SHERIDAN — Kicking back with the Thursday edition of the paper in hand, the front page story “The Corner Stone Laid” tells of a “clear, bright and balmy day” in which a time capsule is sealed behind “a beautiful piece of Wyoming marble taken from the Stocks quarry near Big Horn.”
The ceremony, in honor of Sheridan’s new school, was executed by the Sheridan Lodge No. 8 of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Wyoming.
Although this particular article comes from a copy of The Sheridan Post printed May 28, 1891, this story is set to repeat itself soon as the AF&AM of Wyoming will oversee the dedication of the cornerstone for the new Henry A. Coffeen Elementary School on Aug. 9.
Cornerstone ceremonies have been performed by the Masons across the nation for generations, with George Washington — Grand Master of his masonic lodge — even performing a similar ceremony for the dedication of the nation’s U.S. Capitol building.
The dedication of Sheridan’s first brick school building in 1891 was not only of particular importance at its time, featuring an elaborate ceremony complete with a parade and midnight ball, but is also significant today due to its key players and pieces.
Henry A. Coffeen was a member of Lodge 8 and served as Deputy Grand Master during the dedication of the school.
Along with lists of significant names and other documents, he and the other Masons sealed two pieces of wood in a time capsule that survived a journey only to one day be discovered on a back shelf of Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library.
Now, the new Henry A. Coffeen Elementary School will feature its own cornerstone-concealed capsule housing copies of all of those old documents and pieces of the wood, along with new additions.
The wood includes one piece of the war ship USS Constitution, which was sunk during the Revolutionary War, and a piece of the apple tree at Appomattox Court House, the site where General Robert E. Lee and Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant met to negotiate the terms of surrender during the Civil War.
Along with pieces of each of those, a piece of wood from Fort Phil Kearny has been added to the new capsule, so a piece of local history can be present.
On Aug. 9 history will repeat itself as the ceremony commences at 3 p.m. in the auditorium of the new school on South Sheridan Avenue.
Sandy Baird is secretary of Lodge No. 8 and was instrumental in the creation of the upcoming ceremony and he took time recently to explain some of the items going in the capsule and some of the words engraved on the cornerstone.
Baird said traditionally a cornerstone features very basic information on the Masons and there is a second stone dedicated to the owner of the building, but that will not be the case for the Coffeen stone.
SCSD2 Board of Trustees member Scott Hininger and Jimmy Jon Dunlap on behalf of the Masons worked together and agreed to one shared stone which features an image of Henry A. Coffeen as well as some language special to the Masons.
“Anno Lucis” is engraved in the stone and means “Year of Light” which Baird says he believes refers to the beginning of time.
Though the AF&AM date back several centuries, much of their history and tradition is unknown as they have only been open about their fraternity since the 18th century and recorded documents from their earlier days are scarce.
The oldest known reference to the Masons is in a poem written in the 1390s, but Baird said while the research he has done is somewhat unclear, it appears the Masonic calendar set to the year of light dates back to the 14th century.
Behind the stone, one large copper box will be hermetically sealed with two smaller copper boxes inside.
One box will be filled by the school district with the help of Judy Slack from the Wyoming Room at the library, and the Masons will fill the other.
Baird said the box will be sealed after the ceremony so notes from the event may be added to the capsule.
The original capsule contained a copy of the front page newspaper story covering the event and the new capsule will contain a copy of The Sheridan Press, along with copies of The Press publications “Destination Sheridan” and other publications such as books on Henry Coffeen and on Sheridan County history to give the capsule a sense of time and place.
All of the contents will be discussed by Coffeen Elementary Principal Nikki Trahan during the formal ceremony also set to feature Master of Ceremonies Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan; a historical briefing by Tyson Emborg; and the dedication of the stone by Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Wyoming William D. Townsend, III.
The ceremony is open to all members of the community and the organizers look forward to sharing not only the tradition of the fanfare but also the history behind it, the capsule, the school and the man for which it was named.
SCSD2 Director of Elementary Education Scott Stults said the event is significant because, “It’s been said history can disappear very quickly if we don’t choose to continue to help educate our youth.”