Close to a hundred of us gathered in the library, cameras out, curiosity high, ready to see what was going to happen. At the front of the room our assistant principal and a senior stood together, masks over their faces, goggles on their eyes, power tools and a crowbar laid out in front of them on a table. Also on the table was a box.
Beautiful patinated copper, sealed decades earlier, the box was an object that had been in the principal’s office longer than most of our students had been alive.
Rumor had it that the box was found when workers moved a sign denoting the construction of C.E. Mason Elementary and opened the wall where it had been stowed. With no markings on the box and no indication who had put it there or how long it had been tucked behind the metal plaque, it got put on a shelf and there it stayed.
A few weeks back we started advertising the event, our opening the box that we believed was a time capsule. No one knew how old it was, or to be honest even if it was a time capsule. Old cynics wondered if there would actually be anything interesting inside. One cheeky alum suggested it might “unleash the demonic horde upon its unsealing.”
But we opted to brave disappointment or swirling demons, and during an all school lunch we gathered anyone interested in joining our adventure, prepped the power tools, and cued up a couple of cameras to capture the event.
It took some work, but we broke into the box, pulled away a flap of copper, and looked inside. What we found was amazing.
Three stout newspapers were tucked in the time capsule, dated 1951. From them we learned about a school bond measure, rattling sabers of international conflict, and the shocking headline: BOY TUSSLES, DIES. Ye gads. One student asked afterward: “People really read these?” We assured him they did.
More local were copies of Live Wire, the elementary school newspaper, complete with jokes, updates, and stories written by the first through fifth graders. An example: “What can a canary do that a strong man can’t do? ans. Take a bath in a saucer.”
A photograph of the land on which the school was built came next, a glimpse back at 1947 when Beaverton looked much more rural than it does today.
An accompanying document, aged to sepia, informed us that the price of the parcel was $11,000 for “ten acres, more or less.”
Next out of the box were a fistful of envelopes, carefully labeled, containing documents relating to the school: a Teachers’ Bulletin, a Parent-Teachers Program, and a Teachers’ Handbook. That handbook told us that “every teacher should train her homeroom in good citizenship to prevent vandalism” and that “freak or cruel punishments should never be used, and all corporal punishment will be administered by the superintendent.”
More photos came next, smiling faces of the children of C.E. Mason Elementary. Many of these pupils, to borrow the parlance of the age, would be in their seventies now. A couple of our current kids wondered aloud if we might track them down. We might.
Included was an Oregon Department of Education report on the school, which proudly reported “The spirit of the school is excellent. Children show their pride in the new school by their behavior as they move quietly and busily about the building. They show a desire to learn and an enthusiasm about the school curriculum. A pleasant comradeship among the teachers reflects a comfortable environment.”
A history of the Beaverton Schools written by 8th grade students told us that “in the 1890s, boys and girls of Beaverton went to school in a three room, frame schoolhouse …at the entrance to the school yard was a sort of stile, with steps designed to keep stray stock from entering—at that time cattle and other animals roamed about pretty much as they pleased.” 1890 was closer to 1951 than 1951 is to today.
Another envelope labeled “silver coins” revealed $1.80 in nickels, quarters, dimes, and a half dollar, not enough to buy anything fancy, but a treasure nonetheless.
Rolled up tight beside the envelopes were a stack of scrolls signed by the faculty of C.E. Mason Elementary and each of the classes. From familiar (to Beaverton educators) names like Errol Hassell to the childish scrawl and budding penmanship of 1950s youngsters, these lists of names made a personal impression on those of us gathered in the library.
Tucked inside with the rest of it all was as pamphlet from the Masonic Lodge. Somehow that felt right.
Principal Esther Peer’s “Monthly Report” told us the details of the school: 198 students filled C.E. Mason, with four tardies for the month, and a 98.2% attendance rate. I can picture her sitting in this same office I’m in today, pencil in hand, writing out the report with beautiful precision.
Right now, of course, my office smells like 1951.
With the box open and lunch at an end, the assembled students and staff went back to classes, thinking, maybe, about the faces of those who have filled these hallways before us. The former English teacher that I am couldn’t help but think of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society inviting students to lean in and really look at the faces of the lads who had come before them. Carpe Diem, he whispered, seize the day.
Throughout this year our school has taken the opportunity to look back over the decades that this campus has welcomed students, from the opening of C.E. Mason Elementary through short stays by Five Oaks Middle School, Greenway Elementary, and a slew of special programs, and finally the establishment of Arts & Communication in 1992. These reflections help to give us perspective, root us in history, and show us a human face for the passage of time.
When we open our new building in 2021, seven decades after the first school opened on this site, our current students will install a time capsule of their own. How I wonder what the principal and her students in 2090 or so will think when they break open our box.
I hope that they will have that same feeling of wonder and exhilaration that we all felt in the library today, that looking back and seeing ourselves, that experience of connection with a group of people learning and laughing where we now do.More than history, today’s grand opening of that present from 1951 was true inspiration. Carpe Diem. Lean in. Seize the day.
We’re working to scan and photograph all the objects from this marvelous collection, and we hope to have it online in early April.