Questions arise whether historical relics were inside a torn down obelisk

New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A week after people tore down the obelisk in the Santa Fe Plaza, there are new questions on whether historical relics were in the obelisk, and if so, where they went. A historian in Texas said the obelisk may have also been a type of time capsule and is sounding the alarm.

“When the mayor came out with his comments about possibly taking down the monument, I said you know, I probably ought to let some folks know that there are some other things there besides the monument itself that they might want to be aware of, to keep an eye out for, if they decide to remove the monument or if anything were to happen to it as a result of protestors’ actions,” Cameron Saffell, Associate Professor of Heritage and Museum Sciences at Texas Tech University, said.

In June, Saffell wrote a letter to the City of Santa Fe, Mayor Alan Webber, and the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, alerting them to the possibility of historical documents in the obelisk. According to his research, historical artifacts like old territorial seals and even coins may have been placed in the obelisk or its base when it was built in the 1800s.

“According to several items I found in research, the old territorial seal, the territorial seal of the Supreme Court, and the territorial district court were among items placed inside the obelisk because they were no longer needed, they were outdated pieces having been replaced by these new ones that the territorial secretary had ordered,” Saffell explained.

He also said masons involved in the dedication of the monument may have placed coins or currency in a cornerstone, which Saffell said was a common practice in building projects back then. The Santa Fe Scottish Rite, which calls its temple an ‘elaborate’ Masonic building, is checking its records to see if it can find any evidence of masons placing items in the obelisk.

Saffell said he never heard back from city officials after his letter, but was told the New Mexico Secretary of Cultural Affairs passed it on to the Historic Preservation Office. Last week, people tore down the obelisk after calling for its removal for years, saying it is oppressive to Native Americans. Now that the obelisk has been torn down, Saffell wants to know if artifacts were found, and if so, where they went.

“I hope somebody remembers the letter and somebody’s going to be out there looking,” he said when he found out the obelisk had been torn down. “To go back to the moments of when they created it and get a brief little glimpse of what they were thinking about in 1868 and what they put inside here as a potential time capsule for us to discover in 2020 makes for a nice positive spin on something that is a very contentious matter.”

KRQE News 13 reached out to the mayor’s office multiple times to see if it was looking into Saffell’s claims or if crews have found any items, but did not get a response. On Tuesday, Mayor Webber wrote a letter to citizens saying he’s heard from people who are angry that the obelisk was torn down and who want change.

He also said many people have offered alternatives to the monuments which embrace both sides of history. He is still in the process of creating a reconciliation commission to oversee the process.

Meanwhile, Santa Fe Police are still looking for people responsible for tearing down the obelisk to file criminal charges against them.

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