THE ADVOCATE ASKS: Historical Commission members discuss hunt for ’54 Saugus Time Capsule and project to chronicle the high school building’s history in photos
Editor’s Note: For this week’s interview, we sat down with Historical Commission Vice Chair Marilyn Carlson and fellow commission members Jean Swanson and Natalie Agreste – all of them Saugus High School graduates. We asked them to reflect on the rich past of the current Saugus High, which will be replaced in two years by a new Saugus Middle-High School, and the importance of finding the 1954 Saugus High School Time Capsule before it’s lost for good in the midst of the demolition project that began this week.
Carlson, a 1964 Saugus High graduate, is a retired Saugus educator who has been involved in many community activities, for which she was honored as a “Person of the Year Award” recipient at the 2006 Founders Day celebration. Her husband, Ed, received the award in 2016.
Agreste, a 1961 Saugus High graduate, is a retired nurse who spent 30 years in the profession. She and her late husband, Ronald, raised four children and seven grandchildren. Her great uncle, Welcome McCullough, was head of the history department at Saugus High and authored the poem “I Have Only Just A Minute.” Her uncle, Francis Morehouse, served briefly as Saugus Town Manager. Her uncle, Phillip McCullough, was a fighter pilot during World War II who was shot down over Belgium and taken prisoner by the Germans. While in captivity, his wife, Natalie, was among the 492 people who perished in the Cocoanut Grove Fire in November of 1942. Agreste was named Natalie Phyllis, after her aunt and uncle.
Swanson is a 1971 Saugus High graduate. She is a retired second-grade teacher who worked for 30 years at the Veterans Memorial Elementary School. She currently works part-time at the Vet as a Title One tutor. She grew up on Taylor Street across from the Saugus Public Library. Her father, John Raiche, was a Saugus Town Clerk. Her mother, Patricia, was director of the Louise Caroline Nursing Home on Lincoln Avenue. She and her husband, Steven, raised two children. Their son, Christopher, is a custodian at the Oaklandvale School. Their daughter, Katie, is a teacher in Revere. Swanson’s aunt, Katie O’Grady, danced with entertainers Jimmy Durante and Steve Lawrence in New York City.
Some highlights of this week’s interview follow.
Q: So, how did members of the Historical Commission find out about the 1954 Saugus High Time Capsule?
Swanson: We found a picture that was quite old, and that’s what got us started. That’s how we knew there was a time capsule, because I didn’t know. I wasn’t old enough. People who were older knew there was a time capsule.
Q: You found the picture?
Swanson: I was just going through old pictures of Saugus, and I happened to find the picture. I was just looking on my phone – just looking at old pictures of Saugus – and I happened to find it, so then I said, “Oh, there really is a time capsule,” and from there we started doing a little research. Marilyn really took it seriously and did a lot of research, and then, once we put it out there, we saw things on Facebook – that people remembered it.
Q: So, it was only recently that you discovered there was a time capsule buried at Saugus High School?
Swanson: Right, and, then people would say, “Oh, I remember.” People who graduated that year, they remembered that there was a time capsule.
Q: So, have you talked to anybody about the time capsule?
Swanson: I reached out through Facebook, and some people will give bits of information, and then when I contact them to sit down and give more information, they say they really don’t remember that much. So no one remembers exactly where it is. That’s the problem. They remember that there was a time capsule, but nobody remembers where it exactly has been put. Nobody has come forth and said, “It’s exactly in this spot.”
Q: So, right now, the Historical Commission is on a mission to find that time capsule?
Swanson: Right. We heard that it might be in that rotary they have in the middle. Then other people have said it’s in one of the columns. Someone else has said it’s in the cornerstone. We don’t know exactly. We went to the circle with a metal detector, and we were looking for the beeps. We found a lot of beeps, but there is a sprinkler system in there, so they said the beeps could be from the pipes, so we didn’t want to start digging, and then after that, people said they felt that it was in the cornerstone or those poles that are there, so we don’t know.
Q: Was there any plan for the time capsule to be opened at any certain time?
Swanson: Well, I think we want to wait until the school is demolished. Right? We just want to know where we should be looking for it.
Q: But from your research, have you determined that they wanted it dug up at a certain time?
Carlson: I don’t think there’s any document saying it is to be dug up in the year whatever, because that school was only built to last 40 years or so, and, it’s gone way beyond its life.
Q: So, Jean, what’s the most interesting thing that you would like to share with folks about the time capsule that you have learned.
Swanson: I think people that remember it find it interesting, but they can’t remember where it is. So many people have written in and said they remember when they buried it, but no one knows exactly where they put it, so I don’t know if they did it at a public event. We don’t know. We have photos of the band playing, but the photos don’t show exactly where they put the time capsule.
Carlson: There’s a little curve in here to think about too. Newspapers of the day reported on a cornerstone, and they also indicated “time capsule.” Another thought is, are they synonymous or are they separate entities. Is the time capsule where the cornerstone is, or is it someplace else?
Q: So, Marilyn, what have you found so far?
Carlson: I have several photos of people being posed with the time capsule. I have no actual photo of the time capsule being put into any structure, but while looking for photos, Jean got this whole thing started. She said that with the high school being demolished in a couple of years, let’s see if we can find the time capsule.
Q: So, that’s quite a challenge for the Historical Commission.
Carlson: It’s definitely a challenge.
Agreste: We’ll find it.
Q: How long ago did you have the meeting?
Swanson: We meet every month, so every month, it’s a topic on the agenda and we do updates.
Carlson: We talk about it all of the time. We’ve been talking about it since Jean brought it up in May.
Q: Are you confident that you will eventually find this?
Carlson: Yes, I am. I’m definitely confident.
Q: As part of the research, has anyone from the commission had contacts with anybody in that photograph?
Carlson: That’s what we’re working on as we speak. We’re contacting people who were in the photograph. Jean has been watching Facebook, and she’s been reaching out to the people on Facebook, so a lot of calls are being made, and it’s just a matter of time.
Q: So, what’s the value of the material that you will find in that time capsule?
Agreste: What life was like back then.
Carlson: There are newspapers in the capsule of the day. There is a booklet in the capsule, telling all about Saugus. There are also records in there, and there is a book in there that has the signature of every child and faculty member in the Saugus Public Schools in September of 1955, and my name would be in it and your name (Agreste) would be in it.
Q: So, this would be a nice heirloom for the town.
Carlson: That’s correct.
Q: So, would that be put on display somewhere, like, in the library or in the Historical Society?
Carlson: I think the library would be the best place, and all of the pictures that we are taking right now too – all the pictures that we’re taking [of the demolition and building project] are going to be online for people to see how the high school looked before it was demolished, so the library website will probably have them. That’s a little down the road, Mark, so I’m not really sure.
Q: Natalie? You’re the person with the wealth of knowledge on Saugus High School, so what are the most interesting things you can tell me about Saugus High School? Wasn’t it one of the top high schools in the country at one point?
Agreste: Yes, it was. I think we all got a wonderful education. The principal was John A.W. Pearce, and the vice principal was Leon Young, and Hayward was Dean of Girls. It was very strict back then. The girls had to wear a skirt or a dress, and you had to have a full slip, and if Ms. Hayward thought you didn’t have one on, she would pull you in her office.
Q: And this was what year?
Agreste: In the early 60’s or late 50’s, so it was very strict, but just a wonderful school. The teachers were all fabulous. It was exciting to go there. I loved every bit of it, and I was fortunate enough to be a member of the band and the twirling squad. My brother was a trumpet player. I always dreamed of being a drum majorette.
Q: So, in those early years, what was the school best known for, outside of Saugus?
Agreste: Football. They had great football teams, and it was very high scholastically. You either took the college course of the business course. I remember being a member of the band. I marched and twirled a baton and had a feather headdress – Marilyn, too.
Q: Marilyn, you were a majorette, too?
Agreste: I was a drum majorette and fortunate enough to be the captain.
Carlson: The Saugus High School Marching Band was famous throughout the United States of America and Canada. They did tours all over the United States and Canada, representing the town of Saugus, so that’s a part of Saugus High School pride.
Q: What were the colors back then?
Agreste: Red and white, and we would march from the high school down to Stackpole Field. My grandmother at the time was quite old, and she made it to the door, and Mr. [Jerome] Mitchell, the band director, would always play “Mame” for her. He was a wonderful man. I learned so much from him – discipline and performance – and the band always got so many compliments: that we were well-behaved. And he would not tolerate any funny business at all. You would meet people from all over, and they would come and stay at our homes, and we’d go to Revere Beach, because that was a hot spot. … It was a wonderful and very exciting time.
Q: Marilyn, anything you’d like to say?
Carlson: The Burns Gym [which was demolished this week] was built in 1972, way after our time. … We spent a lot of our life in the band room practicing. Every time that school was out, we would go down there for a couple of hours. It was a big part of our life.
Q: So, with the demolition of Saugus High going on, please tell me how you are using this to embrace the history of the school that is being torn down – your project to create a digital record of the interior and exterior of Saugus High School before it’s demolished.
Carlson: The engineer has to submit the plan to the Historical Commission and also to the Building Department and several other committees. In order to demolish a building in Saugus, you have to fill out an application and you have to document it, so that is in the town bylaws, so we knew that they would be taking pictures. There are a lot of things in that high school, like trophy cases – and trophy cases with all of the band trophies – so there are certain things in that high school that an engineer is taking pictures of. We want to make sure that everything that we remember was included. Jim Harrington has taken interior photos and also used his drones to take aerial photos. We wanted to provide a photographic record for future generations. The photos will be online so everybody can download them. We’re not trying to supplant what the engineers are doing; we’re trying to supplement it. And I just heard the other day that the high school is working with the cable studio. They are also going to put their talents together with the engineers, with our commission – in a comprehensive website so that people can remember. That’s the bottom line.
Q: Do you know when these photos will be available?
Carlson: Ours will probably be up a lot sooner, but remember, it’s going to take two years for this project to be done and the school to be taken down.
Q: The middle-high school for grades 6 through 12 is supposed to open two years from this fall.
Carlson: Right, but we got in there early. Jean called Jim Harrington, who has really been helpful to us, and he’s got the photos all done. He just has to transfer it to a DVD or memory stick, and then we have to work with the town and the School Committee and the town manager’s office. This is all down the line. It’s a body of art work being developed. We’re going to make one big website.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share?
Agreste: Back when we were in school, I always felt the town was 100 percent invested in our future and supporting us. It was a wonderful place to grow up and to be in the high school – many fond memories – and I see it starting to come back again, and I’m very happy to see that. I think our town manager has done a great job, and hopefully, things are starting to blossom, I guess.
Carlson: There are so many memories. The time when we were growing up, the town government invested in education. They built us a beautiful building, the one that’s being demolished now, and before that, the high school was on Winter Street at the corner of Central, and then before that, it was held at the Town Hall in one of the rooms, so this is our third high school, and it’s being demolished, so the fourth one will be built. So by building a new school, they are showing us that they are interested in the children of this town and giving them a good education by having them attend school in a beautiful physical plant – this is going to be – with all of the advanced equipment and all these safety devices. And as teachers, Jean and I would both agree that we hope that once this beautiful physical plant is opened up, the town will follow it with a great education and fund it so we have good teachers, supplies and text books – whatever they need to make it as good of a system as it was when we were all young. That’s basically what I would hope for.
Swanson: I would agree with Marilyn that by putting all of this money into the school, now they have to continue to support education with good teachers and supplies and training for teachers, because that’s so important – because the school is more than just a building.
Q: Natalie? Would you like to have the last word?
Agreste: I agree with Marilyn and Jean. I’m excited about everything that’s happening, and I’m a little bit sad to see the high school go down, but to make progress, we need to move forward. I’m so happy for the children who will be attending. At the groundbreaking ceremony, there’s a Mr. [Jack] McCarthy from Boston [executive director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority] who spoke, and his last comment was “a school is nothing more than a building with four sides, but the future is inside.” I thought that was well said. I loved that.