ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – The State Capitol renovation is well underway. It’s a $273 million project that’s expected to take several years.

And along the way, the renovation is revealing some oddball items that have been hidden for decades. They may not be all that historic, but they’re pretty cool.

Much of the Capitol restoration is below ground, where workers are exposing original limestone foundation behind unnecessary walls that were added over the years.

And they’re discovering oddball artifacts, like a 1920s Rube Goldberg-inspired electric pencil sharpener, which includes an oil spout and mercury ballast. And believe it or not, the thing still works.

Project manager Vic Thorstenson rescued a 1920s desk lamp with a rare blue lens.

“The purpose of the blue lens was to change the color of the light from the very yellow incandescent bulbs that they had at the time, so this produced a whiter light,” Thorstenson said.

The Minnesota Historical Society is collecting the found items, including cans, bottles, political campaign material and official devices from long-defunct state agencies.

And there’s special interest in the lighting fixtures, since the State Capitol was the first electrified public building in the state.

Brian Peace is the Capitol’s site manager for the Historical Society. He says in its time, the building was a state-of-the-art architectural marvel.

“That was one thing that people came to see. You have the electricity … you have the beautiful architecture and the art work, and you have running water and plumbing and everything else inside the building,” Peace said. “So this really was a pretty spectacular building.”

Many of the recently found items will be stored at the Minnesota Historical Society, which is just across Interstate 94 from the Capitol grounds.


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