In 1952, Harry S Truman was president, the Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, Gene Kelly’s An American in Paris won the Academy Award for Best Picture and thousands of American troops were fighting it out in Korea.
In Riverside and Brookfield, meanwhile, voters finally saw the fruit of their pocketbooks”a $2.5 million addition to Riverside-Brookfield High School featuring 21 classrooms, two gyms and a swimming pool. It was the last”and most ambitious”major building project attempted for over 50 years.
And to mark the occasion, members of the school board and the Patrons Council packed a 19-by-10-by-8-inch black steel box with 30 items”from textbooks to a pocket-size Bible”and in October of 1952 sealed it inside the cornerstone just outside the front door.
Last Saturday, nearly 53 years to the day since the time capsule was hidden away, a small crowd of RB students, staff and assorted curious onlookers took a trip back in time when the capsule was opened during the annual RB Education Foundation Telethon.
After Jeff Rivera and Dan Rosenburg of Brookfield-based Granite Planet removed the emerald pearl granite cladding from the building, and sawed off the capsule’s welded top, RB employee Beverlee Wolf, who celebrated her 50th year as a district employee on Oct. 17 and who was a freshman at the school when the capsule was hidden away, lifted the lid and dug in.
“I remember standing out there when the time capsule was put in there,” Wolf said. She said she knew there was a copy of the Clarion and a Rouser but didn’t recall what else had been enclosed.
The items she and Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann began to pull out of the box were remarkably well-preserved”pristine textbooks titled “Modern Chemistry” and “American Government were crammed next to articles about the new building addition from the Brookfield Magnet, Riverside News and Chicago Tribune. A reel-to-reel tape recording of the Patrons Council and the filling of the time capsule couldn’t be played right away, but was in perfect condition.
“Beverlee was looking at some old photos, and there happened to be a picture of the time capsule,” said Assistant Principal Tim Scanlon, who sparked the move to open it. “There was never any date when it had to be opened, and we thought how perfect is this? It was not only her 50th anniversary, but we are embarking on a renovation process for the future. This seemed like a good bridge.”
School enrollment information dating back to 1902, school newspapers, a spotless 1952 Rouser yearbook, construction photos, and referendum materials all shed light on that moment in history.
So did papers describing what is was like to be a student in 1952. Senior Jane Reesman from the Hollywood section of Brookfield described hallways teeming with boys sporting crew cuts, loud shirts and white bucks, while girls wore plaited skirts, Orlon sweaters, pony tails and saddle shoes.
The time capsule also included the student file of 1952 valedictorian Frank Staroba, complete with a photo. He had a crew cut, naturally.
Wolf remembered that girls almost never wore slacks to school at the time, and that short skirts were forbidden.
“We had a Dean of Girls, and if a skirt was short, you’d have to kneel in front of a mirror,” Wolf said. “If the skirt didn’t touch the floor, you’d get sent home.”
Several of the items were directly related to the 1952 tax referendum, including a Clarion newspaper with the headline “Student Drive Swings Vote for School Addition” from March of 1952.
According to Scanlon, the time capsule items will be placed in a display case that will be located in the RBHS main lobby. Meanwhile, there are plans to replace the time capsule once any new major renovation project at the high school is completed.