School journeys to 1961 with time capsule

A let­ter could be mailed with a 5-cent stamp when the corner­stone of Bustleton Ele­ment­ary School was laid back in 1961. 

A few of those stamps, al­though not enough to post a let­ter today, were packed in­to a met­al box that was put be­hind that stone 50 years ago. Among the items that ac­com­pan­ied those stamps were pho­tos of the school and some of the teach­ers, a Bible, a city of Phil­adelphia flag and a copy of the now de­funct News Glean­er with a story an­noun­cing the school’s ded­ic­a­tion.

That box was pretty much for­got­ten un­til a com­mit­tee chaired by Mary­alice Cor­nell and Den­ise Mon­tell found out about it while re­search­ing the school’s his­tory for the 50th an­niversary cel­eb­ra­tion held last week.

When school of­fi­cials learned of the “time cap­sule’s” ex­ist­ence, they hired a con­tract­or to dig it out from be­hind the corner­stone. Cor­nell and Mon­tell, wear­ing pro­tect­ive eye­glasses and gloves — just in case something bad popped out — opened the box on the school aud­it­or­i­um’s stage be­fore more than 100 alumni on June 8.

Prin­cip­al El­len Cooper said she was amazed how well the box’s treas­ures were pre­served. Many of the items were wrapped in clear plastic, but even those that wer­en’t, in­clud­ing a neatly hand­writ­ten list of the con­tents, were in very good con­di­tion.

Gradu­ates of the school gathered last week to meet old friends and teach­ers and walk through the build­ing that had been their aca­dem­ic homes from kinder­garten through sixth grade.

“Home” was re­peated quite a few times as former prin­cipals Wil­li­am Brod­sky and Bar­bara Sho­hen ad­dressed gradu­ates and col­leagues. 

Brod­sky, the school’s second prin­cip­al, was at Bustleton Ele­ment­ary for 14 years — from 1968 to 1982.

“I’m home,” he said, smil­ing out at the crowd in the school’s aud­it­or­i­um, as he re­coun­ted some of the good times and ac­com­plish­ments dur­ing his ten­ure.

He was par­tic­u­larly proud of the fact that the Phil­adelphia Or­ches­tra had giv­en two con­certs at the school.

Sho­hen was prin­cip­al from mid-1986 to 2003. The school was cel­eb­rat­ing its 25th an­niversary the year she star­ted. She stayed for 18 years.

In 1987, she said, Bustleton’s name was changed to Anne Frank. The Bowl­er Street school be­came the first in the na­tion to be named for the Ger­man-born Dutch teen­ager who, be­cause of posthum­ous pub­lic­a­tion of her di­ary, be­came one of the Holo­caust’s most fam­ous vic­tims.

Last week’s an­niversary cel­eb­ra­tion was tied — as close as it could — to Frank’s June 12 birth­day, which this year was not on a school day.

Sho­hen re­called when walk­ie-talk­ies were in­tro­duced to make staff com­mu­nic­a­tion easi­er throughout the build­ing, and she said the school’s buses were named after the city’s big league sports teams.

Cooper, of­ten chok­ing back tears, spoke proudly about the school’s staff and stu­dents. Anne Frank has a re­mark­ably di­verse stu­dent pop­u­la­tion.

“Forty-two dif­fer­ent lan­guages are spoken here,” she said to ap­plause.

Cooper will soon join the ranks of the school’s former prin­cipals. She is re­tir­ing, and her as­sist­ant prin­cip­al, Mickey Ko­m­ins, will be­come the ven­er­able school’s sixth prin­cip­al.

The an­niversary ce­re­mon­ies began with per­form­ances by the school’s glee club un­der the dir­ec­tion of mu­sic teach­er Byron Fields. Be­fore the time cap­sule was opened, former re­gion­al su­per­in­tend­ent Har­ris Lew­in re­called the many ef­forts and ac­com­plish­ments that took place at the school.

Vis­it­ing alums were then free to walk through the halls and vis­it classrooms. In the cafet­er­ia, they were in­vited to some nosh and to put their names and com­ments on large pieces of pa­per on one of the tables.

Anne Frank’s speech ther­ap­ist, Mar­ilyn Mazer Golden, Class of 1965, re­called that the school’s chil­dren were once bused home for lunch, something that prob­ably would be un­think­able today.  

There were no spe­cialty teach­ers then.

“We had gym in our classroom, and we had mu­sic in our classroom,” she said.

She also re­mem­bers the air-raid drills of the 1960s, when chil­dren marched in­to the hall­ways, sat down and held their arms over their heads. 

And it was, in­deed, a home­com­ing for her when she re­turned as a teach­er. She loved the school so much that when she came back to work there in 1999, “I walked in here, and I cried.”

Debby Schwartz, class of 1967, re­called the school’s formerly rur­al set­ting. Much of the area around the school was be­ing built up in the 1960s. Her best memory, she said, is of her be­loved third-grade teach­er, Shir­ley Sher­man.

Last week’s event will be part of some fu­ture gath­er­ing’s memor­ies. The time cap­sule that was opened on June 8 was put back in­to the school’s wall fa­cing Hoff Street two days later with some 2011 ad­di­tions, Cooper said.

Who­ever opens it again will find among its con­tents mem­or­ab­il­ia from the school’s 50th an­niversary cel­eb­ra­tion as well as a dol­lar and oth­er coins, an Anne Frank T-shirt, loc­al news­pa­per cov­ers, staff and stu­dent lists, a straw­berry-shaped com­puter flash drive, some 2011 test res­ults and, of course, post­age stamps. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or

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