Cornerstone located and removed from base of former John C. Calhoun monument

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The Cornerstone, previously referred to as a time capsule, is one step closer to being open as plans are in the works. The Brockington and Associates crew on Saturday safely removed the enclosed artifacts from Marion Square to a secure location.

Laid on top of the Cornerstone were pieces of loose slate and a marble cap that enclosed it. Underneath that marble cap was said to appear as a tar like substance that is believed to have come from when the Cornerstone was previously opened in 1886.  

Eric Poplin, a Senior Archeologist Brockington & Associates, said they are approaching the unboxing slowly as there’s only one of these cornerstones, and they want to ensure it’s done right with a previous opening. Even more, Poplin said that the cornerstone was not intended to be opened and treated as if it were a time capsule.

The initial design on the cornerstone was as much decorative as it was integral to the monument itself. Poplin said because of this, they are going to need all hands-on deck in the chance the artifacts inside need to be acted upon to preserve their integrity.

We also want to get the people lined up who are going to assist us in conserving the cloth and the paper etc. So that if we need to assess the condition of those things and be ready to start acting on them if need be right away. 

Eric Poplin, Sr. Archeologist Brockington & Associates 

The condition of the artifacts is in question by many including Adam Domby, an Assistant Professor at the College of Charleston and the author of The False Cause: Fraud, Fabrication, and White Supremacy in Confederate Memory. Domby notes that the cornerstone was moved numerous times, and the 1886 article that states it was opened could prove to have been much more damaging.

That article suggests when unboxed, the then 30 year old artifacts were damp, discolored, and some unrecognizable. One of the claimed artifacts in an 1858 article stated that a cannonball from Fort Moultrie would be included but was described was a very rusty rock. That rusty rock is presumed to have been remnants of the cannonball. However, with no conservation after being taken out of the harbor and sitting in saltwater for approximately 80 years, it is believed to have probably decomposed.

Another artifact heavily mentioned was a tin that was supposed to have a lock of John C. Calhoun’s hair. Instead, a tin with oil and wine is mentioned in it’s place and no hair reported. The belief is that the hair could have decomposed into an oil in the 30 years it was in the cornerstone.

Domby said that overall, the “items designed were not meant to pass on to historians in the future any specific knowledge, I mean unless somebody is trying to clone John C. Calhoun his hair is not going to be especially useful to us as scholars of the past. I really hope that nobody is trying to Jurassic Park John C. Calhoun, but some of these items may be presentable in a museum if they did survive.”

Now, 135 years after that opening, Domby believes things could have progressed in a worse direction but are still worth the effort to look and preserve if something is in fact salvageable.

The list of documents is unlikely to change how we view the past but if the banner for instance had been preserved, that would be a fascinating piece of material in culture and present to the exhibit. 

Adam Domby, Assistant Professor CofC 

Domby said while the artifacts may tell the story of the creation of the John C. Calhoun monument, it will not tell us much about the man himself. He went on to add that while many believe monuments are there to teach the public about the figure depicted, John C. Calhoun was, “dead by the time they put it up. But you can learn a bit about this monument by looking at the time period in which is was put up and the rise of Jim Crow, and the way that the past specifically is remembered.”

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