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Century-old time capsule during demolition of old high school building in Minnesota

History enthusiasts in a small community outside of Minneapolis gathered with press to open the 1920s-era box buried under an unassuming cornerstone.
Minnesota high school uncovers a 1920's-era time capsule
Posted at 7:18 PM, Apr 27, 2024

"104 years ago, probably a group of radical community members decided they wanted to build a high school in the middle of a field." That's how Superintendent Jeff Elstad began his announcement to the press and members at an unveiling event for Minnesota's Owatonna Public Schools.

Suspense lingered in the air as he prepared to tell them that a time capsule over a century old was just found on school property.
It was a "historic event" for the community, and one you don't hear about all that often.

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Atlanta's Oglethorpe University listed some of the most wanted time capsules in history, with many lost because of secrecy, thievery, or just bad planning, the university said. Historians say that at each unveiling of a time capsule, community members are educated more on pieces of their local history.

"For a lot of us, first of all it was the idea that it was well preserved, and the fact that it got to tell a story," Principal Cory Kath said.
Bob Olson, the school's director of facilities, halted a demolition operation when he spotted what he instinctively knew was something special buried under the ground.

Owatonna Public Schools said an old school building was being torn down. Olson saw a 1920s-era cornerstone and said he told a machine operator to stop immediately so he could rescue any artifacts at the site.

Inside a cornerstone, he said, was a box that staff members drilled a hole in to begin opening it, realizing it was a time capsule left for them from the past.

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As the press took photographs, the 100-year-old box was opened to reveal the contents to nervous laughter.

Principal Kath pulled out an Army roster from 1905, a newspaper, an official finance committee report from 1920, a book with a constitution and bylaws, another newspaper and lots of dust as he announced each item to the people in the room.

One letter inside the box of dated items said they were put at the location they would rest at for decades "by Grand Lodge Minnesota A.F. A.M. on Sept. 30, A.D. 1920," according to a document read aloud by Kath.

The press was told thatin the paperwork was a roster of all of the items in the box, which contained financial statements and coins, among other items.

A name written on a note indicated the items were buried by a Freemasons group. Mary Larson, a resident of Owatonna who graduated from the school in the 1950s was there to witness "a part of history," she told KEYC.

"Today we have over 1,500 students at Owatonna High School," Elstad said — commenting on how many more students have been enrolled into the public school district since the day of one of the roster's burials. The city of Owatonna has a population of just over 26,470 people according to census data.

In 1920, the population of the city was only 7,252, a census document shows.