Light & Verity

Peabody looks back (a mere 99 years)

Opening a time capsule from when the museum was built.

People at the Peabody Museum of Natural History are no strangers to uncovering artifacts that may be millions of years old. But on July 25, the museum dug into a piece of its own, more recent, history. When the museum’s current home on Whitney Avenue was built in 1923, a time capsule—a lead box about the size of a thick book—was encased in concrete behind the cornerstone. Now that the Peabody is undergoing a major renovation and expansion, it seemed right to take a look inside after 99 years.

The contents weren’t exactly earth-shattering: photos of important people in the museum’s history, such as benefactor George Peabody and paleontologist O. C. Marsh (Class of 1860); documents about the museum’s founding; a 1923 Yale Alumni Weekly with an article about the then-new museum.

But for Peabody conservator Mariana Di Giacomo, who opened the box, the thrill was in a sort of professional admiration for the excellent condition of the materials inside. “That lead really did its job,” she says, although she acknowledges its terrible health implications. She used a fume hood while opening the box and wore gloves while touching the materials.

The Peabody is planning another time capsule to be embedded in a wall near the entrance of its new central gallery. This one will include objects, not just documents, so Di Giacomo is now applying her conservation knowledge to a new task. “We want to make sure that the objects don’t fight each other and don’t degrade each other,” she says.    

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