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 firstname.lastname@example.org