West Point Military Academy, New York—— Excitement and anticipation turned to disappointment at West Point. During a livestreamed event on Monday, a lead box believed to have been placed at the base of the monument by cadets nearly two centuries ago was opened to reveal nothing but gray dust inside.
Viewers at the U.S. Military Academy want to see military artifacts or historical documents taken out of boxes. Instead, they let out a groan after experts pried off the top and pointed the camera inside, revealing only a layer of sediment on the bottom.
Paul Hudson, a West Point archaeologist, and Michael Diaz, director of the West Point Museum, carefully removed a few gray clumps and dusted them with a brush, only to crumble them into powder.
“It’s a bit of a disappointment. We worked so hard on it,” Hudson said after the event. “I’ll tell you the truth, that’s the end result I expected, they went to great lengths to create that box and put it in the monument.”
The roughly one-cubic-foot box was discovered in May during restoration work on a monument honoring Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciusko. This has sparked speculation that it may contain items commemorating Kosciusko, or the life of the cadets when the monument was erected in the late 1820s. Will there be rifle bullets, student messages, or clues to historical mysteries?
The dismal result of the live opener drew comparisons to Geraldo Rivera’s televised 1986 unseal of a Chicago hotel vault that allegedly belonged to the notorious mobster Al Capone The ground was nothing but dirt. In fact, Academy officials joked about the possibility before the official reopening of the lockdown.
“I was told yesterday that if we had a sense of humor, we would have Mr. Rivera with us,” the brigadier said. General Sean Reeves, the academy’s academic dean, spoke to cadets, officers and civilian crowds.
Although they cannot be sure, academy officials believe the box was left by the cadets in 1828 or 1829, when the original monument was completed. A committee of five cadets, including 1829 graduate and future Confederate general Robert E. Lee, participated in the dedication of the monument.
Kosciuszko designed the wartime fortifications for the Continental Army at West Point. He died in 1817. In 1913, a statue of Kosciusko was added to the monument.
Moisture appeared to seep through damaged seams on the box, and sediment likely got inside, Hudson said. These conditions may also break down any organic matter inside, such as paper or wood.
“We’re going to remove all the sediment and run it through some fine mesh screens to see if anything comes out of it,” Hudson said.
While historians aren’t sure when the box was placed on the monument, or who put it there, they say a seal found Monday on the underside of the box’s lid reads “EW Bank NY , which might provide a clue.
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