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Sure, you can just call me Geraldo

By Staff | Jun 12, 2015

How cool is it that the Wells Historical Society was able to raise $38,500 in 14 days and save the beautiful doorway arches of the former United South Central school building from the demolition wrecking ball?

Very cool, in my humble opinion.

And, the fact that they were able to do it just in the nick of time only adds a little more drama to the situation.

It is also interesting that they already have a plan in place as to what they are going to do with the two large archways, and where they will put them.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I did something very similar. But when I did it, there wasn’t any plan; it was purely an accident of fate. It was more a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

And, I did it virtually at the very last second.

Here is the story.

I was on a ‘photo assignment’ years ago in another Minnesota small town, taking pictures of that town’s old hospital building being demolished.

The building had not been used as a hospital for more than 25 years, ever since a new one had been built across the street.

This former hospital had been used as an area high school vocational center for several years, then as a construction company headquarters. But it had slowly deteriorated and become an eyesore and a hazard. The city was tearing it down and the space would become a parking lot for the hospital across the street.

While taking the photos, I noticed two cornerstones, one from 1921 when it was first built after a tornado in 1918 had destroyed the previous clinic and one from 1953 when an addition had been put onto the original 1921 building.

I asked the demolition company foreman if the two cornerstones were going to be saved. He said no they were not, that no one had asked him to save them, and they were just going to be hauled away with the rest of the building rubble.

I was appalled.

I told him they had to be saved and that someone would surely want them.

He said that if I wanted them I could have them and he would save them for me, but I had better come get them quick before they were hauled away in the dump truck.

I took them home in my little trailer, cleaned them up a bit and discovered there was a slather of dried mortar across the back of each one.

And yes, behind that thin coat of mortar was a cavity in the limestone, and in the cavity was a metal box, about the size of a small bank safety deposit box.

A time capsule. Or rather, two time capsules, one in each cornerstone.

Believe it or not, I did not immediately crack them open. Instead, I shared the secret with some local officials and the city, hospital and chamber of commerce decided to open them up during the next chamber of commerce annual meeting.

And since I had saved the cornerstones and discovered the time capsule boxes inside, they let me have the honor of opening them up during the meeting.

My friends started calling me ‘Geraldo.’

It was a reference to TV newsman Geraldo Rivera, who, after weeks of big hype, opened up gangster Al Capone’s secret vault on live television, only to discover there was nothing inside.

But in my case, there were items inside the old metal boxes.

Nothing too earth shaking or valuable, but there were some old city souvenirs and trinkets, some hospital records and lists of doctors and staff and the actual building plans of the ‘new’ hospital. There was also a copy of the local newspaper from 1921 with a front page story detailing the plans to have a time capsule put in the cornerstone of the new hospital.

That story ended with the writer wondering who would discover the capsule, and what would they think about it.

Well, it was me, and I thought it was pretty cool.

Likewise for saving pieces of the old USC school building.

I guess we can hope there are time capsules inside the two cornerstones being saved from that structure.

And if there are, it will be fun to see what is inside.

Congratulations to the Wells Historical Society and the community for stepping up and saving these pieces of history and having a plan for putting them on display for years to come.

It would have been a real shame for it to have not happened.