Treasure Hunt: Bangor’s Doughty School On The Hunt For An Old Time Capsule
We all know that the internet can often lead you down a never-ending rabbit hole that eventually sucks time away from you.
But in this case, the internet was the spark that has turned into a fantastic treasure hunt of sorts, where instead of a trunk of gold at the end of this adventure, it's a peek back in time that's the booty.
Stephen Riitano is a Social Studies Teacher at the James F. Doughty School in Bangor. While scrolling through posts in the "You Knew You Grew Up In Bangor, Maine" Facebook Group after school one day, he came across one, in particular, from 2011. The post mentioned a time capsule buried on school grounds back in 1986.
He was instantly captivated by the idea.
So, as any Social Studies teacher worth their weight in salt would, Riitano started to dig.
But as history has shown us, time and time again, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
Soon, an exciting mystery would start to unravel, with clues popping up around every corner.
For a Social Studies teacher, whose job it is to teach kids about the past, Riitano knew what an impact a peek into "how life used to be" could potentially have on his students.
But while the prize at the end of this treasure hunt was most certainly valuable, the hunt was quite far from being over. In fact, it was really just beginning.
As Riitano explains:
"The world and Fifth Street Middle School saw many changes in the following years. In 1988, the Bangor School Department approved a project to provide a much-needed facelift to the area's middle schools. It was during this time that Fifth Street underwent many structural changes. A new sixth-grade wing and a new gymnasium, a cafeteria, and an updated performing arts center were added. The school library was relocated to the first floor where the gymnasium was previously. Not only were additions made to the school, but it also updated its aesthetics. The athletic fields that sit behind and adjacent to the schoolhouse were remodeled in the following years. During this time, the time capsule is thought to have been lost. "
Riitano was not about to give up.
He knew what that capsule contained was an important part of history, almost frozen in time...untouched and unbothered by the passing years.
So, to rise to the challenge of finding this proverbial needle in a haystack, he would need to enlist some help.
Again, thanks to the internet, the community, former students, and faculty stepped up to join him on this quest. He had help from Bangor Public Works, folks from the Bangor Public Library, and the Fogler Library at the University of Maine. He even got hooked up with someone with Ground Penetrating Radar capabilities. There were some pictures and articles about what had been done to the grounds over the years, including when certain trees were planted on the property, and landmarks that could serve maybe point them in the right direction.
After weeks of what seemed like stalled efforts, the case was blown wide open by the expertise of two local professionals; one an expert in pictures, the other, an expert in GIS, 3D printing, digital preservation & archaeology.
Riitano had some photos of where he thought the capsule might be, but because they were in black and white, it was hard to determine depth or scope. That's when he turned to local photographer, Judi Michalik, who colorized some of the photos and shared them on social media.
Those photos then caught the attention of EMCC Faculty member, and former 5th St. student Kendra Bird, who volunteered her knowledge and know-how. She was able to help decipher some aerial data of the school grounds from 1986 and 1988 which gave them even more clues.
And with that, this ever-growing team of explorers began to inch their way closer to the X!
But they'd need to pull information from people who were actually there back then when the capsule was put into the ground.
"Historians define watershed moments as turning points or moments of historical significance that captivate the world's attention and create a lasting impression on the future...The students of James F. Doughty School, formerly Fifth Street Middle School, remember exactly where they were when they witnessed the explosion of the Challenger in January 1986 and when they heard about the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986."
"In digging in the Bangor Daily News archives, Mr. Riitano could locate the original newspaper article about the event on June 11th, 1986. The article provided a black and white photo of three students over the hole Bangor Hydro Electric Company drilled. Mr. Riitano could locate the teacher's name and the students in the 1986 Fifth Street yearbook. "
He was then able to track down that teacher, who taught Middle School at that time when the Doughty School was better known as The Fifth Street School and the students weren't Bulldogs but Warriors.
"These events impacted the world enough that the students in Mr. Richard Glueck and Betty Speckhart’s science classes felt compelled to commemorate the year's events by burying a time capsule. The capsule contained items the adolescents had kicking around at home or school. The purpose was to show how the next generation of students lived during the 1980s."
"The capsule was buried on June 10, 1986, and was to be opened in June 2011, 25 years later. A small oblong stone was placed on top of the burial site that read, '5th Street Warriors Time Capsule, 1986 - 2011' to mark the capsule’s location for future generations."
Mr. Glueck says he originally got the idea to put the capsule together after reading a pamphlet about the time capsule from the 1938 New York World's Fair.
"The world was changing rapidly in the 1980s and the kids at the 5th Street School were tumbling through a time of Reagan and Gorbachev, Vanna White, Alice Cooper, and the like. Kids are extremely observant and these kids were at the age when serious choices were being presented."
Glueck said the construction was pretty basic.
Former 5th Street School (that's what it was called back in '86) student, Rob Spreng, was in middle school, in Mr. Glueck's class when the original time capsule was assembled and buried.
"Middle school can be such a challenging time for kids. To be a teacher for that age group takes a truly special person and Mr. Glueck was one of the best...I don't remember what I put in the time capsule but I remember the excitement we all had at the thought of what the world might look like 25 years in the future and what we wanted students in the future to see. Keep in mind, we were all in the 12-14 year-old range so 25 years was more than our lifetime."
Spreng, who now teaches Mathematics at Bangor High School, is in the unique position to see this project from two angles.
"I'm fortunate that I was part of the original project, but I also get to see it through the parent lens as well. My daughter has Mr. Riitano as a teacher this year. We have had several great conversations about middle school in general and the differences between her time and my time at the same middle school. Normally when I start to talk about Fifth Street 'back in my day' I get a roll of the eyes."
Joshua Carey was a 7th grader in Mr. Glueck's science class when they buried the time capsule.
"The Space Shuttle Challenger accident was viewed live in our 7th-grade science class. At first, it was confusing because we didn’t fully comprehend that the space shuttle had exploded, but within seconds, everyone in the class realized what had happened. We were very saddened by this. Our science teacher Mr. Glueck had told us how he wanted to be the teacher on that flight. I believe he was in the running. After it exploded, I just remember thinking how lucky we all were that Mr. Glueck wasn’t on that flight. To our surprise, and likely to bring some positive thoughts back into the mix, Mr. Glueck came up with the idea of burying a time capsule and coming back in 25 years to open it."
Carey says retrieving the time capsule would be a gift for him, as he doesn't have much left of his past as a kid, and would love to reclaim those memories.
"We all put items of importance to use at that time in the time capsule. I would love to be able to retrieve those memories as I have nothing from my childhood remaining anymore (pictures, videos, etc.). Most important, is the video of all the classmates that was put in the time capsule. They interviewed us all separately and asked us about world events and what we want to accomplish by the year 2011 (when the time capsule was supposed to be dug up). That video would literally be the only video of myself in existence from my childhood...That video in the time capsule has many of our classmates that have passed away over the years. Besides my own personal journey for wanting to find it, I also want to see my classmates while they were still alive. Our class has suffered many losses and I believe finding this time capsule would mean so much to us all."
Connecting The Dots
Riitano, as he started to try to track down the location of the first time capsule, found out quickly that a lot has changed since 1986, including the blueprint and topography of the school!
Carey says that he, himself, had also been back to the campus multiple times trying to locate the capsule.
"Over the years, the area we buried the time capsule had fill placed on top of the location in order to extend the softball field above the time capsule location...Even called and talked with school employees and literally, nobody had any idea about a time capsule being buried. I showed up, alone, on the date in June 2011 hoping there would be a ceremony like there was supposed to be and that maybe they would have located it by then. Unfortunately, still, nobody had even heard of a time capsule being buried in 1986."
In fact, it was Carey's Facebook post that Riitano had seen, that started this entire quest in the first place.
"I took one final shot and put a Facebook post on the group 'You know you grew up in Bangor' and asked if anyone, had any information about our time capsule so we could find it... we have been working together ever since trying to identify the location and get permission to dig it up.
"My hopes and prayers are that the administration will understand how much this means to us all. It's not just a PVC pipe full of junk in the ground. It is our memories, history, and favorite things from 1986 in that time capsule. Nothing would mean more to me and my classmates than to be allowed to dig this up and share the wonderful items and video together to remember a time, long ago, when we were all happy, healthy, and alive. "
To Come Full Circle
As for Riitano, he not only hopes to locate and actually dig up this charming chunk of yesteryear but to have his current middle school students put their own time capsule together for future generations to enjoy.
In fact, Riitano, Michalik, Bird, and a group of students working on the Time Capsule Project (who call themselves The Guardians) spoke at this week's Bangor School Committee Meeting to share with committee members their update on the project, and their plans to bury their own piece of history.
The Guardians commented on how they want to provide future generations with a legacy, and some knowledge of how they survived things like the Covid 19 and the Suez Canal.
They say they plan to put a list of the prices of current items for folks in the future, as a reference of sorts. Among other things, current Doughty students also want to add to the capsule a Doughty Bulldogs Mask, as a symbol of having overcome the coronavirus pandemic, a yearbook, so people will know what the trends were, and a Twinkie...you know, to see if it does, in fact, last forever.
Riitano says this project has been a teaching tool for both young and old.
"In just two short months, the efforts to uncover evidence about the 1986 time capsule's location have done just that. Old friends have been reunited. Memories of junior high and what it was like to be an adolescent have been shared. A retired teacher has been reminded of why he taught. Current students have been captivated by the idea of leaving their own legacy. Community members, all former Bangor students, have banded together, hoping to find the time capsule. Many teachable moments have emerged from the search for the former capsule and the burial of a new one."
Riitano says The Guardians have plans to help close this chapter of Bangor's history this coming summer, on June 6th.
"The Guardians plan to honor the former Fifth Street Warriors at the ceremony. Much discussion has occurred around how the Warriors were robbed of their reunion in 2011, and the Guardians would like to invite them back for the burial ceremony. Even if the Warrior’s time capsule is lost forever, the former project will have met its purpose. The Warriors’ purpose was to engage the future students of Bangor in current events and to leave a lasting legacy that would one day reunite them all."
Here's hoping it all works out for all involved in this truly unique treasure hunt. We look forward to seeing what of the past they're able to find and bring back!
We'll all look forward to what the turn of the next page will bring.