Published Online: November 26, 1997

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History Mystery

A sealed copper box, no bigger than a dictionary, has almost literally turned Westport Elementary School upside down.

Since August, teachers and volunteers have tried to pinpoint the location of a time capsule that was buried when the Springfield, Mo., school was built in 1947. The goal was to have it in time for the school's 50th-anniversary celebration on Nov. 23.

According to a 1947 newspaper story and the memories of eyewitnesses, the capsule was placed under the building's cornerstone. But in 1973, when a stone presumed to be the one was examined, nothing was found.

The search was all the more difficult because the school's original blueprints had been lost.

The school's 1973 occupants planted their own time capsule, the whereabouts of which was also forgotten.

Westport students and teachers turned their "history mystery" into a quest, said Teresa Davison, the early-childhood teacher who has led the effort. Students and teachers thumbed through 22 old scrapbooks for photos or descriptions. They telephoned retired teachers and older residents, some of whom remembered witnessing the event as children.

As word of their search spread, clues began arriving from as far away as Pennsylvania.

Because one rumor held that the capsule was moved in the 1950s, teachers and students searched all the floors, walls, and closets in the original six-classroom structure.

Last week they started serious digging but found only dirt. But the next day, Jim Carson arrived. The Springfield builder had called, saying that his father had worked on the construction of the school, and that after looking in the company's files he had found the original blueprints.

The blueprints identified the cornerstone, and when brick masons cut into it they found a hollow opening concealing the box, which was welded shut.

"It's totally amazing. The lunchroom is total chaos," Ms. Davison said right after the discovery. "Mr. Nickel [the principal] came in and yelled 'We have it!' and here came 690 kids out of the building, cheering and celebrating."

The capsule was to be opened this past Sunday. And while the search continues for the 1973 capsule, Ms.Davison said, the school will prepare a new one as well. But this time, the location will be carefully recorded. "We'll put a big plaque on the wall in the hall, permanently attached," she said.

--ANDREW TROTTER

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