More than 100 people eagerly streamed into Avenue HQ on Sunday to be among the first to get a close-up view of the contents of a 1904 time capsule found in the old St. Mary's Hospital.
When Farmer Holding Company, which owns the shuttered hospital, announced it would tear down the original structure, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of workers who built the hospital tipped off the company and the Historic City of Jefferson that a time capsule existed there.
Tines of a forklift pierced the capsule — a copper box smaller than a shoe box — but fortunately did not damage the contents, HCJ President Tammy Boeschen said. Those items included six newspapers (three in English and three in German), religious medallions, a postcard and a ribbon, and a program from the St. Peter Parish 1896 jubilee.
"While whenever possible we like to save historic buildings in our community, because they're our great resources and treasure, this just wasn't possible with the old St. Mary's. So we're trying to make the best of it," said Anne Green, executive director of the Historic City of Jefferson.
The people who made the time capsule "did an amazing job" of sealing the box and preserving the items, she said. She said she expected to simply see newspapers in the capsule, so she was excited to see there was a variety of items.
One thing HCJ hopes to learn from the newspapers is to look at the businesses that placed advertisements in the newspapers to see if they listed their addresses. That could help the organization determining what businesses existed where at the time, she said.
"This is really exciting for me, because I've always loved history and felt really lucky to be joining (HCJ) at this period of time," said Green, who started as the organization's first paid staff member in September 2018.
Farmer Holding donated the time capsule to HCJ, which enlisted the help of the Missouri State Archives to open it properly without damaging the contents.
Of the 100-plus people who attended the first viewing of the time capsule, several dozen raised their hands when asked if they were born in the original St. Mary's. Nearly everyone raised their hand when asked if they had ever been there.
Admission was $5 for adults and free for those 14 and younger. That money will go toward historic preservation and the construction of a larger exhibit HCJ plans to build around this time capsule. Free public viewings will be scheduled in the future.
At Sunday's event, Boeschen thanked several people, including Mark Rehagen, for his efforts in translating a Latin document found in the time capsule.
Rehagen is an HCJ member, as well as a Latin and theology teacher at Helias Catholic High School. He worked with his Latin Class to translate the document. The document announced the placement of the cornerstone and was signed by dignitaries of the day, Boeschen said.
Rehagen said it was an honor for him and his students to be a part of the process, which took about a week, he said. The task created a challenge at times because the document was more "church Latin" than "classical Latin," he said, and some of the terminology was different.
He said his students enjoyed working on the project.
"They were really excited about the opportunity to do this and be a part of the history — the opening up of the time capsule. It's a big deal to them," he said.