During National Hospital Week, Community Hospital will open a box that had been placed in the cornerstone of the newly built Osteopathic Hospital in 1964. Such cornerstone "deposits" were placed during a Masonic ceremony that dates back centuries. One of the earliest written records of the ritual was done from the 1739 celebration of the New Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
Such celebrations continue today, where local Masonic Lodges host Masons from around a state and the Grand Lodge to commemorate the construction of a building. The ceremony includes officials, and their guests, of the building being constructed. The Masons parade to the construction site and engage in a ceremony that opens and closes with a prayer. A square, a level, and a plumb are used to check not just the stone itself, but to remind all present of their virtue, equality, and rectitude. The stone is consecrated with corn, wine, and oil. Local officials usually speak at the occasion.
In masonic terminology, the Cornerstone is the first stone placed above ground, and is usually at the northeast corner of the building. The Foundation stone is usually the first stone laid underground in building a masonry structure. The Capstone is the topmost stone that completes the structure. Some abbreviations on the Masonic cornerstone or plaque require explanation: MW Grand Lodge means Most Worshipful, AF & AM means Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. There are sometimes two dates (in our case): A.D. 1964 and A.L. 5964. The A.L.signifies Anno Lucis, year of light in Latin. The Masonic calendar traditionally dated from 4004 BCE; the creation of the universe, Anno Mundi, as computed by Archbishop James Ussher in 1650-54. In the mid-18th century the Masons started using Anno Lucis dates.
While the Masons refer to the objects they place in the Cornerstone as a "deposit", the term "time capsule" has crept into our language. The first use of "time capsule" was applied to the torpedo shaped object buried at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City. The plaque marking the location lists some of its contents: tooth powder, bifocals, asbestos shingle, and zippered tobacco pouch. A second time capsule was buried when the 1964 World's Fair was also held in New York City. This capsule contained artifacts from a newer generation: a checkered bikini, credit cards, a Beatle's record, filter cigarettes, and freeze-dried foods.
The time capsule concept seems to run throughout history and across cultures. Artifacts about buildings were intentionally placed in caches in ancient Assyria. When a statue toppled at the Christchurch cathedral in their recent earthquake, two time capsules were found in the plinth. Time capsules have played major roles in the plots of some recent films: the 2009 science fiction thrilling Knowing and the 2001 South Korean romantic comedy My Sassy Girl (although not in its 2008 American remake).
What can we expect when ours is opened in May? In some other cases, the cornerstone artifacts include a local newspaper, business cards of persons attending the ceremony, information about the ceremony, and objects placed in the deposit by the Masons. We will find out if the employees and trustees entrusted any other relics to the box for our discovery.
Feel free to visit some of the sources I consulted for this article:
The 1964 marker
The 1939 marker
Cornerstones: A Masonic Tradition of Dedication
2002 Cornerstone Ceremony at the Elko Airport
Wikipedia on the Time Capsule
Freemasons and the U.S. Capitol Cornerstone
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