Experts Found A 128-Year-Old Time Capsule Atop The Salt Lake Temple

Experts have discovered that the enormous Salt Lake Temple held something remarkable in a capstone positioned 220-feet from the ground. One hundred and twenty-eight years after being built, the temple underwent a restoration that led to the capstone finally being opened. Read on to see what items were hidden for more than a century in this time capsule.

Salt Lake Temple Was In Need Of Repairs

George Frey/Getty Images
George Frey/Getty Images

Salt Lake Temple is the largest house of worship that the Mormon Church ever built. Tens of thousands gathered to watch its capstone being laid in 1892. The capstone garnered attention again more than a century later, when the building was under renovation.

The capstone and the golden statue that it held were taken down for the repairs, and that’s when workers discovered something incredible. It seemed that inside this decades-old sphere were historic artifacts.

A Hidden Time Capsule

time-capsule-1
YouTube/Church Newsroom
YouTube/Church Newsroom

Workers quickly discovered that the capstone doubled as a time capsule. They proceeded to spend months uncovering its contents. Inside were objects that had been hidden for 128 years!

Such old objects could offer insight into the people who placed them there, possibly having historical significance. Considering that the capstone was sitting on top of the 200-foot building, someone must have wanted them protected. To understand the historical context of the items, researchers had to look back to the 1840s.

The Founder Of The Mormon Church

Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

About half of the population in Salt Lake City, Utah, is Mormon, and it all started in the 1800s with a man named Joseph Smith. While Smith was living in New York, he allegedly started experiencing visions.

According to his writings, one vision led Smith to discover golden plates hidden in a Manchester hillside. In 1830, Smith released The Book of Mormon, claiming that it was a translation of the writings on the golden plates.

Clashes With Local Residents

Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images
Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

The Book of Mormon attracted followers and before long, a new religion formed. Smith and his followers set up communities in Ohio and Missouri. However, not everyone was so fond of the religion.

Clashes with local residents caused the Mormon communities to regroup in Nauvoo, Illinois. Still, opponents of the religion created friction among neighbors. Things quickly escalated when the authorities reprimanded a local newspaper for speaking out against Smith. It was then that an angry mob took Smith’s life.

A New Leader

MPI/Getty Images
MPI/Getty Images

Brigham Young stepped in as the new leader of the Mormon church. Young allegedly dreamed of Salt Lake City before he arrived there three years after Smith’s death.

As a result, the Mormons settled in Salt Lake City and Young found a spot for their new temple complex. Though construction began in 1853, it came to a screeching halt when the Mormons went to war with national authorities. A year later, the Salt Lake Temple’s construction resumed.

Finalizing The Salt Lake Temple

salt-lake-temple-construction
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

In 1892, the enormous Salt Lake Temple was finally complete. Tens of thousands gathered to watch as builders set the capstone atop the 220-foot structure. The enormous sphere weighed in at almost 4,000 pounds!

Positioned on top of the sphere was a statue depicting the Angel Moroni, who allegedly guided Smith to the fabled tablets decades prior. Illustrations of the Angel Moroni often show him holding a trumpet and he appears in Mormon temples around the world today.

A Powerful Earthquake

moroni-statue
George Frey/Getty Images
George Frey/Getty Images

More than a century after the Salt Lake Temple was built, an earthquake threatened to tumble it down. On March 18, 2020, a 5.7 earthquake hit 15 miles west of the temple. Though the building itself was intact, the Angel Moroni became damaged.

Specifically, the statue’s trumpet fell, landing on a temple ledge. Fortunately, there wasn’t a risk of someone being hurt because the ground had already been closed since December of the previous year.

A Need For Restorations

Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

In December of 2019, the area around Salt Lake Temple was closed as part of a plan to restore the building. Ironically, part of the restoration plan was installing supports so that the building would have reinforcement in the event of an earthquake.

For two months, the Angel Moroni remained on top of the structure without a trumpet. Then in May, a crane lifted the statue and the capstone beneath it. This time, only 40 people were there to watch the capstone being moved.

Opening The Capstone

capstone
YouTube/Church Newsroom
YouTube/Church Newsroom

A couple of days after the capstone was removed, Mormon church president Russell M. Nelson and others gathered in the Church History Library to watch the capstone being cracked open.

Sure enough, they discovered a time capsule inside the giant capstone. Curator Emiline Twitchell began uncovering some of the items that had been placed in there 128 years prior. Over the next few months, a team would continue to chip away at the capstone, revealing more artifacts.

They Didn’t Expect Much

capstone-2
YouTube/Church Newsroom
YouTube/Church Newsroom

Nelson explained that they didn’t expect to uncover much due to the natural deterioration that would have ensued without proper insulation. The capstone with on top of a giant building for over a century, so it was likely the items were impacted.

Regardless of what they did or didn’t find, though, it was important to Nelson and others to still see what was inside. He explained that they wanted to “pay tribute to the leaders and courageous pioneer craftsmen who against all odds built this magnificent temple.”

Some Artifacts Did Survive The Years

copper-plate
YouTube/Church Newsroom
YouTube/Church Newsroom

When conservators opened up the capstone, they discovered four compartments inside that pointed north, south, east, and west. Many of the artifacts inside had actually lasted over the years. Though some items were in complete disrepair, others were in relatively good shape.

One of these items was a copper plate that had names etched into it. The inscription included the names of people who attended a ceremony in 1853 and who were at the capstone installation decades later.

A Clue In An Old Newspaper

capstone-3
YouTube/Church Newsroom
YouTube/Church Newsroom

The plate was intended to be found by future generations, as were many of the other artifacts placed in the capstone. However, there were also some less intentional items that made their way into the time capsule.

Conservators found an 1892 article for the Salt Lake Herald-Republican that stated many onlookers added to the collection, as well. Who placed what into the capstone would remain a mystery, but it added to the intrigue of what may be inside.

There Were Hundreds Of Coins In The Capstone

coins
YouTube/Church Newsroom
YouTube/Church Newsroom

One thing that conservators found in the capstone was coins. In total, they extracted around 400 coins from the capstone! It turns out the Salt Lake Herald-Republican explained why exactly so many coins went in there.

The same 1892 article noted that someone had suggested throwing a dime in the capstone. This led to many others tossing their coins in the time capsule. All those years later, dimes, nickels, quarters, and pennies were retrieved from the capstone.

Some Of The Coins Were Engraved

engraved-coin
YouTube/Church Newsroom
YouTube/Church Newsroom

While vintage coins are a valuable find in general, the more enticing ones featured engravings. Some of the capstone installation onlookers may have tossed in coins on the spot, but others could have planned to placed engraved ones in ahead of time.

To manage the engraving, the coins were ground down on one side and a person’s initials were added. Experts figured that some of them were professionally done, but others had been scratched in by the owner.

They Found Dozens Of Books

book
YouTube/Church Newsroom
YouTube/Church Newsroom

In the east section of the capsule, experts uncovered a copy of the Holy Bible along with other books. There was also a collection of letters that detail the Mormon religion.

More books were found in the southern section, including the Book of Mormon and Voice of Warning, which was written by Mormon missionary Parley P. Pratt and published in 1837. They found a dozen books in total and were able to identify more than half of them.

The Pages Were Severely Water Damaged

old-book
YouTube/Church Newsroom
YouTube/Church Newsroom

The reason some of the books were unidentifiable is they suffered severe water damage. Unlike the coins or the copper plate, the paper pages were vulnerable to weathering over the years.

Curator Emiline Twitchell explained to Church Newsroom, “Concrete will sweat and leach and get hot as it’s curing. And the books essentially were sponges to all of this process that the cement is doing.” As a result, the pages were illegible or barely legible.

The Western Section Was Said To Hold Something Rare

conservator
YouTube/Church Newsroom
YouTube/Church Newsroom

Back in 1892, the Salt Lake Herald-Republican reported that there was a rare picture of Joseph Smith in the capstone. Apparently, the photo was added just before the capstone was sealed.

Experts figured that it would be located in the western section of the time capsule. Since there are no known photographs of the Mormon leader, it would be a significant find. There were said to be other photographs in this part of the capstone, too.

Smith Died Before Photography Was Widespread

The Print Collector/Heritage Images via Getty Images
The Print Collector/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Though the first photograph dates back to the 1820s, it wasn’t until the year 1888 that Kodak began selling commercial cameras. The Salt Lake Temple capstone went up in 1892, just four years after photographs became more widespread.

This historical context explains why it would be such a rare find if Joseph Smith truly did have a photo in the capsule. Being that Smith died in 1844, it would be incredible if he had gotten a photo taken back them.

The Photos Were Also Damaged

photographs
YouTube/Church Newsroom
YouTube/Church Newsroom

Experts held their breath as they dived into the last compartment of the capstone. The good news is that there were, in fact, photos in there! The unfortunate news is that the photos were also very damaged.

The same reason that the books were exposed to moisture applied to the photographs. As a result, they were too damaged to make out the individuals in them. If there was a photo of Joseph Smith in there, it would have been lost to the elements.

The Photos May Have Just Been Copies

artifacts
YouTube/Church Newsroom
YouTube/Church Newsroom

Though it would have been remarkable to make out the photo, experts did reveal that they were likely just copies and not originals. Still, they will be included with the other artifacts in a display.

The Salt Lake Temple renovations are set to resume, which means that the capstone will need to be reassembled. The question is whether or not it will be made as a new time capsule for today’s Mormons, perhaps this time with better insulation.