CONNELLSVILLE — Sparks flew as Gary Wandel carefully cut into a 1901 time capsule in the second-floor auditorium of the Carnegie Free Library Tuesday night. The audience that filled the room waited quietly as Wandel worked, then cheered and applauded as the lid fell off.
Suddenly, a treasure of history was ready to be examined.
The cache included:
n Newspapers and meeting minutes from the town council and board of education that pertained to the construction of the library, which is located at 299 S. Pittsburgh St. and opened in 1903 with a $60,000 grant from industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
n A look at Connellsville commerce a century ago through business cards and ads that included a new car for sale at $950, a room at a local hotel to be had for $2 a night and summer corsets available for 24 cents. A sale at one of the stores took place Friday, Saturday and Monday — no business conducted on Sunday.
n Coins that included an Indian head penny, a commemorative token that marked the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America and a 50-cent paper note issued when metal was in short supply.
There were also ribbons and medallions marking military service, including the recent Spanish-American War. Officials included a small American flag with 13 stars. A phone directory listed telephone numbers with two or three digits. A couple of photographs — one of a man and another of a woman — were found as well as a small piece of paper that simply noted the name and address of Ernest Murrier, age 13, 406 Johnston Ave.
Wandel, a member of the library’s board of trustees and Connellsville Area School Board, noted, “I think it’s a testament to our town there are familiar names. There must be something about this place that people will stick around for generations.’’
According to the library, the time capsule was sealed inside the building’s cornerstone on July 31, 1901, almost two years before the library officially opened. While doing research on the library’s history, officials found mention of the time capsule and its dedication but no record of it ever being opened.
The location was not discovered until after the celebration for the library’s 110th anniversary had passed. When a large shrub was removed from the corner of the building, an out-of-place stone was uncovered and officials believed they had found the hiding place for the time capsule.
John Malone, president of the library trustees, sought advise from the archeology and anthropology department at Mercyhurst University in Erie on how to open the time capsule. Connellsville contractor Chelsea Ritenour offered his assistance. Blaine Brooks, manager of Green Ridge Memorial Park, offered to create a plaque for a new time capsule that will be installed Nov. 5. The crew also included John Frick, Tom Karpiak and Dave Petrone.
At a ceremony just before the opening of the capsule, library director Eileen Beveridge game a welcome and Don Grenaldo, vice president of the trustees, made introductions and graciously thanked everyone involved in the process and celebration.
Malone gave a history of the library, noting it was the 13th of more than 2,500 libraries funded by Carnegie worldwide. He explained local officials wrote a letter to Carnegie on April 19, 1899, asking for $50,000 to build a library. They received a letter back just five days later with his answer. Carnegie later gave the community another $10,000 to complete the project. Malone said Carnegie only asked for three things: that they find land, procure an architect and pass a tax to pay for the library’s upkeep.
Malone noted, “When the library opened to the public on May 1, 1903, the first book checked out was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin’’ by a young girl on Fairview Avenue.’’
Karen Heckler, president of the Connellsville Area Historical Society, which makes its home at the library, remarked, “It’s very exciting to be present when this time capsule from the early 20th century will be opened and see what people from that time felt best represented their era.’’
Mayor Greg Lincoln said he Googled 1901 and found out that year oil was discovered in Texas, a U.S. Stamp cost 2 cents and Theodore Roosevelt renamed the executive mansion The White House.
“This is pretty cool,’’ Lincoln said. “And I can’t wait for them to open it.’’
After cutting open the time capsule, which was a cylinder about 12 inches tall, Wandel, Brooks and John Malone III, who is a history major at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, donned white gloves and carefully pulled the items onto a table set up before the stage. They picked up individual items, describing them and reading words aloud to the spectators who listened respectfully, mesmerized by materials of their city’s past.
Afterwards, people gathered around the table to look but not touch. The materials will be studied and place on display in the library at the museum of local history.
Ken Washington, a retired English teacher and a member of the library trustees, said, “This is fantastic. I’ve never seen a time capsule before and I’m amazed at all they put into it. And it’s so well preserved.’’
John Malone III said, “It’s truly remarkable. This is my first experience with history. It’s really been an eye opening.’’
Wandel said, “Remember what a thriving community this was then. Connellsville had more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the world. This was a coke capital. A headline in one of the newspapers said coke production was $27 million. Imagine what that would be today.
“You think of their hopes for Connellsville,’’ he said of those early 20th-century residents. “You wonder what they would think of our community today. There’s a lot of nostalgia but curiosity about their hopes and dreams for today. Would they be proud of us?’’