Jar buried as part of school project 80 years ago found 40 years ago… still intact today

When Marian (Schroeder) Pagel, of Marshall, was in country school back in 1938, she and her classmates wrote their names on a piece of paper and put it in a jar. They buried the jar near the school. Forty years later, Marian’s son, Byron, was cultivating on the land when he found the jar. He noticed his mom’s name on it and gave it to her. Marian has had the jar since 1978 (40 more years). The jar has never been opened. Photo by Scott Thoma

It was 40 years ago this month that Byron Pagel, then 21 years old, was cultivating soybeans west of Marshall and noticed the sun shimmering off an item on top of the field.

He proceeded to stop the tractor and hop off to make a closer inspection of the item. What Byron discovered was an old Kerr jar used for canning. The metal lid was still affixed to the jar, although it was rusty and weathered from the elements. Inside the jar contained a single piece of paper with some writing scrawled on it.

There were five names listed on the paper written in cursive. To his surprise, one of the names was that of his mother, Marian, written in her maiden name as Marian Schroeder.

“He brought the jar home and said ‘Look what I found,’” recalled Marian Pagel. “I knew right away what it was. The paper was a little damp, but you could still easily read the names on it.”

That was 1978 and it was the first time Marian, now 87, had seen the jar in 40 years.

“It sure brought back a lot of memories,” she said about the now 80-year-old jar. “I was 7 years old and in the first-grade when we put those names in that jar.”

That jar, and seven others just like it, were buried in 1938 by classes attending the old District 9 country school that once stood on the current Pagel farm property southwest of their home along Highway 19.

“County Agent F.J. Meade, of Marshall, came to the school to plant eight trees for Arbor Day _ one for each grade attending the country school,” said Marian. “We had kids from first-grade to eighth-grade going to school there.”

The teacher, Inez Hoiland, assisted the various classes in preparing the low-scale “time capsules” for preservation before putting them in the ground.

“We painted the inside of the lid red to seal it to the jar and that likely kept it from rusting away,” Marian noted. “The kids dugs the holes for the trees and placed the jars at the bottom of the hole. And then (Meade) planted the trees on top of the jars. We really didn’t know if anyone would ever find the jars.”

The names written on the paper are Jimmy Londgren, Marian Schroeder, Elaine Swanson, Lois Phenix and Cyrill DeSmet.

After the jar from Marian’s class was found, she contacted her former first-grade classmates. Four of the five (Londgren was unable to be present) gathered in Marshall, along with their teacher, for a photo opportunity.

Currently, Pagel knows two of the four on the list — DeSmet and Swanson (whose married name is Glasser) – have since passed away, but is unsure about the whereabouts of Londgren and (Phenix) Gafner.

The country school closed in 1944, and Marian then attended school in Marshall before graduating in 1948.

The school was eventually purchased by Marian’s father, Henry Schroeder, and moved to one of the farm sites he owned, which was just east of Marian and her husband Duane’s current country home.

The schoolhouse was then used as the living quarters for a farmhand for a number of years before it was eventually torn down.

Four years after the school closed, the trees surrounding it were removed about four years after that so the land could be used for farming. This particular jar, the only one of the eight found, withstood the test of time for four decades before it was found.

“That land has been plowed many times (approximately from 1948-78) and yet the jar never broke,” Duane noted. “It’s pretty amazing. They didn’t used to cultivate as deep back then as they do now. Now that we cultivate deeper, I doubt if any of the other jars ever survived.”

Ironically, the one jar that rose to the surface unbroken and found by Marian’s son just happened to be the one that her class of five had placed under a small sapling 80 years before.

The names, written in pencil, are clearly legible without opening the lid to the jar, which Marian refuses to do.

The jar includes the names of students in the class of 1938. Marian’s signature is second on the piece of paper. Photo by Scott Thoma

“I was showing the jar to someone, and they started to take the lid off, and I had to quickly yell ‘Nooooooo,’” she laughed as she thought about that day. “I have never opened it because I’m afraid (that the paper might be brittle and break apart).”

The bell, which was mounted on a stand in front of the school, was taken and placed on a pole and used at a 16-room hotel and stagecoach stop just across Highway 19 from where the schoolhouse/handyman’s home had been moved to.

When the hotel burned down, Henry Schroeder took the bell and tossed it in his grove of trees on the property where he lived. That is now where Duane and Marian now live.

“We bought this home about 10 years ago, and I found the bell out in the grove,” said Duane as he proudly pointed to the weathered bell on a stand he built next to his deck.

Marian then rang the bell, and the sound reverberated throughout the country air, just as it had every morning at the old school 80 years ago.

The unopened jar now sits on a shelf in the Pagel’s basement.

“Someone told me I should donate it to a museum,” she said. “But I just don’t want to give it up. It holds a lot of memories for me.”