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Church reveals contents of time capsule held below Salt Lake Temple’s Angel Moroni for 128 years

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — When the Angel Moroni statue was removed from the Salt Lake Temple in May, it came bearing gifts from the past.

That’s because the orb capstone the statue stood atop above the temple contained four time capsules placed in four chambers 128 years ago well before it was dedicated in 1893. Officials from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revealed the contents of the capsule Wednesday.

What was hidden below Angel Moroni all this time?

Historians recovered a dozen books, materials, as well as hundreds of coins and medallions. There was a gold-leafed copper plate among the materials, which inscribed the names of the church’s general authorities who were there the day the temple’s cornerstone was laid on April 6, 1853, as well as the general authorities the day the capstone was hoisted atop the structure exactly 39 years later.

About 400 coins were found. They included nickels, dimes, pennies, quarters, as well as six-pence, three-pence, half-dime and three-cent pieces from the time — some included engravings with people’s names on them. Not all of the coins were excavated from the concrete capstone.

Books collected from the capsule included a copy of The Holy Bible, an 1880s or 1890s copy of the Book of Mormon, a copy of The Pearl of Great Price and a pair of books written by Parley P. Pratt. There were also letters exchanged between Latter-Day Saint theologian Orson Spencer and Reverend William Cromwell.

Items from the capstone of the Salt Lake Temple. In the foreground, middle, is a copper plate inscribed with the names of the Church General Authorities present for the laying of the temple cornerstone on April 6, 1853, as well as the names of Church General Authorities present at the laying of the capstone on the same date 39 years later. | Photo: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The contents weren’t much of a surprise, as they were laid out in newspaper reports at the time. An April 7, 1892, edition of the Salt Lake Herald-Republican noted that a hymn book and photographs of Brigham Young and other early Latter-day Saint leaders were also added to the capstone capsule.

The books and photographs were a little worse for the wear than the coins and not all of the books have been identified, church historians said.

“Everything was very damp, and part of that is because they had dumped concrete around all the packets and concrete will sweat and leach, and the books were essentially sponges,” said Emiline Twitchell, a Church History Library conservator, in a video produced by the church.

She added that the photos were essentially destroyed but likely were not originals. The capsule also contained what appeared to be notes thrown into the capsule by people living in Utah in the 1890s.

In addition to reporting what was inside the capsule, newspaper reports from the time also noted that an estimated 30,000 people attended the capstone ceremony outside the temple. It was a large event to celebrate the completion of a building that took nearly four decades to finish.

An image of the Salt Lake Temple capstone ceremony on April 6, 1892. The ceremony drew an estimated 30,000 people to Temple Square. | Photo: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“This was a moment to reflect on the last 39 years of construction,” said Emily Utt, historic sites curator with the Church History Department, in the church video.

The temple was officially dedicated a year later.

The capstone and Angel Moroni statue were removed on May 18 as a part of repairs needed following the 5.7-magnitude earthquake that struck the Wasatch Front on March 18.

President Russell M. Nelson, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, peaks inside a capstone of the Salt Lake Temple on the loading dock of the Church History Library on May 20, 2020. | Photo: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Opening up the capstone wasn’t very easy. Workers used saws to cut it open and recover the objects inside, church officials said. The contents were presented to members of the church’s First Presidency in a small gathering back on May 20.

“We did not expect to find much because we knew that the contents of the capstone had not been insulated from the weather during the 128 years that had elapsed. But we wanted to be there anyway, just to be close and to pay tribute to the leaders and courageous pioneer craftsman who against all odds built this magnificent temple,” Latter-day Saint President Russell M. Nelson said in a news release.

Church historians are still determining if the contents will be put on public display.

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