Wednesday, June 15, 2016

School cornerstone reveals disappointing treasure

In June of 1966, the old Condon High School building was torn down. Verne Shimanek, the man who bought the property on which the school and its gymnasium stood, began the demolition process by tearing out shrubs from the front of the school. And there, hidden under the undergrowth, was a cornerstone.

Dave Peterson was the owner of Condon’s only museum, and when he heard that Shimanek had unearthed the cornerstone, he asked if he could have it for his collection. As Shimanek and Peterson were prying at the cornerstone they wondered whether the builders of the school had buried something under the stone for posterity when the school was erected in 1909.

The men worked feverishly through their lunch hours trying to pry the stone away. And when it finally came loose, they found a tin box in a crevice behind it.

Shimanek hurriedly called city and county officials for the big reveal. Did the box contain old papers? Was there some kind of historical information hidden in the box? The news quickly spread, and by the time Judge James O. Burns, Mayor Bruce Mercer and ex-sheriff Frank Bennett (who had been present when the box was buried) arrived, quite a crowd had gathered. Excitement was high.

Bennett was given the honor of opening the box. But the “oohs” turned to “awws” when a total of $1.32 in coins dating back to 1890 fell out — and little else.

Bennett explained that the box was placed behind the cornerstone by members of the Masonic Lodge, who had formed a parade and marched to the site where the stone was laid. They had been told that only metal objects should be put in the box, and for that reason they chose coins, mostly nickels and dimes. One apparently wealthy man had donated a 50-cent piece, a scarcity in those times. Also included in the box was a gold pin or brooch — but nothing in the manner of a traditional time capsule.

The man most excited by the finds was Peterson, who quickly gathered up the cornerstone to put on display in his barbershop until he could find a permanent home for it in his museum. Judge Burns took custody of the tin box and its contents until it could be decided what should be done with it.

The old Condon High School, at the time it was demolished, was the last large public building built of bricks made and baked in Gilliam County.

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