Stockton Elementary School pressing rewind button back to 1970

Contents of time capsule unearthed from 50 years ago and put on display.

Last summer, Richard Stockton Elementary School principal Jim Riordan unearthed a time capsule placed in the building’s cornerstone back in 1970. He’s planning on returning the capsule to its original resting place in spring, with artifacts from all current Stockton classes, to be opened in the future.

Richard Stockton Elementary School has climbed into the way-back machine for a trip to 1970 – when the building’s cornerstone was laid in anticipation of a new educational experience.

It was a turbulent era where another embattled Republican president, Richard Nixon, occupied the White House, continuation of the Vietnam War produced massive protests, millions of Beatles fans lamented their breakup, and the Baltimore Orioles were World Series champions. 

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year, Stockton Principal Jim Riordan unearthed a time capsule over the summer, originally placed there by those who were part of Stockton’s opening two generations ago.  

“We beat the (crap) out of this thing. Once we took the stone out, the top of it you could tell was cemented over. So we chipped away the cement, there was a little wood block, we pulled the wood block out and we pulled (the capsule) out. And it was fitted exactly into the stone itself. It took us about 20, 25 minutes before we just took a pair of shears and cut around it,” Riordan said. 

“Brute force normally works at the end of the day and that’s what we used to open it.”

Riordan’s effort was essentially a leap of faith with no guarantee of a payoff. 

“There was a dedication ceremony held in this building in January 1971, where there was a mention of a time capsule. Other buildings in the district that were built around the same time, their capsules were inside the cornerstones. Some capsules were bent and some had water damage, and other schools just didn’t have anything in there. So, for this, it could have been any one of those things,” he acknowledged. 

Then, during the last week of September, school officials laid out the capsule’s contents in a display just outside the school’s main office to officially commemorate Stockton’s golden anniversary. 

“They were (well preserved). Every class in the building had a chance to put a regular-sized envelope inside with whatever they wanted, about contemporary events. Each of the classes had a picture with all students and their names on the back of the picture itself, and each class had an artifact. But when they soldered this shut, the heat singed all the envelopes. We were hoping there was some kind of recording, but there was not,” Riordan explained. 

Among the artifacts displayed outside Stockton Elementary School’s front office from a 1970 time capsule are a photo of then-President Richard M. Nixon, lottery tickets, class pictures of Stockton students and essays from students.

To lend some gravitas to the occasion, four retired teachers who were present when the time capsule was created returned to the school for the Sept. 25 ceremony. 

Riordan related that former teacher Phyllis May recalled everything in detail about the day in question – except what actually went into the capsule – never thinking in her 20s that she might return in her 70s to revisit that moment from her past. 

“You forget about things in the course of our day, a week, a month and a year. But they did have those memories within there. It really was special to have them there on that night and to celebrate with them. It was a cool night. We were really excited about it,” he said. 

History buffs and those who plan on living a long life will be pleased to know the circle will remain unbroken. The same capsule will be filled once more and buried in the cornerstone. 

“We’ll do it the same way as last time. Each class will be given an envelope to put something inside, we’ll do a picture and one artifact from the times. We’ll stuff everything back inside the capsule and we’ll seal it again in the spring. I’ll leave it up to the building and to the district if they want to open it up in 25 years or 50 years,” Riordan added.

Although the capsule is available to those in the greater Stockton community during normal school hours, if members of the public wish to see the display they’ll have to contact Riordan first to gain permission. However, he said anyone is free to view it during non-school hours, for instance during the evening programs that are held at the school.

For more information, pictures and video surrounding the time capsule and 50th anniversary, visit:  https://stockton.chclc.org/our-school/stocktons-50th-anniversary-celebration