For decades, it was a secret encased in brick and plaster, undetected by the thousands who passed by each year.

Then on June 4, a laborer working on construction of the new American Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts knocked a hole in a wall and saw an envelope sticking out of the rubble.

At first, Rick Brendemuehl thought it might be a stash of money. But instead he found a typewritten note from 1926, a letter to the future from a long-ago laborer who helped build the wall Brendemuehl was tearing down.

Thomas F. Crowley, who signed the letter, died in 1979, according to initial research, but the story of who he was has become a fascination for Maureen Melton, historian and director of the museum’s libraries and archives, who has enlisted the help of history buffs, genealogists, and archivists - as well as the power of the Internet - to piece together his story.

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