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Guest Post: Secrets of the Cornerstone to Be Revealed This Saturday

By: Joseph Soderborg - September 03, 2009

After the turn of the twentieth century but before the Great War, in an era of prosperity and peace, members of the Salt Lake City Tenth Ward built a new chapel on the corner of 8th East and 4th South to accommodate their growing membership. Designed by the Ashton Brothers architectural firm, it would be a stately brick edifice with crenellated towers, gothic windows and stained glass – a beautiful landmark for the city.

One hundred summers ago, ward members laid the foundation for their new chapel. By September the sandstone walls stood about eight feet high and the cornerstone was prepared for its prominent setting in the southeast corner. It was a simple L-shaped stone with only “Erected 1909” inscribed to mark it. Bishop Joseph Christensen presided at the ceremony and lowered the stone into place. It was the 5th of September, now almost exactly a century ago.

Laying the Tenth Ward cornerstone, September 5, 1909

The story might well end there with a reflection on the intervening century and an invitation to attend the Tenth Ward centennial celebration. But there is more to tell.

There is a time capsule.

Someone in 1909 had the presence of mind to include historical items in the cornerstone. The Salt Lake Herald reported that, “the standard works of the Church and some records, documents, and relics connected with the early history of the ward” were placed in the cornerstone! As a historian, my heart skipped a beat when I read that.

Just what did “records, documents and relics” include? Are they still intact? Do we know exactly which stone is the cornerstone? Could we really find the right stone, cut it out of the building, and retrieve the relics? Three newspapers covered the event but only the Herald mentioned the “time capsule” – could those artifacts really be fiction? No, Bishop Joseph Christensen’s 1909 diary confirmed the account in the Herald !

When I approached Bishop Nicholas Berger, the Tenth Ward’s present bishop, with this idea he was interested but cautious. The Church Historical Department was also interested but cautious, even skeptical. Many cornerstone openings in the past, including the Nauvoo House and the Salt Lake Temple, had yielded only a “mush” of water-damaged documents. Our cornerstone is sandstone and has had a hundred years to soak up water. In addition to that, in 1927 a fire gutted the chapel and made the possibility of water damage even more certain.

No one wanted to spend the time and effort and resources for a lump paper pulp. But neither did anyone want to disregard this potential treasure. The only way to know for sure was to get someone with the skills and right equipment to carefully extract the stone. But who, and which stone should we tell him to go after?

John Lambert is the founder/president of Abstract Masonry Restoration. An experienced craftsman, he specializes in national and state historical register buildings. He is one of the top in his field and has done projects for the Church before as well as around the country. He lives here in Salt Lake. He was contacted and offered to donate his time for the project.

Meanwhile, by a stroke of good fortune I had found a grainy copy of a photograph (posted above) which showed the original cornerstone ceremony. This helped John verify the stone we all thought was the cornerstone: the one inscribed 1909.

On August 28, 2009, at about 10 a.m., with a few people watching, John began chiseling and cutting away the mortar which held the stone. After about three hours he was ready to pull the stone. We called Bishop Berger, who rushed over from work. Up on the ladder John wrestled the stone and got the first glimpse behind the stone in a hundred years.

“I can see a box!” he said. We all felt a surge of excitement. Scott Christensen, representing the Historical Department, said it was the significant moment of the day: A box meant the old records would be protected and were probably intact.

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An hour later the box was out. It was about half the size of a shoe box, made of some kind of tin or lead-zinc.

We all took turns posing with the box for the cameras and holding it gingerly like a Christmas present. Although the box lid was loose, no one peeked inside – the bishop wanted the whole ward to share in the fun. However, there were a couple of small holes left by the chisels … and papers were visible. The papers looked like they were in excellent condition. The bishop took the box to the bank for safekeeping.

After we helped John clean up, the only thing left to do was celebrate at Chuck-a-Rama.

We will open the box 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 5th – but let’s have some fun. Would anyone care to speculate on the contents of the box?

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41 Comments »

  1. Joseph has sent some wonderful pictures of last Saturday’s uncovering of the cornerstone, but I’ve been fighting all night to get them downloaded and uploaded again. Check back a little later — it will be worth your while.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 3, 2009 @ 7:14 am

  2. Aww… come on Ardis, you know all your readers would love to see the picture of you with the time capsule.

    Comment by Researcher — September 3, 2009 @ 7:48 am

  3. Take a look at the black and white photo from 1909 — that’s me in the straw hat at the right.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 3, 2009 @ 8:20 am

  4. so cool!

    Comment by Randy B. — September 3, 2009 @ 9:20 am

  5. Very cool, Ardis. I wish that I could be there.

    I’ll guess: a photo of the ward members, sheet music used by the ward brass band, minutes, scriptures, a hymnal, and, lastly, a daguerreotype of Joseph Smith (the original).

    Comment by Justin — September 3, 2009 @ 9:32 am

  6. I predict it contains the sword of Laban, the lost 116 ms pages cross referenced to the Spaulding ms, and the only surviving daguerreotype of Joseph Smith.

    I can’t wait to find out if I’m correct.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — September 3, 2009 @ 9:43 am

  7. I just think of how many times I’ve passed the Tenth Ward, never dreaming that a few feet away a secret was lying hidden. Then for Joseph to discover so few weeks ago that it even existed, and THEN for him to move his ward and the church bureaucracy in time to stage this reenactment on the centennial anniversary — *that* may be the truly miraculous part!

    I’m hoping that there will be something personal and unique to the people of that ward — not merely recent (1909) newspapers or other printed material. I’m hoping for photographs, maybe handwritten letters, something addressed to their descendants or to the future members of their ward, maybe prognostications of what the world would be like when the time capsule was opened. The casule was sealed less than a month after all those Civil War soldiers visited Salt Lake City — I would be tickled if there were some mention of that in, say, a summary of what’s on the minds of ward members.

    But I’d take a JS daguerreotype, too … as long as it came with provenance!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 3, 2009 @ 9:44 am

  8. Drat. Justin beat me to the JS daguerreotype idea. I typed too slowly.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — September 3, 2009 @ 9:45 am

  9. ‘s’okay, Paul. Maybe there will be TWO of them.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 3, 2009 @ 9:47 am

  10. Awesome. Paul and Justin, ftw. I can’t wait to hear what is in it.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 3, 2009 @ 9:54 am

  11. BTW, that’s Joseph in the red shirt in a couple of the pictures. John Lambert is the one in the white shirt doing the heavy work in the first couple of pictures, and I’m guessing that’s Bishop Berger on the ladder peering into the cavity. Maybe Joseph will sign on and identify the other two men in that picture.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 3, 2009 @ 10:00 am

  12. Very cool! I hope some of the major media outlets pick up this story.

    Yes, Ardis, the Keepaninny Nation would love to see a photo. You have a photo of yourself, don’t you?

    I predict it will contain mostly generic items, like Ardis mentioned, but there will be copy of the architect’s plans, a hand-written letter from the bishop of the ward, as well as a silver sacrament goblet. (!)

    Comment by Hunter — September 3, 2009 @ 10:08 am

  13. Ardis must be eating whole wheat bread and “fruit in the season thereof, for she has discovered “hidden treasures of knowledge.”

    I’m fascinated by any real-life treasure story. Please post a follow-up with photos of the boxes innards.

    As to what those innards are, my bet is that they contain “the standard works of the Church and some records, documents, and relics connected with the early history of the ward” as stated by the Herald. Translated, that means “Lectures on Faith back when they were canonized a ward history with a few old photographs and boundary maps, and relics–probably slivers of wood from the true cross.

    Comment by Clark — September 3, 2009 @ 10:13 am

  14. It wasn’t me who discovered it! The “I” in this guest post is Joseph Soderborg. This is Joseph’s story from beginning to end (but maybe we shouldn’t speak of ends when whole wheat bread and fruit are involved).

    I’m only the lucky one who gets to display Joseph’s find — and he’s promised us a follow-up post for Monday reporting on the box’s innards.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 3, 2009 @ 10:19 am

  15. But I’d take a JS daguerreotype, too … as long as it came with provenance!

    Provenance? These two JS daguerreotypes have been in a tin/lead-zinc box for 100 years. That is certainly providential provenance! Both of the daguerreotypes will be treasured for years to come, especially the profile shot.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — September 3, 2009 @ 10:22 am

  16. I’ll make another guess: signatures of ward members.

    Comment by Justin — September 3, 2009 @ 10:35 am

  17. Charles Lambert was a profesional stone worker from England who donated his labor on the Nauvoo temple. He settled in Salt Lake City. I wonder if John Lambert is a descendent of his still in the family business.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — September 3, 2009 @ 10:47 am

  18. Very neat.

    I predict the contents will include an original poem and that said poem’s historical value will far outstrip its poetic merit (as judged by my taste).

    Comment by Edje Jeter — September 3, 2009 @ 10:47 am

  19. How about the ethics of this extraction? When would extracting the cornerstone be of most value? Is opening it now stealing something more valuable from the future? Or are artifacts of the past perfectly ripened by exactly 100 years of seclusion, and after that, those particular objects hold less and less connection and interest for us, diminishing more rapidly than their value due to antiquity rises?

    Comment by John Mansfield — September 3, 2009 @ 11:21 am

  20. “What’s in the box!” Any one see seven?

    Comment by SCW — September 3, 2009 @ 11:25 am

  21. Since putting a box in a cornerstone is an entirely symbolic action, John Mansfield — I mean, there are certainly better ways of ensuring the preservation of materials than hiding them where people forget all about them, and where they’re subject to weather and wrecking balls and thieves — what is a more appropriate symbolic date for opening than 25 years, or 50 years, or 100 years? One of the big questions was whether the box had been opened at some earlier anniversary, that opening since having been forgotten.

    I can’t tell whether you’re being facetious or obstructionist, sorry.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 3, 2009 @ 11:36 am

  22. I’ll make another guess: signatures of ward members.

    Forged, of course, by Heber J. Grant.

    Comment by JimD — September 3, 2009 @ 11:59 am

  23. No, Ardis, I’m quite serious, and hopefully not obstructionist. If this particular box had been opened on its 50th anniversary, then that would have been the end of it, and no one would get to have the same sort of fun now on the 100th anniversary. Is the value of this activity more to us today then it would have been to those half a century ago? Is it more than what it would be if we waited until the bicentennial? Probably, yes, because it is doubtful that any LDS meetinghouse will ever last 200 years. Not many are allowed a full century, so maybe the 50th anniversary is better timing for such an activity.

    This isn’t some Thief of Time style plundering, but it is still an interesting puzzle. Apparently this sort of connection with the past is valuable, as evidenced by the interest of those opening the box and those reading this website, but when is the best time to quit having your cake and start eating it? With cakes, the answer is this week, because cakes get stale quickly after they are baked and generate no extra enjoyment by virtue of being three-months old. With cornerstone boxes, the age of the thing is part of the appeal.

    Comment by John Mansfield — September 3, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

  24. For a historian it’s like finding a burried treasure.
    I cannot tell you how pleased and excited I am to have researched it and found it. Several other people deserve much of the credit for making this happen: Bishop Berger who got the approvals from the historical department;the ward activties commitee for planing the celebration; the facilities manager; but the hero of the day is John Lambert the expert stone mason who donated his time. Huzzah!! for John Lambert

    Comment by Joseph Soderborg — September 3, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

  25. When the Manhattan Temple was dedicated, each stake and district in the temple district got three pages (!) to submit for inclusion in the cornerstone. For our district, we gathered brief testimonies from as many members as we could, printed them in about six-point type, all tightly spaced. I hope it matters to someone in 50 or 100 or 200 years.

    I think it will.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 3, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

  26. I think it will.

    Thanks, John, that’s a fair question, put that way. We’d know a lot more about some archaeological sites if nobody had dug into them before techniques were as advanced as they are today; on the other hand, people 200 years from now could make the same complaint about us destroying evidence by antiquated 21st-century methods, too. But as far as time capsules go, I think I’ll stick with my first instinct, which is that they are symbolic rather than practical, so whoever is able and willing to claim the symbol ought to have the reward of opening it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 3, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

  27. John, The value of opening the box now is that the documents are, apparently, intact. The photo of the box shows it is somewhat corroded. In another 100 years the water damage could affect the documents inside the box. At some point in the future they would completely disintegrate. What is the value of letting them disintegrate?

    Comment by Joseph Soderborg — September 3, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

  28. seeing these 100 year old documents now doesn’t negate their value in the slightest. maybe they’ll be re-sealed (with new items) in a vessel that’s better able to withstand water, pressure, whatever, to be examined in another 100 years.

    great story!

    Comment by ellen — September 3, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

  29. Here’s a bit of clarification. The present “Tenth Ward” building is really a conglomeration of three different buildings that have been attached to each other: the original meeting hall built 1873, the tenth ward school built later and the chapel of 1909. The Ashton Brothers architectural firm actually designed the Tenth Ward chapel while Richard Kletting, mentioned above, designed the school. Thanks to Randy Dixon for the correction.

    [original post has been corrected]

    Comment by Joseph Soderborg — September 3, 2009 @ 2:30 pm

  30. Ellen We are planning to put in a new time capsule with letters, pictures, predictions,artifacts etc. to be opened in 2109.
    So here’s a question: What should be put in the box? guidelines are: it should be small, stable, interesting, and something not common in a hundred years. Plastic (if it’s no the right type)will deteriorate. So will paper if it’s not acid free and lignin free. Color photographs fade faster than black and white photographs. Gold plates will withstand almost anything.

    Comment by Joseph Soderborg — September 3, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

  31. As far as what’s in the box I’m hoping it will have something connected “with the early history of the ward” like some Mormon Battalion artifacts. (The ward’s first Bishop, Bishop Pettigrew was an officer in the Battalion and since then the Tenth Ward has been the “home” of the Mormon Battalion.) Also I would hope to see some documents from the Tenth Ward Lumber and Building Association.

    Comment by Joseph Soderborg — September 3, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

  32. A delightful post and project, Ardis! I agree completely with your assessment of the symbolic rather than practical value of time capsules. And, it was most certainly time to open this one now. Nothing could be gained by waiting any longer, and much might be lost. While time capsules usually contain pedestrian and poorly-preserved pieces, it does sound as if the present example may have a potential for useful ward history.

    Comment by Rick Grunder — September 3, 2009 @ 11:31 pm

  33. Wow! Fun! I hope to see three tiny Nephites in the box.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — September 4, 2009 @ 12:14 am

  34. Oh no, Ben, that would have been a bad idea. The box would have been rent in twain had the old Tenth Ward tried that.

    Comment by John Mansfield — September 4, 2009 @ 5:55 am

  35. Hmm. Even if they were put in the box by those who *did* belong to the church?

    Comment by Ben Pratt — September 4, 2009 @ 11:19 am

  36. I’m not a member of the 10th ward, but can feel all of the excitement of opening the box tomorrow. I would hope that all of my ancestors – who also didn’t live in the Ward — would have hidden their journals in the box, as none of their journals can be found anywhere else. Okay, realistically, I’m proud of my cousin, Joseph Soderborg for digging into such a wonderful find for our day. I say he deserves a huge pat on the back for getting the ball rolling in time for the 10th Ward’s 100th Birthday.

    Comment by Jean Naisbitt — September 4, 2009 @ 5:49 pm

  37. Hear, hear!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 4, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

  38. OK, you gotta tell us now what was in there!

    Comment by Rob — September 6, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

  39. I didn’t make it down to the party, Rob! I’ve searched the Deseret News (no report) and written to Joseph begging for information, but haven’t heard anything yet!

    You and me both, brother.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 6, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

  40. Okay, Joseph’s report and photographs are coming in now — the curses of a fragile wireless connection are lengthy download times. The photographs will be exclusive to Keepa. We’ll probably post tomorrow morning.

    No little Nephites … no gold plates … no Mormon gold coins …

    But what was there? Stay tuned!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 6, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

  41. that is such the cool find! How did you know where to look and which stone was the correct one?

    Comment by brian — September 8, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

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