.

“If it was there just to stabilize the rock, the whole barrel would be filled with cement,” Johannes said. “But it appears that there’s something down the middle of that. ... It’s a lighter color. If something is dense, it’s going to be darker.”

After scanning the third panel, Hebron said, “we’re getting something in the middle, but not the ends.”

“So it could be that they poured cement, put something in, and the put cement back over it,” Johannes said.

He voiced the same question Greenberg had started with, months ago. “Why even bother with a barrel” if you’re just pouring concrete in a hole?

“That’s what I’ve been saying!” Greenberg said. “Somebody’s trying tell you something!”

Esther, Sandy, & Lincoln

“This tree’s been talking to us for years,” Greenberg had said on the way to the Pardee Rose Garden in the passenger seat of Hartman’s silver Crown Victoria.

The tree has spoken at least twice by toppling over in a storm. In his research into the history of the tree, Greenberg hit upon an uncanny case of history repeating itself nearly verbatim.

Searching through the archives of the New Haven Register shortly after the tree fell last fall, Greenberg found a news item with the headline: “Bones Of Man, Child Uncovered On Green By Surprised Workers.”

The article, published Sept. 28, 1961, reads almost exactly like news coverage of the skeleton discovery of Oct. 30, 2012. The resemblance is eery: Two hurricanes, 50 years apart, knocked over the same tree to reveal human bones to surprised New Haveners.

Click here to read the article.

“The bones, which number about six intact ones and a number of fragments, were unearthed Wednesday much to the surprise of Park Department employees who were engaged in restoring the storm-toppled Lincoln Oak on the Upper Green,” the article reads. “The 50-foot high oak was partially uprooted by 60-mile-an-hour gusts from Hurricane Esther last Thursday.”

Greenberg said he was floored by the discovery of the article. He has been collecting these stories and details for a museum exhibit and educational project . He said he’d like to secure a slice of the tree itself, to connect the rings of its growth to important events in New Haven history.

Meanwhile, two large sections of the main truck of the mysterious tree are still lying behind the Pardee Rose Garden, not far from the concrete barrel where a message from the past may still be entombed.

Hartman and Greenberg said their next goal is to do more detailed X-rays of the barrel with more powerful bomb squad equipment—then eventually, with permission from the Proprietors of the Green, carefully slice open the barrel and reveal what might be inside.


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posted by: cedarhillresident! on April 15, 2013  7:44am

Cool! Hope the public is notified if they slice it open. Would love to be part of that.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on April 15, 2013  8:47am

I have lived in New Haven for 9 years and every chance I have to be part and witness the history of this great place.
I love to read old history books and when I started reading about the Quinnipiac tribe of Native Americans,it got me interested enough to keep reading to help me understand of why New Haven was founded in 1638 by English Puritans and how eight streets were laid out in a four-by-four grid.
I grew up in Mexico City,(Tenochtitlan) and the treasures of Nahuatls (native of Mexico City) left for us to discover is so impressive and still teaching us so much of the place that is now Mexico City.

I just can’t help to compare it with New Haven how much more treasures and families traditions are buried under “New Haven Green”.

posted by: Bumphus on April 15, 2013  11:51am

If you like videos about Connecticut’s historic trees there are a series of videos on you-tube cataloging Charter Oak descendants around the state. Look under “charter oak project”

posted by: DrJay on April 15, 2013  11:58am

The bomb squad equipment may be different, but on regular X-rays dark areas mean there is nothing there. The picture is what you would see with a hole in the cement, such as if there was a stick of wood in there which rotted away.
Please confirm with the bomb squad that there equipment is set to display in the opposite fashion
It also looks to me that the whole center portion is extra dark- not just the hole. That probably means the xrays were shot with overlapping fields and the center got an extra dose. The shaft may be of uniform composition.
I bet there is an empty hole in the center of that concrete.

posted by: gliderflyer on April 15, 2013  12:55pm

This project needs a gamma ray machine. Not an x-ray.

posted by: robn on April 15, 2013  8:32pm

That void is clearly bottle shaped; which begs the question,” will volunteers be sought to determine if its contents is poisen or 100 year old whiskey…or both?”

posted by: William Kurtz on April 16, 2013  7:17am

Al Capone’s vault all over again.