Group wants people to share their stories of Baltimore's Washington Monument

Have a memory about Baltimore's Washington Monument to share? Conservancy looking to build time capsule.

Cole Shacochis-Edwards last scaled the 228 steps to the top of Baltimore's Washington Monument 40 years ago with her dad. She also remembers roller skating in Mount Vernon and eating pancakes at The Buttery diner.

She'll write about the power of those memories as part of a collection the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy is assembling for a time capsule. It will be placed in the base of the monument's marble and stone column and sealed for a century.

Shacochis-Edwards said her story and others will connect Baltimoreans across time.

"I would hope people will feel a connection to each other," said Shacochis-Edwards, a 44-year-old registered nurse from Lauraville.

The conservancy — charged with the upkeep of the 200-year-old monument — launched the "Monumental Memories" campaign Monday and will collect childhood recollections, stories from descendants of the monument's builders and other memorable tales for the next three months.

Historian Lance Humphries said people flooded the conservancy's social media accounts with their memories during the monument's $6 million restoration, which was completed last summer, sparking the idea for the campaign.

Many consider the monument to be the symbol of the city, he said (although it is the Battle Momument that is featured on the city seal).

"Who knows what people will think about this 100 years from now?" said Humphries, who led the restoration.

The submitted stories will be vetted, printed and placed inside a capsule later this year during a ceremony to install a permanent plaque to commemorate the bicentennial restoration, Humphries said. A date for the ceremony has not been set.

Crews restoring the monument discovered a long-forgotten 1915 time capsule inside the base of the monument, behind a bronze plaque that marked its centennial.

The copper box contained a copy of the earliest known photograph of the Declaration of Independence, taken by J.H. Handy in 1903. Also packed inside was a Bible printed in a minuscule font developed in Baltimore known as Diamond Type, a map of trade routes from the port of Baltimore to the Panama Canal and a picture of Francis Scott Key.

It was one of two time capsules Baltimore's forefathers left behind. The oldest was buried inside the hollowed cornerstone in 1815 and unearthed during the restoration. Inside were three glass jars and a copy of the Declaration of Independence, published in its entirety in a newspaper.

Many of those items are on display at the Maryland Historical Society.

Historian Johns Hopkins, director of the nonprofit Baltimore Heritage Inc., said including personal memories in a time capsule will offer a glimpse into life today for people 100 years from now.

"The Washington Monument is really important historically in Baltimore," Hopkins said. "It seems like everybody has got a story, whether it's climbing up as a kid or seeing it get lit up with fireworks as part of the monument lighting or first learning about it from a John Waters movie."

Not everyone likes the idea. Charles Duff, president of the nonprofit developer Jubilee Baltimore and a Mount Vernon neighborhood booster, remembers a night at the monument when he felt so inspired to help spark a Baltimore renaissance he had "the closest thing I've ever had to a religious experience."

But he can't say the people of the future would care to read it.

"Can you imagine anything duller than reading a first-person experience of a life-changing event from some person you've never heard of?" Duff said.

The campaign could be better off being titled: "How I met your great-grandmother," he said.

Shacochis-Edwards said the simplicity of everyday life will be compelling to whoever opens the capsule. She described finding a book in an antique shop from a 19th-century bride who took it with her on a journey out West. In it, the people the bride encountered in Wyoming and Nevada and California left recipes and poems.

Shacochis-Edwards said the book gives no commentary on "who people wanted to vote for president, but it does say what their favorite chicken salad recipe is."

Writing about the adventures with her father, Don Shacochis, will provide a window into life in the 1970s, Shacochis-Edwards said. She explored the monument with her father, who has faded from her life and now lives in Thailand.

Those stories will show the monument through a child's eyes, the significance of spending time with family and the value of preservation, she said.

Humphries said the conservancy has not decided what the time capsule will be made of. They might use a copper box similar to the one soldered shut in 1915, which proved durable.

The 1,000-pound cornerstone was reburied last spring with an assortment of 21st-century offerings, including 3-D, metal-cast prints of the statue of George Washington that stands atop the 178-foot monument column. Inside a hollow 3-D print of Washington's hand is a note explaining what was previously inside the cornerstone and how the new prints were made.

The monument reopened July 4. Since then, more than 13,000 visitors have toured the structure — and at least one couple has gotten engaged at the top, Humphries said.

People who want to offer memories for the time capsule can fill out an online form, Humphries said. The entries will be printed, rather than kept digitally, to ensure they can be read a century from now when modern technology might be obsolete and unrecognizable.

Henry H. Hopkins, president of the conservancy's board, offered the campaign's first memory. He recalled his first trip to the monument in the early 1950s, when he challenged several schoolmates to a race to the top.

"I remember coming in a close second and not even being out of breath," he wrote. "After 60 years, I expect my dash to the top might take a little longer."

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