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A copper box buried for a century behind the Cleveland Elementry School cornerstone held a 100 year old time capsule that was sealed in 1910.

timecapsule
Michael Macor / The Chronicle

Wednesday surrounded by current students. teachers and city officals, it was opened to see what it held as it’s treasure from the past.

The beat-up box encased in concrete held preserved pieces of the past, untouched and forgotten inside a school wall as, just a few feet away, generations of children learned and played.

A letter, official city and trade union documents and pictures filled with a  glimpse of San Francisco four years after the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed much of the city.

“To the Honorable Mayor of San Francisco. Whoever he May be. During the period in which this box may be opened,” read the letter’s envelope, the words carefully typed and underlined in blue ink.

The letter’s authors were members of the Excelsior Homestead Progressive Association, “an improvement club,” and it suggests they had little hope their words would ever be discovered or be legible if they were.

an Francisco has just about recovered from the effects of the great earthquake and fire of 1906 and is now on a fair way to gretaer prosperity than ever.”

For the intervening years, the copper box was forgotten.

Former Cleveland student and now school volunteer John Weidinger discovered the time capsule’s existence while researching the history of the 100-year-old school.

The capsule was mentioned briefly in a San Francisco Call newspaper story at the time, saying then-Mayor P.J. “Pinhead” McCarthy placed the box behind the cornerstone after the children sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But it didn’t say what was inside.

“Had I not found that one sentence, maybe we might have lost that part of San Francisco history,” Weidinger said Wednesday moments before he pulled the contents out of the box in front of the students.

During the school’s winter break, district carpenters cut around the cornerstone and confirmed the box existed. It took two more days to drill the box out of concrete while protecting the cornerstone.

There were class pictures of children in uniforms on the back of postcards; an invitation to the laying of the cornerstone; a book titled “Courses of Study – Evening Elementary School”; school district fiscal documents; and a 1909 “School Law of California” book.

There was also a 1911 Board of Education salary schedule indicating a grammar school teacher would earn $2,460 for the year.

The following is the first page of a Sept. 18, 1910, letter found in the Cleveland Elementary School time capsule addressed to the mayor:

“These lines are written on the date of the laying of the corner stone of the Cleveland School. The chances are that they may never be read for many years to come; probably if human eyes ever gaze on them again, they will be so indistinct from age as to be illegible. Be that as it may, in the event that these lines are ever brought to light again it may be interesting to the readers to know something of the conditions prevailing at the time of the laying of this corner stone.

The city of San Francisco has just about recovered from the effects of the great earthquake and fire of 1906 and is now on a fair way to greater prosperity than ever.

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