The "great fellow Americans in the future" addressed in letters from Bowling Green's South Main Elementary students in 1976 weren't quite as futuristic as the youngsters might have envisioned.
A time capsule unearthed and opened last week was meant to be opened in 2026 - 50 years after students buried it in the school's side yard. Instead, the bicentennial greetings were opened prematurely because South Main is closing permanently.
"We hope America is clean and beautiful," a first-grade class wrote. "Please be good citizens and take care of the best school in the world."
Despite enthusiastic support by the families whose children attend South Main, the Bowling Green school board decided in January to close the school at the end of the school year because of continued declining enrollment in the district and because of the condition of the 115-year-old building. The four-story brick school has plumbing and electrical problems. It is not handicapped accessible and lacks storage, parking, playground and bus drop-off space.
South Main's 130 students in kindergarten through sixth grade will be dispersed among the district's five other elementaries, primarily Kenwood and Crim. The school board is talking about leasing South Main to the Arts Council of Lake Erie, which would convert the building to a community arts center similar to the two Common Space locations in Toledo.
"This school won't be a school next year. It will be something great for the community of Bowling Green, but it won't be a school," South Main Principal George Offenburg told the kids before the time capsule was opened. "You are the last students to go to South Main. I hope that makes you very proud."
The time capsule, as it turned out, was not only hard to find, but hard to open.
Mr. Offenburg said the map created in 1976 did not lead directly to the buried treasure. Custodian Tom Patton followed the measurements and began poking around for it with a pole. Pretty soon, he got a metal detector and then a shovel. He eventually recruited two more men with shovels, dug a hole "the size of a cow," and finally found it.
On Friday, Mr. Patton was recruited to help open the carefully wrapped package after students were unable to break through its plastic coverings. What appeared to be a large pickle jar was sealed tight with sticky black tar.
When Mr. Offenburg finally got the lid off and a tube-shaped object was pulled from it, one student yelled, "It's a pickle!" The jar actually contained a long scroll of writings and pictures drawn by students.
Teresa Lambert of Maumee, whose niece attends South Main, watched with interest. She was a student at South Main when the time capsule was buried but could not recall what had been placed inside.
"I remember burying it. I remember making the map, but I don't remember what we put inside it," she said.
Also at Friday's assembly, Mr. Offenburg presented a quilt made by South Main students in 1990 to commemorate the school's 100th year to Randy Brown, curator of the Wood County Historical Center. The school plans to donate a sign, pictures, and other items to the local history museum as well.
"We have a lot of things from years gone by at the Wood County historical museum," Mr. Brown told the children. "A lot of those things are from schools that are not schools anymore. You can come out next year or in five years from now or 10 years or even 100 years and remember what South Main was like."
Contact Jennifer Feehan