A personal time capsule found in park : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|A personal time capsule found in park |
|Hobbyist uncovers letter from Yorkville resident sealed in jar from 1944 |
|by Tony Scott|
Downers Grove resident Mark Sleeper was checking out Ron Clark Park in Yorkville one weekend last month with a group of metal detector hobbyists when he found something that was a decades-old piece of a local family's history.
Sleeper said he and his group were out looking at Town Square Park, and decided to take a look at Clark Park, at the southeast corner of Route 47 and East Main Street, because it was a wooded area. He said they typically look for "historically interesting things - old coins, watch fobs, lead soldiers."
"I saw Clark Park was across the street and it was a little woodsy, and I thought, might be kind of fun to poke around over there," he said. "We kind of wander with our metal detector, and I didn't find anything around the old foundation. So I started to wander around the back of the property."
He said he decided to check out an area with some large, old trees. Then, his metal detector gave a signal that something large was under one of the trees.
"Whatever it was underneath this tree was blowing my metal detector out of the water, so to speak," he said. "It was also telling me that it was a depth of three inches, which tends to be the miscalculation when it's a bigger object."
So he started digging until he was close to two feet deep, he said.
There, buried under the tree, was a metal container that included a canning jar. Inside that jar was a letter from Ronald W. Clark. Clark's son, also named Ronald, died in 2010 and left the property to the city to be preserved as a park.
It turned out that in 1924, Clark and a group of friends, then in their early 20s, decided to write letters about their future plans. The plan was that, every 10 years, they would open up the "vault" and read the letters.
However, no letters with future plans were found, only a letter from Clark dated 1944 near the anniversary of the burial date addressed to his "group," as well as a letter from around that same time by Graydon Clark, Ronald Clark's brother and the junior Ronald Clark's uncle.
Ronald W. Clark Sr.'s daughter, Sharon Gaskill of Wisconsin, confirmed in an email the story about the group of friends in the 1920s.
"My father had told us of the time he and his buddies had taken quite a hike and picnic and shared thoughts of their ideas about their futures," she wrote. "This was in 1924, when my father was 21. They set their thoughts to paper and buried them at daddy's home place, now the Ron Clark Park, as you know."
She continued, "In 1934, the original eight got together again and read the letters, then buried a new set of notes, to be dug up in 1944, after another 10 years. I have none of that material. My uncle Graydon was the only one present in 1944; he dug up the notes, and I do not know what happened to them."
Sleeper remarked at the condition of the letters, along with a portion of the front page of a Chicago Tribune from Aug. 20, 1944, with a headline screaming, in all capital letters, "Yank Army reaches Seine."
"They were in very good shape," he said. "The canning jar seal as well as the box held the contents well. There was no yellowing of the paper. The newspaper clipping was in great shape."
Sleeper said he passed on copies of the letters to Clark's family.
The letter from Graydon Clark, dated Aug. 20, 1944, explains that he is "the only one of the original gang" to dig up the bottle from 20 years prior. Graydon was 43 years old at the time; he died in 1968.
"I decided to dig up the bottle on Aug. 19th (Sat.) since the following was Sunday and I had been asked to play for church at the Methodist church - also we were expecting the Browns from Elgin on Sunday," he wrote.
"I was assisted in digging up the bottle by Karl Michels, a red-headed boy of 15 then living at the cottage and a friend of his, Max Martin. Max is the youngest of that family of boys who have lived in Yorkville for years. Just a few months ago the Martin family received word that Nelson, their oldest son, and whom I knew well was killed in action."
Graydon explains that he was living in Verona, New Jersey, at the time, and had just spent three days visiting Ronald in Quincy, where he was employed at the time as a principal of a junior high school. He said they talked about the bottle burial during his visit.
Graydon's letter, like that of his brother, includes personal touches that give a sense of a moment frozen in time.
"As I type this, father is washing the dishes and Aunt Mina is resting in her bedroom," he wrote.
Ronald Clark's buried
letter from August 1944
Ronald W. Clark Sr.'s letter to his group, dated Aug. 18, 1944, was typed on stationery with a letterhead that identified him as principal of Quincy Junior High School. Clark was 41 when he wrote the letter; he died in 1996.
In the letter, he discusses the passage of time and talks about their group getting older and moving into "middle-age." He also mentions his son, describing him as "a little boy almost 16 months old who keeps us very busy most of the time."
Here is the text of that letter in its entirety:
"Addressed to Miss Helen Hoadley, Mrs. Jack Cherry (Helen Matlock), Mrs. Mervin Beecher (Marguerite Van Tassel), Mrs. Harold Paine (Catherine Van Tassel), Glen Zirkle, Sidney Tarbox, Graydon Clark, and Ronald Clark:
"As I sit here at my desk this evening my memory goes back to that occasion just 20 years ago when the eight people, those names are indicated above, gathered at our place at Yorkville preparatory to taking a hike and having a picnic supper. You will probably remember that we hiked north and east of Yorkville, past the Glen Palmer farm, west across the Blackberry Creek, and north toward the old Cannon Ball Trail. In a woods along the right side of the road, perhaps a half mile from the northward turn, we paused for a few hours, built a rousing fire, and ate our picnic suppers.
"We sat around the campfire for some time looking across the moonlit valley of the Blackberry Creek and chatting merrily about anything that came to mind. In the course of the evening, the conversation turned to a discussion of the past, the present, and the unknown future. The uncertainties of life, the many cross currents, which affect the lives of all of us, and the unpredictability of the future caused us to wonder what we would be doing in the years to come. After all, what is time! And what is our relationship, as frail human beings, to the inexorable onward march of time!
"As the conversation turned to a half serious, half jesting consideration of the future, someone suggested that each one of us write down a comment or a prophecy regarding what he thought he would be doing 10 years hence in 1934. After some discussion it was agreed upon that we should prepare these comments or prophecies and bury them in a bottle in our back yard midway between the two hickory trees. The night selected for this ceremony was Aug. 20, 1924, immediately following the band concert, which was held Wednesday evening at Yorkville during the summer months.
"The bottle, with its historic contents, was duly buried 20 years ago this coming Sunday evening. Ten years later, with most of the original eight, and some others, present, the bottle was dug up and the various letters read to the amusement and interest of all concerned. Most of us found that many of the things we had prophesied had not come to pass. We decided to write other notes and bury all the notes again for another ten years. The second ten years have passed away and on Sunday evening, Aug. 20, 1944 it will be time to dig the bottle up again. Think of it! It is now 20 years since we as a group of boys and girls, first buried that bottle back in 1924. Soon, if not already, we shall be looked upon as middle-aged men and women!
"I shall be unable to be in Yorkville this time. However, Graydon plans to dig up the bottle the day after tomorrow and remove the contents. He plans to place a copy of this letter in the bottle and bury it again. Perhaps in another five years, when gasoline rationing is no more, and when a quarter of a century has elapsed since that summer evening of Aug. 20, 1924, we may be able to gather again and talk once more of the years that have passed.
"If you feel disposed to do so I shall be happy to have you drop me a line on this 20th anniversary of the burying of the bottle. As I write this letter I am reminded that as we grow older we think more of the past, perhaps because with each passing year we have more past and less future! What has happened to those 10 and 20 years! Where have they gone! They have doubtless brought some happiness and some sorrow to each one of us. Many changes have occurred. Some people have moved off the stage of life, others have appeared for the first time, and we eight people, although on the central part of the stage, have moved a considerable distance closer to the exit!
"However, in a more optimistic and less melancholy vein, I am reminded that we are still young. "Life begins at 40!" "The best is yet to be!" We square ourselves away for this new world of the future. We resolve that we shall play our parts well. What will we be doing in 1949, in 1954, in 1964, etc.? No one knows. The future is inscrutable.
"My own story of the past 10 and 20 years can be summarized briefly. Of the past 20 years I have spent the last 17 here in Quincy. The first 10 of these 17 years I was principal of Webster Elementary and Junior High School. The past seven years I have been principal of the Quincy Junior High School and also principal of Webster Elementary School. Three years ago last Aug. 9 I was married to Dorothy Dirks, a kindergarten teacher here in the Quincy Schools. We have a little boy almost 16 months old who keeps us very busy most of the time.
"Here on this anniversary of the burying of the bottle I wish to extend a word of greeting to all of you and to express the hope that good fortune may smile upon you. Here's hoping that we can all get together again sometime again before too many years more may have passed. The years make quite a formidable array when listed in chronological order.
"Don't forget to write me a note if you can do so conveniently. And don't feel obligated to write a note as long as this one!
"Cordially yours, Ronald W. Clark"