SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP — It’s been a long time since Bobbi Heil, a 1977 graduate of Ashtabula High School, thought about the stories her grandmother would tell her about walking to Ashtabula High.
But the Ashtabula resident was reminded of that as she perused the AHS Class of 1918 roster pulled out of a 97-year-old time capsule Thursday night.
“That’s my grandmother!” she said, as she started to cry. “Edna Gear – that’s my maternal grandmother.”
Heil also found her great uncle (her grandmother’s brother) Homer Gear, who also graduated in 1918.
“She said she had to walk to school with her brother from Austinburg Road to Ashtabula High School,” she said. “I do a lot of genealogy research and I was hoping to find her.”
More than 250 people watched as David Boyer, director of operations for the school district, opened a copper box that was placed in the cornerstone of Ashtabula High School on April 18, 1915 under the direction of the Masonic Lodge, according to newspaper reports at the time.
The box was discovered during demolition of old AHS about three weeks ago.
The school district built all new schools — a high school and junior high on Sanborn Road in Saybrook Township and an elementary campus on Wade Avenue in Ashtabula.
It took Boyer about four minutes to open the copper box with a hammer and a chisel.
As Boyer worked, the box began to emit orange dust, and when people began to make comments, Boyer reminded the anxious crowd that it was 97-year-old dust.
Once open, the standing-room-only crowd applauded.
“It smells musty, but it’s dry inside,” said Chris Seuffert, president of the school board, as she reached inside to pull out the first item — a sample of a diploma.
The next “treasure” was a copy of the Ashtabula Beacon, which cost 2 cents.
More newspapers, yearbooks, a telephone directory, coins, the school district’s pay roll, high school buttons and badges, comics, Ohio railway maps, class schedules and more – 33 items in all — were pulled from the copper box.
The last item, an envelope marked, “A letter to future generations,” created a stir; but when Seuffert opened the letter, it was blank.
“Oh, what a bummer,” she said. “It’s a blank slate, write on it what you want.”
Superintendent Joseph Donatone said the contents of the box will be given to the Ashtabula High School/ Harbor High School/ Lakeside High School Alumni Association.
“We are honored to be the recipients of the contents,” said Rick Coblitz, president of the group.
Alumni Association Vice President J.P. Ducro IV said, “It will allow the alumni to reflect on the past and look forward to the future.”
The contents will be properly preserved and then placed in a display case at Lakeside High School, Coblitz said.
Many local Masons attended Thursday’s ceremony and Bill Robinson, worshipful master of Rising Sun Lodge No. 22 Ashtabula, said Rising Son has been in Ashtabula for 200 years.
“Laying the cornerstone (of important buildings) goes back to George Washington’s time,” he said.
Assistant Superintendent Patrick Colucci said it was a historic event.
“Remember this time capsule was placed in the cornerstone of Ashtabula High School in 1915 for a reason; so that some day it would be found and the contents shared,” he said. “We are the fortunate ones to have the opportunity to celebrate and preserve a piece of history from our great Ashtabula Area City School District and community.”