Fort Craig students, teachers, alum step back to 1986

Sammy Cheek lifts the Fort Craig time capsule out of the ground on Saturday.

Sammy Cheek lifts the Fort Craig time capsule out of the ground on Saturday.

The year was 1986 -- the year of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, of the opening of Al Capone’s secret vault by Geraldo Rivera, of “Miami Vice” fashion dictates, of the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union and of the Best Picture award for “Out of Africa.”

Closer to home, it was also the year that Fort Craig Elementary School buried a time capsule to preserve some of the school’s history as a part of the Tennessee Homecoming ‘86 celebration.

The past and present converged Saturday afternoon at the school as officials dug up the time capsule buried on the playground 25 years ago.

Current and former students and school administrators gathered around the burial site and waited in the afternoon heat as the capsule, made from sewer line components with caps on each end, was pulled out of a freshly dug hole. Principal Ramona Best directed the event along with help from retired school administrator Dave Berry, who served as principal at Fort Craig for almost 15 years, including the year the capsule was buried. Berry noted as it was being opened Saturday that “25 years passes very quickly.”

The contents were taken inside and displayed on tables in the cafeteria. Kids and adults alike crowded around to see what school treasures had been left for the future. Some teachers at the time had students draw pictures of themselves. One of those students, Andrew Raulston, who was in first grade, found the picture he had drawn. Before it was buried, the capsule had been displayed in the school’s gym, and students were allowed to sign it after it had been painted red. Raulston, who was also able to find his signature on the tube, doesn’t have any children at the school but wanted to see the capsule exhumed.

Another former student, Shaun Love, was in fifth grade. Although he doesn’t recall specifically what he put in, he remembered the excitement the event generated in the school and among students. He brought his sons, who are in third and fourth grade at the school, now know as Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning, to witness the unearthing.

“It was a pretty big moment,” he said.

The vessel contained student artwork and school work, a school annual, copies of the Fort Craig Gazette, cassette tapes of speakers who came to the school and many photos of teachers, students and activities. Photos of the hole before the capsule was buried were also included. And representing pop culture of the day, a poster featuring cops from the popular “Miami Vice” television show, was tucked inside.

Homecoming ‘86 was a huge celebration across the state, and to commemorate it locally, the school decided to bury the time capsule to be opened in 25 years, Berry said. The school also held a festival and brought in many skilled artisans and crafts people to demonstrate traditional activities such as quilting and tatting.

That 25-year mark also coincides with the Maryville city school board’s decision to close Fort Craig at the end of this school year due to budget woes.

Best said former students began calling in, curious about the capsule and what would be done with it.

“We thought a lot about what to do,” Best said. “We wanted our current students to know about it and be involved in it, and we wanted the community to be involved, too.”

Fort Craig has an annual festival shortly after the start of each school year, and school leaders decided to combine the events for this last year. The school building was opened for traditional games and giveaways, and in the cafeteria, several old albums of the school’s history were on display. A silent auction to support the school’s booster organization was held in the gym, and out on the playground, kids could romp around in the giant inflatables. Debbie Walker, the school’s music teacher, wrote a special song for the occasion, which students sang for those assembled.

Best said some of the capsule’s contents will be displayed at the Blount County Public Library sometime during the year. If former students would like to retrieve items they buried, they can contact the school. The school community could decide to rebury the capsule with some things from 1986 as well as new pieces, she said.

“I’m really glad we got the opportunity to open it,” said Best, who will become the principal of Coulter Grove Intermediate School when the school opens next year. “It (Fort Craig’s closing) is bittersweet, but we’re going to celebrate. In life, you have to figure out how to make lemonade, and that’s what we’re going to do, make lemonade.”

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