Aug. 31, 2005
Time in a Bottle
By Jake Weyer
Bette Peltola, 68, makes the trip from Minneapolis
to Duluth a couple of times a year, always passing Denfeld High
School and thinking of her father, who helped construct the building
80 years ago.
But she never knew a message from her dad was
inside Denfeld all those years, waiting to be found. Above the Sixth
Street entrance of the school, sealed in a hollow space with brick
and cement, stood a Bridgeman Russell Co. milk bottle. Plugged with
a wooden cork, it contained a brown piece of paper with a few sentences
on it from Eugene F. Peltola.
Bricklayers discovered the message, dated Aug.
29, 1925, Tuesday morning, 80 years and one day after Eugene placed
“He would be grinning his silly little grin,”
Bette, of Minneapolis, said of her father, who died in Minneapolis
in 1980. “He probably wouldn’t say anything, but he
would be grinning.”
The finders were repairing the Sixth Street entrance
after cracks in the walls and ceiling caused water damage. They
said it looked like the note was written on paper torn from a cement
In the note, Eugene wrote that he and his father,
Evert Peltola, built that section of the school during the summer
of 1925. He said he was a junior at Concordia College in Moorhead,
Minn., and the finders of his message could obtain his whereabouts
there. He and his father signed the note before tying a white string
around it, putting it in the bottle and sealing the space it was
Jason Skaggs, a 33-year-old bricklayer from Bennett,
Wis., found the message. He said it is not unusual for people in
his trade to leave messages in buildings, but finding writing on
a wall is more common than finding an object. Eugene’s milk
bottle was the first object Skaggs has found.
He said he has left messages in buildings himself,
sometimes in plastic snuff containers. Skaggs said he left a note
in Bryant Elementary School in Superior.
“We usually just write jokes or put a buddy’s
name on it so when a building falls apart, we don’t get slammed
for it,” Skaggs said.
Discovering the bottle so close to the day it
was put in the school made it an interesting find, he said.
“If I would have found it yesterday, 80
years to the day, that would have been kind of weird,” Skaggs
He and his fellow workers were considering putting
a new time capsule in the same place before sealing the school back
up, but they aren’t sure what they would leave. Skaggs thought
an old coin might be a good idea.
“If you’re going to leave something
for somebody 80 years later, you might as well make it worth some
money,” he said.
Joe Vukelich, a Denfeld economics and government
teacher, said the school building, which opened Sept. 8, 1926, has
many secrets waiting to be discovered. Much of the school’s
architecture has a deeper meaning that was not made clear when it
was built, and secrets are being unlocked all the time, he said.
Old news articles indicate that Denfeld has another
time capsule located near 44th Avenue West and Sixth Street. Students
can learn much from the discovery of objects such as Eugene’s
message, he said.
“Most Denfeld students and alumni realize
they are part of something larger than themselves,” Vukelich
Ed Crawford, principal at Denfeld, said the message
and bottle will be displayed at the school. Crawford was involved
in creating a time capsule at Central High School when he was a
student there in 1971. He said Eugene’s time capsule provides
students and the community with a connection to Denfeld’s
past that is sometimes forgotten.
“Sometimes we live in the here and now and
don’t always consider there was life at Denfeld High School
back then,” he said.
Back then, Eugene lived in Middle River, Minn.,
and was a junior at Concordia College, learning to be a teacher,
according to Concordia’s archives. He graduated in 1927 and
became a chemistry teacher at Rugby High School in Rugby, N.D. He
was also coach of all the school’s major sports.
Bette said her dad, who had his pilot’s
license, walked the wings of flying airplanes for fun, until his
wife made him stop when they were married in 1933.
Eugene taught at school’s in Minnesota and
was superintendent of Finlayson schools from 1933 to ’39.
He worked making bullets during WWII in New Brighton, and when the
war was over, he became a glass chemist at Form Motor Company in
St. Paul. He retired in the late 1960s.
When he was young, Eugene worked construction
with his father and three brothers and often left messages at construction
sites, Bette said. He told Bette he signed his name in the student
union at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but he never mentioned
what he left at Denfeld. She said her dad had a dry sense of humor.
Bette is Eugene’s only child. She hopes
to see the message he left at Denfeld for herself the next time
she is in Duluth. She said she’ll probably have a big grin
on her face when she sees it.
“I’d sure like
to see it,” she said. “I think it will make me happy.
It’s a message from the past.”