Time capsule memories prove elusive

Ledyard - They came for the dig but stayed for the reunion.

It began with the Facebook group "I went to Gales Ferry School" - a forum 175 members strong, filled with postings of old yearbook photos, favorite teachers and other pieces of nostalgia. The community of the former Gales Ferry School on Hurlbutt Road, which closed in 2001 and moved to a new location farther up Route 12, stayed alive here - and then someone mentioned the time capsule.

It's unclear what was actually in it. But those who attended the elementary school in 1976 remember collecting the items at the school's bicentennial celebration, which also included making a burlap banner that read "God Bless Our School" with a quaint, multicolored felt portrait of a schoolhouse sewn into it. Fran Plotnick, who taught there for 28 years, said the banner once hung in the state Capitol.

She was there Wednesday night, banner in tow. She'd kept it in her spare room ever since the state sent it back.

"It hasn't changed at all," she said.

Town Council Chairman Linda Davis said the original conversation about digging it up came about when the new CVS pharmacy, which was completed last year, was getting ready to go in - about three years ago.

There was a concern, she said, that it would be dug up accidentally during construction for the pharmacy.

Time passed. The CVS wouldn't go in the spot where the time capsule had been buried, after all. Every so often, someone would bring it back up - when are we going to do it?

"I finally said, 'OK, let's pick a date,'" said Davis, whose son attended the school. "Let's just do it."

The date - of no actual historic significance - was posted on the town's website: 6 p.m. on Aug. 14. Somebody posted a photo of a tree it was supposed to be under. So early Wednesday evening, a small crowd gathered on the old school's lawn, trying to mark the spot with a metal detector. Mayoral Assistant Mark Bancroft, wielding a shovel, had already dug up several holes.

As a couple dozen former Gales Ferry School students, teachers, and their families gathered on the lawn, the crowd quickly became distracted from the shovel work - conversations punctuated by "Oh, I remember you!" and "You had hair" (when I last saw you), squeals of surprise and hugs, and "You look exactly the same!"

Julie Mazzaia brought laminated photos from her time at the school, including her class portrait from Mrs. Marineau's sixth grade in 1976.

Lisa Weber - introducing herself to old classmates with her maiden name, Dreimiller, joking about how long she waited to stop having to spell out that mouthful - chimed in, finally, with what everyone was thinking:

"You realize that no one even cares if you find it," she said.

Just after 6, Bancroft addressed the crowd, wielding a microphone and shovel. He asked for help.

"Point me in some direction," he pleaded.

As the alumni tried in vain to jog each others' memories - "I'm sure I was goofing off that day. In fourth grade? Yeah" - Bancroft, on the suggestion of an alumna's daughter, on the phone with her mother in South Carolina, settled on a spot just at the edge of the parking lot.

"This feels good," he told them.

Dirt clods flew, landed in neat piles. The shovel hit something solid with a loud scraping noise. A box? Metal? Buried treasure?

The chatter grew louder; the crowd migrated over. Cameras flashed.

Bancroft shook his head.

"Water pipe?" someone asked.

"Rock," he replied.

Davis had feared this would all end up the way of Geraldo Rivera and Al Capone's vault. But as the crowd dispersed, reminiscing happily, catching up, no one seemed all that disappointed.

No one cares, Weber reiterated.

They didn't find a time capsule, but they found each other.

a.isaacs@theday.com

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