Time Capsule Mystery Revisited

Centennial postcard005

Recently I got a letter from Nell Fike whose great Aunt was a “winner” in the 1912 Battle of Lake Erie Centennial Committee’s essay contest “Commodore Perry, the man and the Commander”. I had done some research into this story two years ago when I wrote about “Jane’s Missing Essay”
(https://chasingperry.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/lost-and-waiting-to-be-found-janes-missing-essay/) and this story only gets more unfortunate as I learn more about the essay contest.

This was a well-publicized contest that was competed at both county and statewide levels. There is some evidence that perhaps some form of this essay contest was even done in all the 14 states that were part of the Perry’s Monument Commission. As I investigated further it seems that there probably were winners in every county. And then to make matters worse, there were two submission categories, high school and college! In Ohio alone there are 88 counties, which means there would have been 172 winners and a like number of runners up.

The county winners were then submitted to the state for “final” judging. There was conflicting information that said that these winning essay(s) would be placed “in” the Monument, though not necessarily in the time capsule placed in the column wall.

The complicating factor was that when the monument was originally designed and built there was supposed to be a museum built where these essays and many other artifacts would have been housed. That museum was never built (see picture). What happened over the next 100 years under the monument plaza were poorly controlled conditions in the chambers where items were stored. Water, humidity and poor storage conditions damaged much of the contents. Sometime in the 80’s prior and during the Monuments major repair for water damage, former NPS employees recall boxes and boxes of ruined “stuff” were hauled away.

When that same renovation was being done, the construction workers discovered the time capsule. They removed it the National Park Service logged its contents and placed it back in the wall. No essays were in that time capsule content list unfortunately. When we had the Mason’s here to do the cornerstone ceremony I inquired with them on this story and the contents as well. They had been in charge of the capsule and contents and they had no information on the essay contest winners being included in this box either.

After the renovation construction was completed the time capsule was put back in a wall and the capsule’s exact location was not noted. There were no organized efforts to locate it during the bicentennial year again since it had already been opened previously.

So sorry to say we did not pursue this missing essay project any further. The hundred or more essay(s) could have been in the boxes of “stuff” removed, or perhaps they could be in some never inventoried box at the Columbus Statehouse Archives or some other county historical society storage facility.

I am sorry there is no happy ending to yet for this story. But who knows, maybe the essays will turn up in some archive or family barn. I would hate to think they all rotted away in the storage areas under the plaza of the Monument.

I am hopeful that somewhere there is a person who may know of the where about’s of these essays. Nell was able to find a few in the Western Reserve Historical Society. If you have an idea on where we might look, email us at the battleoflakeerie@gmail.com so we can put this mystery to rest!

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