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Century-Old Time Capsule Reveals Kansas City's Past

Cody Newill
KCUR 89.3
Denise Morrison (right) and Kate Warfield with the Kansas City Museum look at a newspaper from 1900 that was inside a time capsule found on the grounds of the recently demolished Thacher School in Northeast Kansas City.

For 115 years, a time capsule once stored in the cornerstone of the Thacher School in Kansas City's Historic Northeast laid dormant. But a team of historians with the Kansas City Museumopened the memento Saturday morning, finding a treasure trove of documents.

The historic school was named after Civil War major Louin Kennedy Thacher in May, 1900 and was closed by the Kansas City Public Schools in 2009. The school building was demolished last August.

Credit Cody Newill / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Denise Morrison of the Kansas City Museum delicately handled some documents found in the time capsule.

Kansas City Museum Director of Collections Denise Morrison opened the small, rusted box as more than 50 local residents eagerly watched. Inside were class rosters, issues of the Kansas City Times and Kansas City Journal-Post and news bulletins from the late 1890s and early 1900s.

Morrison said she was worried the papers would be damaged, but most of the pieces were still legible.

"I've got to tell you, it's going to be hard to preserve that little tin box, it's completely rusted, but we're going to try," Morrison said with a wide smile. "You don't know who's inside and you never know who's going to speak to you from the past."

Credit Cody Newill / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The small box contained several dozen documents dated from the late 1890s to 1900. Some referenced historical events in Kansas City, like the fire that burned down the Convention Hall before the Democratic National Convention of 1900.

Manny Abarca unsuccessfully led an effort called Save Thacher, Save Our Schools to try to convince KCPS to spare the historic school building from demolition. After petitioning the district, Abarca and others managed to get district officials to hand the time capsule over to the Kansas City Museum.

For him, the unveiling was a bittersweet validation of his efforts. 

"This is just one more example of how great Northeast is," Abarca said. "It's exciting and kind of disappointing though, because after the building came down, we found out there was another [capsule]. But we never found it."

Some of the documents from the capsule will be on display at the Kansas City Museum until Jan. 16, at which point they'll be stored and preserved. 

Morrison says she wants to try to contact any living relatives of Thacher students named in class rosters to try to make historical connections. Kansas City Museum workers will eventually photograph all the pieces and put them online.

Cody Newill is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @CodyNewill or send him an email at cody@kcur.org.

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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