On August 15, 2023, Directorate of Public Works General Support Supervisor Kevin Hultslander uses a chisel to test the strength of a lead seal on the Kościuszko monument time capsule located inside the US Military Academy Archives and Special Collections room in Bartlett Hall at West Point, NY (U.S. Army photo by Major David C. Hoy via Flickr)

Update, 9/1/2023, 6:15pm EDT: Since this report was published, new information has come to light. Read our latest update here.

On Monday, August 28, the United States Military Academy West Point campus hosted a much-anticipated unboxing event for a roughly 194-year-old time capsule that was discovered in the base of a monument earlier this year. The reveal was live-streamed on YouTube and attended by faculty members, cadets, and alumni from the academy as well as archaeologists, military historians, and staffers at the West Point Museum, all gathered in anticipation of uncovering historical artifacts.

So, what was inside the box? Well, not much beyond some shards of dried-up silt.

The meager findings likely disappointed the cadets who, according to Academy Dean Shane Reeves, had speculated that the time capsule contained alum and former President Ulysses S. Grant’s beard trimmers, maps of the campus steam tunnels, and somehow, a thumb drive with lost Bitcoins on it.

Before the box was pried open, West Point Dean Shane Reeves marveled at the time capsule that was left untouched for 194 years. Still, he admitted that the box could very likely contain “nothing,” throwing in a reference to the 1986 televised broadcast of journalist Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s hidden vault in Chicago, which revealed only a stop sign and some empty bottles inside. 

The leaden container in question was recovered in May of this year from the base of a campus monument honoring Polish General Tadeusz Kościuszko, who helped to strengthen West Point’s original military fort during the American Revolutionary War before the academy was founded in 1802.

Kościuszko Monument, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Woodruff/USMA Public Affairs Office via Flickr)

Designed by West Point graduate John H. B. Latrobe and unveiled in 1828, the monument began undergoing restoration efforts in 2021 after structural cracks were discovered along the original column and base. The bronze statue of Kosciuszko was only installed atop the columnar monument in 1913, and had already been stored away when construction manager Chris Branson unearthed the one-cubic-foot box from the marble base. West Point’s Department of Physics and Nuclear Engineering had taken X-rays of the box, but the results were inconclusive.

West Point officials dated the container, now deemed a time capsule, to the year 1828, but the Associated Press notes that the monument may not have been completed until 1829 based on written correspondence from West Point then-cadet Robert E. Lee, who later became the commander of the Confederate States Army during the Civil War. Ironically enough, a 130-year-old time capsule was recovered from the base of a Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Virginia, in 2021 after the namesake statue was removed in light of the riots sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Rather than dried silt, that capsule instead yielded some wet books and a coin.

“While the matter inside the box is inconclusive at this point, opening the box has given us further leads to research the history and meaning of this Revolutionary hero and his monument that stood looking over the Academy and the Hudson River for 194 years,” US Military Academy Command Historian Jennifer Voigtschild wrote in a statement to Hyperallergic. “With the approaching 250th anniversary of the American Revolution and the nation, the US Military Academy is looking forward to future opportunities to research, mark the spots, reflect, and be inspired by our early history and its legacy.”

West Point intends to rekindle the tradition with a new time capsule for the marble base once the monument is fully restored. Maybe that one cadet’s Bitcoin idea wasn’t so bad after all. 

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...