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1914 time capsule offers several mysteries to solve

On Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, Collection Registrar Tom Vail chiseled off the mortar on the top of the old school cornerstone to help open a time capsule placed there in 1914. The photo is part of the permanent collection at the Stevens County Historical Society.1 / 3
On Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, volunteers at the Stevens County Historical Society helped open a time capsule placed in a cornerstone of the old elementary school in 1914. Bernice Erdahl (right) reads a copy of The Morris Sun that was included, while Karen De Vita looks at other artifacts that were included. This photo is part of the permanent collection at the Stevens County Historical Society.2 / 3
On Nov. 20, 1914, residents of Morris gathered to lay the cornerstone for a new school building. They included a time capsule in the cornerstone, which was uncovered during building demolition this summer. This photo is part of the permanent collection of the Stevens County Historical Society. 3 / 3

MORRIS, Minn. -- On Friday, Nov. 20, 1914, a beautiful fall day, the citizens of Morris gathered at the construction site of the new high school to lay a cornerstone for the building.

Just three weeks after blueprints were officially approved, and "in the presence of all the school children of the city and a large number of interested citizens," representatives placed a small metal box in the granite stone -- a time capsule to be opened sometime in the future.

According to the Thursday, Nov. 26 edition of The Morris Sun, the time capsule was supposed to contain a list of students enrolled in the city schools, a polling list of those who voted for the bonds that helped make the building possible, copies of local newspapers and a historical article about the educational work done in Morris by D.T. Wheaton, one of the first teachers in the community.

Nearly 100 years later, contractors demolishing the building found the hidden time capsule, which was opened by volunteers at the Stevens County Historical Society last month.

Although many of the items reported were uncovered, the contents of the time capsule have also created a bit of a mystery, said Randee Hokanson, executive director of the Stevens County Historical Society.

Hokanson said museum staff trusted that there would be a time capsule in the building, then went looking through newspaper archives to find evidence about where it might be. When they learned it might be in a corner stone, a clause was put into the demolition contract that the stone needed to be salvaged.

The cornerstone where the time capsule was discovered is a solid piece of granite, so heavy that it needs to remain outside the museum building -- it took three people just to tip it over in the museum alcove.

When the cornerstone arrived at the museum, Collection Registrar Tom Vail worked to chisel off mortar from the top of the stone to uncover the small tin box. Volunteers Karen De Vita and Bernice Erdahl helped open it for the first time.

Staff at the Historical Society were especially excited about, potentially, finding Wheaton's essay on early education in Stevens County. Wheaton was a member of the school board and, previously, had worked on a project to get water to two of Morris' earlier school buildings.

But Wheaton's essay was, unfortunately, not in the time capsule. So far, research hasn't turned up any information about why that may have been -- one of history's mysteries, said Hokanson.

"It's hard to understand because it was noted in newspaper accounts," said Vail.

There was, however, one additional item in the time capsule, a photographic postcard showing a building that looks like a school building. But the building doesn't match any existing structures that have been photographed and doesn't include any identifying information.

Postcards were very popular at the time, so the museum often receives photos like this one without identifying information, said Vail.

"People were really enthralled with photographs at that time," he said.

There are also some myths and legends about other time capsules buried near the building -- perhaps hear the trees along Seventh Street or under the sidewalk boulevards -- but so far no evidence has emerged to help uncover them.

The artifacts from the time capsule will be on display at the Stevens County Historical Society beginning on Wednesday, Sept. 11 as part of an ongoing exhibit about the school, "Don't Cry Because it is Over, Smile Because it Happened."

The display includes other artifacts from the school building including some red ceiling tiles from the 1914 building, bricks and the original blueprints. The museum also has a set of glass door cabinets and the teacher's desk from an old science lab that are used in their building.