CATEGORY: Lafayette County
HED:Cornerstone found at Ole Miss landmark
By Errol Castens
OXFORD -The world saw Thursday what had been hidden for 153 years.
Craftsmen uncovered the cornerstone of the University of Mississippi's Lyceum and discovered a time capsule of artifacts in a lead box.
Masonry consultant Michael Davidson, a Scotland-trained cathedral builder from Eupora, found the cornerstone - actually an assemblage of bricks -within just a few hours.
It helped to know where to look.
"The Oxford (fraternal order of) Masons were very much involved in the building and contributed much to the university," Davidson said. Freemasons often laid cornerstones at the northeast corner of buildings and almost always on the front, he added.
The cornerstone's lead box, 4 inches deep by 6 inches wide by 12 inches long, was removed to much pomp and circumstance as officials and onlookers crowded the now-gutted front office space of the Lyceum on Thursday.
The time capsule was transported to University Museums, where its sealed contents will be examined under controlled conditions before being replaced in the structure.
Historians believe the box may contain the charter of the Oxford Masonic Lodge and a copy of a Holly Springs newspaper.
Another cornerstone, that of the 1903 Lyceum expansion, revealed a rusty tin time capsule.
"I was in fear of disturbing the architectural integrity of the cornerstone if we removed it," Davidson said. The lid of the tin box was removed to reveal four decayed books.
"One looks like an 'M' book (a student handbook) of the time," said William Griffith, the museums' collections manager. Another appeared to be a leather-bound Bible or diary, and another was a Latin booklet. A fourth was unidentifiable.
The cornerstones' discovery were just a small part of a two-year, $11 million renovation of the Lyceum.
The building dates back to 1846, when Oxford townsfolk held a two-and-a-half hour ceremony to lay the cornerstone.
Mississippi's oldest edifice of higher education stands gutted now, with all but load-bearing walls removed.
Despite the crumbling appearance of some masonry, project crews expect the Lyceum to be more sound than ever after the renovation.
"It's in pretty good condition for its age," said Mark Vincent, an employee of the job's general contractor, Roy Anderson.
University officials plan to examine the contents of the lead box before having it replaced in its original position.