A little over 128 years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints laid the capstone for the Salt Lake Temple.
Surrounded by a sea of Mormons, church President Wilford Woodruff stepped up to the platform and said, “Attention all ye house of Israel and all ye nations of the earth...”
After a few more words, Woodruff pushed a button that sent an electrical current to a contrivance connected with the capstone and the deed was done.
Inside the capstone was a “time capsule” filled with items from people who no doubt pondered what some future generation would think of them if the capsule were ever reopened.
Note: Since the Lord was supposed to return at any moment, I’ll take a guess and say that not many thought it would be more than a century later.
It’s too bad. They might have been more careful if they had. In May, during renovation of the temple and to repair some earthquake damage, the capstone was chiseled open and the items were retrieved.
Time was not kind. The books, letters, photographs and other perishable artifacts had, well, perished. And so had everyone who had attended the 19th-century ceremony.
Time capsules work only if they’re done right. Wet concrete and weather are not their friends. Many of the items placed in the capstone in 1892 were nearly unrecognizable. Coins tossed into the mortar were still identifiable, though, some with names etched into them.
Truthfully, I hoped for better stuff. A wad of Brigham Young’s beard would have been cool. Maybe a tooth pulled from an apostle. Perhaps some ancient Book of Mormon memorabilia.
In 1860, three decades before the coins were thrown into the capstone, the Deseret News reported the existence of such a historic item.
George Peacock of Manti was said to have found a Nephite senine, or farthing, on the Colorado River. He brought it to Salt Lake City, where it was entrusted to a “Professor Phelps,” who reportedly rendered a “literal translation” of the hieroglyphs or Hebrew letters from the coin:
“The king, Hagagadonihah, over the kingdom near the sea west, sends to all greeting: one senine.”
On the other side: “In the 95th year of the Kingdom of Christ, 9th year of my reign: Peace and life.” With mottoes: “Weapon to Weapon. Life for Life.”
What happened to this coin is a mystery. Maybe it ended up in some church vault or squirreled away in a catacomb beneath the temple. Or, quite possibly, someone was talking out of his Hagagadonihah.
If true — and what are the odds? — it would have been nice to have recovered this Nephite farthing from the inside of the capstone instead of coins from a mere two centuries ago.
If not that, then why not some bullets pulled out of Porter Rockwell’s victims, some ancient American relics like a Jaredite saddle or even a Nephite chariot transmission.
Maybe I’ll have a time capsule installed in my headstone. But what would it contain? It would have to be something worth digging out, something more meaningful than just a note that says, “Boo!”
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.