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South Royalton Time Capsules Perpetuate a Series of Mysteries

  • Two copper time capsules found in the base columns of Royalton's Handy Memorial when it was disassembled to be restored will be opened on the green in South Royalton, Vt., Thursday, August 9, 2018. The time capsules were photographed at the town office in South Royalton, Vt., Thursday, August 2, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Handy Memorial on the South Royalton green was dedicated in 1915 during old home week. The granite arch commemorates Hannah Handy, who successfully gained the release of several boys, including her son, captured by Mohawk Indians in the Royalton Raid of 1780. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Copyright © Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, August 06, 2018

When Matt “Teo” Calcagni started to hammer away at the base of the monument on the South Royalton green, he could tell something was a little strange.

His demo drill — a small jackhammer — wasn’t getting the resistance he expected. The drill sounded and felt as if the base — made out of river rock and concrete — had a hollow cavity.

Calcagni knows his stone.

His Italian family has operated GCB Corp., of Barre since 1895, when the city was at the epicenter of the region’s granite business. Name a granite monument in New England, he and his brother, Joe Calcagni say, and it’s likely that it was mined by one of their ancestors, or else the ancestor of a friend.

And so, he wasn’t entirely surprised when the top of the monument base (he and his nephew had already used a boom truck to remove the monument’s horseshoe-shaped top) suddenly yielded, giving him his first glimpse of the metal box.

A less experienced worker might have pulverized the rock, and the metal box too, which would have at best ruined the treasure’s mystery, and at worse, buried it in rubble, to be carted off and destroyed without a moment’s thought.

That’s the fate of the vast majority of time capsules, according to the International Time Capsule Society, at Oglethorpe University, in Atlanta.

The society estimates on its website that only one of every 1,000 is ever found, with the rest either destroyed by the elements where they lie, or simply forgotten about.

But Calcagni, 49, who said his work with New England monuments has given him a special appreciation for history, only nicked the capsule’s edge before shutting his machine down and working the custom-built box — about a foot long and 6 inches tall and wide — out of the cavity for further inspection.

“We weren’t completely surprised, but we were super excited,” Calcagni said.

Also super excited was John Dumville, South Royalton’s primary historian, who was on the site that day. Though there was no specific reference to a time capsule in the historical record, Dumville said he quietly suspected that one had been hidden when the monument was erected.

“I would have been more surprised if we didn’t find anything,” Dumville said.

That’s because of the monument’s pedigree.

It was erected with funds from the sale of History of Royalton, Vermont: With Family Genealogies 1796-1911, a two-volume book written by one Mary Evelyn Wood Lovejoy, back when she was Royalton’s primary historian.

Lovejoy documented many events and people in her book, and she chose to use the book’s proceeds to support a monument to Hannah Hunter Handy.

On Oct. 16, 1780, Handy, a young mother, heroically convinced a raiding party of Mohawks under the command of a British lieutenant to release her son and eight other boys that they had kidnapped with intent to sell into slavery.

Accounts of the Royalton Raid, during which four people were killed and dozens of homes burned, say she pursued the members of the raiding party and forded the White River to argue for her son’s life.

After securing his release, she insisted that several other boys were too young to endure the hard road ahead, and she escorted each of them across the river. By the end of the day, an exhausted Handy had so impressed the raiders with her courage that one of the Mohawks carried her on her last journey across the river.

Handy’s story, though celebrated, is also something of an enigma, with many of the details changing from one account to the next. Was her son 7 or 9 years of age? Did Handy receive a brooch from the community for her heroism? There is even disagreement on Handy’s name, which may have been Hendee, and where she is buried, with both Sharon and Hoosick Falls, N.Y., mentioned as candidates.

Dumville is hoping that the two time capsules (Calcagni found an identical metal box in the other base of the monument) will yield as many answers as questions. He said he expects that it was Lovejoy who organized the boxes’ contents, and he believes that it will have something to do with Handy.

But it also seems unlikely that the box will contain much in the way of new information about the Royalton Raid, because Lovejoy presumably wrote all she knew in her history of the community.

“Maybe a list of donors. Maybe history of who Hannah Handy was,” Dumville speculated. “What I’d love is to find the contract for the building and the design of the monument, who manufactured it. There are no records here in town.”

“I don’t have the foggiest,” said Calcagni, though, he ventured, that “it seemed like paper. Heavy paper.”

The Royalton boxes are made of copper, and soldered together.

That’s a no-no in a set of time capsule guidelines from the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, which warns that “solder can deteriorate, allowing water to enter the time capsule.”

The Smithsonian also has advice on what kinds of materials are likely to stand the test of time. Rubber, plastic wrap, and electronics are all out, on the basis of their capacity for deterioration.

And when it comes to textiles, silk will deteriorate while sulfur-laden wool and hair can outgas, corroding metal. But polyester is stable, and cotton will even provide the benefit of absorbing moisture, should the air get too humid.

This isn’t Royalton’s first time capsule — just five years ago, area newspapers reported that seventh graders at South Royalton School were ready to dig up a time capsule that students had buried in 1983.

And Vermont, in general, has a particularly rich tradition of time capsules.

Milton, Vt., residents opened a 25-year time capsule in the form of a silver milk jug in 2016. That same year, construction workers in Middlebury found a time capsule beneath a municipal building. The capsule proved to be older than the building — it was from 1938, the year that a school was constructed on the same site. And in 2002, the sculpture of the agricultural goddess Ceres that sat atop the Statehouse was discovered to contain a copper box time capsule from 1938.

Vermont even houses — supposedly — one of the nine “most-wanted” time capsules in America or England, according to a list curated by the time capsule society.

That would be the Lyndon time capsule, which newspapers reported was slated to be buried by town officials in 1891, but which evaded detection by a new generation of officials in 1991.

Other notable “missing” time capsules include one buried by the cast of the television show M.A.S.H. at the conclusion of its run in 1983, one trapped beneath an 18-ton magnet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one that was stolen out of a van, just before it was scheduled to be buried with the help of then-President Gerald Ford in Valley Forge, Pa. in 1976.

Oglethorpe University itself hosts an enormous “crypt of civilization” a 20-foot-long vault that hosts works of literature, dental floss, audio sound clips and seeds, among other things. It is scheduled to be opened in the year 8113, a date chosen because it placed the 1936 burial date at the midpoint between the scheduled far-future opening, and what was, in 1936, believed to be the most ancient date on a historical calendar (4241 B.C.).

In Royalton, Dumville said he plans to open the time capsules, which are currently in the town office, at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday on the South Royalton green prior to this season’s final concert by the South Royalton Town Band.

Then, when the monument restoration effort nears completion later this summer, he will sneak his own time capsule into the monument’s new base, creating a new mystery for the future.

“Am I going to tell you what’s going to be in them?” he said. “Not on your life.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.