Wide-eyed children and their grown-up counterparts gathered at the Historical Society at 40 Main Street on Saturday morning, for the making of a historic moment in Bethel. A metal box, welded shut one hundred years ago this coming July, was opened before a large crowd to reveal documents relating to the building of the Parish House of the Congregational Church, 84 Greenwood Ave. The building, which had served as a bowling alley, a movie theatre, and a reading room, was sold to the Eureka Lodge of the Masonic Temple in 1927.
The tarnished copper box had been sealed within the Church's cornerstone marked 1912. The cornerstone has been lent to The Bethel Historical Society by Jim Carraluzzi.
No one was aware that there was a box within the cornerstone until it had been delivered to the Historical Society and the top was removed.
On Saturday morning, families and friends gathered to have their photo taken with the mysterious box, until it was carefully opened by Gary Boughton. Boughton gently tapped at the seam with a sharp edged tool and a hammer until he was able to pry the lid back.
The box opened easily to viewer's oohs and aahs, and was handed to Patricia Rist, president of the Historical Society, to reveal the contents.
With white gloves, Rist delicately removed item after item as viewers pressed forward to see the contents of the box. Psalm 84, sung by an English choir as Oh How lovely are Thy Dwellings accompanied the ceremony. The same song had been played at the setting of the cornerstone, according to Rist. The song had been found on the internet by Mark Moorash.
One by one, the items were brought forth from the box and displayed on a table. The box contained a newspaper from July 1912, it's headline declaring the imminent death of a Japanese Emperor. A 1903 Indian Head penny donated by Lowell Barlow Steele rolled out from an envelope, finally freed from one hundred years in captivity.
Also included were a list of all those who made donations towards building the Parish House, a business card for Bethel Plumbing, several lists of members who were involved in church activities and mission groups, and a Bible.
Bill Bassett gave the last key to the building to Historical Society and later said, “The Church bought the building three times. The first time when they raised the donations, the second time when it was paid for with tax payer dollars, and the third when the Temple bought the building, because they were also members of the church.”