Thursday, December 21, 2000

Time takes toll on capsule

Sycamore Junior High gets surprise

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When a 1925 time capsule was opened Wednesday at Sycamore Junior High, the biggest surprise was a letter inside saying the capsule had been opened in 1961 and many of its water-soaked contents had been illegible.

        The time capsule, discovered in the cornerstone during demolition for the school's addition, was opened with great fanfare. As Sycamore School Board members gathered around, a plumber cut the copper alloy box that was soldered shut with lead. Mission Impossible theme music and smoke added to the drama.

[photo] Reading a 1925 headline, Sycamore school board member Don Hirsch (center) laughs at an old newspaper. Superintendent Karen Mantia and board member Peter Hershberger look over the documents.
(Dick Swaim photos)
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        Board members pulled out fragile, yellowed newspapers, two pages of names of Montgomery Masonic Lodge officers and the 1961 letter.

        “We were hoping there might be some letters from the kids,” said board President Don Hirsch as he sifted through newspapers. “Even though the box was sealed, it's a little damp.”

        As the school's 960 students watched, board members read tidbits from the newspapers to show how much life has changed. Chic dresses went for $3.75 to $8.75 in 1925. A bill before the governor required that 10 verses of the Bible be read in all public schools each day.

        A letter, dated July 24, 1961, said it was necessary to move the cornerstone because of remodeling work in the summer of 1961. “On July 20, the stone was opened, and the contents of this box was found to be completely water soaked and much of it was unreadable. The box apparently had not been properly sealed at the time of its initial installation in 1925,” the letter said.

        The contents of the box in 1961:

        • Two lists of Montgomery Masonic Lodge officers.

        • A copy of specifications for the building.

        • One copy of each of four newspapers published in Cincinnati on April 18, 1925: The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, Cincinnati Post and Cincinnati Times-Star.

[photo] Dave Hartkemeyer opens a time capsule from 1925 at Sycamore Junior High School on Wednesday morning.
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        • Typewritten material on Sycamore Township Union High School letterhead detailing the establishment of the high school and setting down ruling officers, principals and teachers.

        Materials were spread out on a table to dry, and portions that seemed to be legible enough were returned to the time capsule. It was again soldered shut, inserted in the cornerstone and reset in an outside wall near its original location.

        Principal Stephen Wittenberg was surprised the capsule was opened in 1961, but if it hadn't been opened then, all of the contents would have been destroyed by now, he said.

        “I like the newspapers in there. It really brings to life for kids what life was like back in 1925,” he said. “I was just disappointed there weren't more personal items with student names and signatures.”

        Sycamore Junior High students participated in a contest to guess the capsule's contents.

        Kyle Spicer, 12, a seventh-grader from Montgomery, guessed the capsule would include newspapers. “I thought there would be a yearbook and maybe some pictures from that time,” she said. “I was a little disappointed since it had all been opened once.”

        Seventh-grader Sarah Jarnicki was surprised by the contents. “I thought there was going to be pictures of staff and students and letters from students saying what they liked to do,” the 12-year-old Montgomery girl said.

[photo] A letter from the time capsule lists officers of the local Masons.
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        The Sycamore Junior High building on Cooper Road was built in 1925 as Union High School for the Montgomery and Blue Ash elementary rural school districts, according to Mary Lou Rose of the Montgomery Historical Society. Sixty students enrolled that first year, compared with 2,000 high school students today.

        The building was converted to a junior high in 1974. The new addition, to be completed next year, will include a science wing, art rooms, second gymnasium and industrial technology rooms.

        The time capsule was purposely opened on the last day before holiday break.

        “We thought it would be a fun way to end the year,” Mr. Wittenberg said. “What we're hoping is that students make a connection to history, and that they see themselves as part of this community and part of a historical event. It's making history come alive.”

        When students return in January, they'll start compiling their own time capsule to be placed in the new addition next spring with instructions to open in 25 years.

        “The kids want to make it more personal,” Mr. Wittenberg said. “They want to include a yearbook. They really want to get that student piece that this didn't seem to have.”


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