Between the constant raindrops and sledgehammer throws, flashbulbs popped outside Washington Township’s municipal building last Monday.
Residents used their smartphones to record video. At least two Philadelphia TV stations were on hand to document the event, too.
After about 10 minutes of hammering away at a brick foundation, a gateway to the past was unveiled. A time capsule, buried 25 years ago to the day by two township grade-school classes, was dug out of the building, uncovered and pried open.
“I have no idea (what’s inside),” former Thomas Jefferson Elementary School teacher Leona Aronovich said. “I know we had VCR tapes in there. I know we had reading textbooks we were using. But I don’t remember everything else.”
Students of Aronovich and those in Diane Rickenbach’s classes buried a treasure chest of items on Oct. 12, 1995, and made a date for Oct. 12, 2020 to retrieve it. The date arrived last week and memories came rushing back to everyone involved.
“I was always looking for something (that appealed to) all ages in the town, a project that could involve every age group,” recalled former Mayor Gerald Luongo, who flew up from Florida for the time capsule event last week.
“I was over at the school reading to the kids and (Aronovich) said, ‘Hey mayor, have you ever thought about a time capsule?’ Luongo recalled. “I said I didn’t, but let’s do it.
“The kids are such an inspiration. It was exciting, and the teachers were so dedicated and committed.”
After a brief ceremony with Luongo, Aronovich, current Mayor Joann Gattinelli and other current and former school administrators and township officials, Ralph Greene and Michael Ginesi, the first two people on the scene that morning to set up the event on a rain-soaked day, went to work. They took turns working at the foundation with a sledgehammer. Soon enough, bricks began to fall to the ground. And eventually, a military-style, weather-proof container was uncovered.
Greene and Ginesi helped move it inside the municipal building, where the current and former mayors did more digging. After the time capsule was snapped open, Luongo and Gattinelli reached in and retrieved hats, school programs, newspaper clips, personalized pins, youth sports jerseys and more.
“The kids loved it,” Luongo said. “They did all of this work. Jim McKeever from public works got it and we put a lot of nice things in it. It was something that those kids could look forward to. Because there are a lot of people who come and go in this town and don’t remember anything.”
Aronovich, who spearheaded the idea a quarter century ago, stood by with a couple dozen others inside the township’s meeting room to watch the two mayors pick through memories. At one point the former teacher peered in to see if she recognized anything.
“I can’t believe it’s been 25 years,” she said. “I guess I have the gray hair to show it, but still.”
Aronovich laughed. When the process of retrieving more than a few dozen items was over, everyone in the building joined in a round of applause for the culmination of a project that spanned three decades.
And they revealed a bit of news, too: Another time capsule project is planned for 2021.
“Kids need to see this,” said Jeff Pollock, a former principal at both Thomas Jefferson and Hurffville elementary schools. “They need to learn what it was like back in the day and have something to grab onto. All of these artifacts, the material, they can help tell what it was like back then at that time.
“You need to learn from history,” he added. “You see what’s coming out of there. You learn from it and you make better decisions about the future.”