Present renovation of the state capitol building reminds me of treasures you'll never see, and at least one you would not have wanted to see.
The latter? The attorney generals' vault in 1956, filed with decades of dust in the sub-basement. My job as an assistant state archivist? Rescue any valuable documents and get rid of the rest. Protection? A water soaked handkerchief tied around my mouth and nose. (I did recover some worthwhile historical documents.)
Real hidden treasures? Colorado once published a yearbook (actually every two years) under direction of the state planning division. There were 26 editions with loads of relevant information in as many as 900 pages. In 1965, the yearbook ended publication.
Sometimes the mundane can become treasure gleaned from a yearbook. The 1959-61 yearbook explains while no bricks show anywhere on the inside or outside of the capitol building, there are 5,482,114 of them in the building.
Sometime, not too far off, the state population will equal the number of bricks. If the present renovators happen to uncover any bricks, a few would be nice to add to the historical display presently lodged in front of the legislative council offices in the capitol basement.
In a 1979 Denver Post article by Joanne Ditmer and a 1990 Rocky Mountain News article by Frances Melrose, readers learned Henry C. Brown, builder of the Brown Palace Hotel, donated 10 acres of land from part of his homestead in 1868 for construction of a state capitol building. The land is where the capitol building now sits.
According to Melrose "With the passage of years, when nothing had been built on the land he donated, Brown grew angry. In the 1880's he sued for the return of the land because he felt the capitol building never would be built."
Brown lost the case, but his lawsuit forced state officials to get to work in the second half of that decade eventually leading to construction of the building.
The capitol building wasn't completed for full occupation under 1896, but the cornerstone (the official dedication) ceremony occurred July 4, 1890.
Hidden treasure? Both Melrose and Ditmer described the ceremony in their articles. Melrose elaborated on the cornerstone: "Hollowed-out stone, which weighed 20 tons, with an additional 5-ton cap, contained a copper box holding memorabilia of the day and the century.
"Among objects placed in the cornerstone were a 43-star American flag, copies of speeches given at the dedication, a copy of Zebulon Pike's journal, an assortment of gold and silver coins and autographs of distinguished Colorado citizens.
"The stone was designed so that once in place, it became an integral part of the building, its contents never to be seen until the capitol is demolished."
The cornerstone is located at the northeast corner of the building. According to the 1959-61 Yearbook, other items in the cornerstone include "a bible, constitutions of the United States and Colorado, many state records and historical data, and a walking stick made from a piece of the keel of Old Ironsides." (If you don't know about Old Ironsides, better look her up.)
The cornerstone was rededicated August 4, 1990 with burial of a time capsule containing similar memorabilia to be opened in July 2090.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)
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