SCRANTON, PA. — A 113-year-old time capsule entombed inside the Watres Armory in Scranton contained a small treasure trove of artifacts and a surprise.
Inside a custom-crafted, L-shaped copper box was a smaller time capsule from 23 years earlier, 1877, from the prior armory that had been at the site of the Masonic Temple.
Col. Michael Konzman, commander of the 55th Armored Brigade Combat Team of the Pennsylvania National Guard, had been researching the history of the unit’s predecessor, the 13th Regiment of the National Guard of Pennsylvania, and discovered a reference to a time capsule in the cornerstone of the Watres Armory at Adams Avenue and Myrtle Street.
Built in 1900-01, the 60,240-square-foot armory that resembles a castle fortress was replaced by the new Scranton Armed Forces Reserve Center on Olyphant Avenue, which opened in 2011.
For decades, the armory was the headquarters of the National Guard’s 109th Infantry Regiment and housed units of the 55th Brigade, the predecessor of the 55th Armored Brigade Combat Team.
Because the state plans to sell the armory, the National Guard wanted to uncover the time capsule before ownership of the building changes hands, said a National Guard spokesman, Staff Sgt. Matt Jones.
But uncovering the cornerstone time capsule wasn’t easy, as workers had to chisel through 6-inch-thick stone to get to it, Konzman said. After exposing it, they couldn’t readily pull it out because it was fashioned to fit the corner like a glove and wedged in tight. So, they cut the box open with metal shears to retrieve its contents and that’s when they discovered that one of the items inside was the earlier time capsule.
“There was a time capsule inside a time capsule,” Konzman said. “Nobody knew it existed.”
The smaller time capsule contained several local newspapers from 1877, including The Daily Times, The Scranton Republican, The Sunday Morning Free Press, The Scranton City Journal; two local German-language newspapers, Der Herold and Scranton Wochenblatt; and The Daily Graphic of New York; documents of the 13th Regiment; a program from the laying of the cornerstone of the 1877 armory; and several coins. The earliest of the coins included an 1856 half dime and an 1831 one-cent piece.
The larger time capsule also contained several almanacs of The Scranton Republican newspaper, a rare mint copy of “A City’s Danger and Defense,” a book by Samuel C. Logan on the strike of 1877 and origins of the Scranton City Guard, and a handwritten note from the laying of the Watres cornerstone on Nov. 3, 1900, correctly predicting the re-election of President William McKinley in the Nov. 6, 1900, election.
Both time capsules had been sealed with solder. The documents, book and newspapers have remained in pristine condition and have not yellowed or become brittle from the passage of time. As such, they are invaluable for both their historical content and good condition, Konzman said.
“These documents haven’t seen the light of day in 113 years,” Konzman said. “The stuff here is priceless.”
When the larger box was cut open, the aroma of tobacco wafted out because it also contained a lone cigar that appeared about as fresh as the day it was rolled.
The time-capsules’ contents will be appraised for insurance purposes and preserved, and at least some will be displayed at the Armed Forces Reserve Center, Col. Konzman said.