Denfeld News

Aug. 31, 2005
Duluth News Tribune

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 it.

“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 bag.

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 in.

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 said.

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 said.

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.”

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