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Interesting Artifacts Found During Capitol Renovation

Interesting Artifacts Found During Capitol Renovation

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- While demolishing walls at the state Capitol during recent months, construction crews have found dozens of interesting artifacts hidden safely inside wall caches.

From beer cans to structural debris to an old dead rat, workers have been piecing together the random items, trying to glean historical wisdom. Several of the pieces may allow historical architects such as Charles Shepherd of the Capitol Restoration Group, to re-create some of the original designs found in the building.

The Capitol is undergoing a four-year, $200 million renovation, to be completed around 2008, to make it earthquake safe. Many of the building's walls feature an outer layer of granite, a layer of brick, a void cavity, a hollow clay tile then a plaster material.

The Capitol has been undergoing heavy demolition work and many of the stones on the lower level have been removed to place base isolators and sliders inside that will support the building's structural columns.

While digging around the sides of the Capitol building, workers found chunks of plaster and partial designs mixed into the dirt.

"I think it was just broken parts that they started making and they broke, so they tossed them out," Shepherd said.

But those tossed-out pieces of rubble have allowed Shepherd to work with real-life objects while designing new architecture pieces, rather than just using photographs of the original designs.

"As a historical architect, he's (Shepherd's) able to re-create and put this back in the drawing so we can go back as correctly as possible," said Allyson Gamble, spokeswoman for the Utah State Capitol Preservation Board, which is overseeing the retrofitting project.

One worker found "Mr. Skippy," a dead rat, curled up next to a heating pipe behind a wall. Now it's being stored in a clear, plastic jar along with the other artifacts in the Jacobson-Hunt construction trailer on the east side of the Capitol building. The collection includes a few Fisher beer cans, whiskey bottles, a J.G. McDonalds Chocolate Co. wrapper, a Union Portland Cement Co. Devil's Slide bag, leftover tools, light fixtures, pieces of crowning, flooring, molding and more.

It is still unclear how old some of the pieces are. Construction on the building began in December 1912, but several renovation projects have been completed since then.

Masons recently taking apart terra cotta detailing elements on the outside of the Capitol's dome found an old pair of brown leather shoes stuffed inside a cubic part of the balustrade (railing). The shoes, which date from 1912 or 1914, were wrapped in an Auerbach's department store ad.

"The ad had an illustration of the shoes, and they were for sale for about $5.95," Shepherd said. "I always thought it was funny. I thought, 'Did some guy go home barefoot that day?' "

Behind some storage shelving workers found several Deseret National Bank checks from 1921.

Rob Pett, the project's lead architect for historical preservation, said he's just excited that anything was left.

"It was mostly debris," Pett said. "They're not jewels by any means, but a history of the life of the place. We haven't found what the senators hid, but we've found what workers hid, and they're the ones who built the place."

Some workers left their mark by signing different parts of the building. An engineer from 1934-38 autographed an area just above one of the seagulls painted in the Capitol's dome 165 feet above the floor. A wood piece was found with the writing, "The case in front of this cabinet is for Davis County built by Fred Ellis December 1925," on it.

Shepherd has been most excited about finding a small piece of wood from the original mahogany window frames and some original painting designs from the governor's area of the building. The piece of wood will be used to match new window frames with the original mahogany shade.

The architects have been consulting with a local decorative painter to strip down details in the governor's area that had been painted over.

"Being able to strip those layers back is interesting from a historical perspective because it allows us to see the different steps they took," Shepherd said.

Shepherd said crews found things that had been completely covered up with carpet or paint.

"It's been fascinating," Shepherd said. "It's been fun to come to work each day."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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