Stephen Riitano, a social studies teacher at the James Doughty School, and 7th grader Isaiah Shearer (right) place a time capsule into the ground in front of the school on Friday. Riitano, who found out last year that a time capsule was buried at the school in 1986, worked with students this year to dedicate their own time capsule. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Last fall, James F. Doughty Middle School social studies teacher Stephen Riitano ran across an old Bangor Daily News article from 1986 about students burying a time capsule at the school, which was then called Fifth Street Middle School.

The photo and accompanying article clearly showed the students and the teachers, and detailed what was contained in the capsule, which was supposed to be dug up in 2011 but was mostly forgotten. Students buried things like letters to themselves, a map of what they thought Bangor might look like in the future, a Rick Springfield pin and a Twix bar.

Seventh-grader Isaiah Shearer checks out where the time capsule will be buried and marked with a granite stone at the Doughty School on Friday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Riitano couldn’t wait to dig it up. There was just one problem: the article didn’t say where the time capsule was actually buried on the school campus.

Thirty-seven years later, and with nearly an entire school year’s worth of sleuthing, involving ground-penetrating radar, geospatial technology, historical research and some heavy-duty geometry, Riitano and a team of students, teachers and volunteers have finally located where the original time capsule was buried in 1986. It’ll be dug up and opened later this summer.

And, on Friday, they buried their own time capsule from this school year at Doughty, which will be dug up and opened in 2048.

“This whole process has been so fascinating,” said Riitano. “To see all these different people come together to figure all this out, and to watch the students really think about what they want to say to themselves in 25 years, has been incredibly rewarding.”

Clipping from June 11, 1986 edition of the Bangor Daily News.

The process of figuring out where the 1986 capsule was buried took months. After searching through school records, Riitano couldn’t find any indication of the exact location. Students and teachers who were present during its dedication all had hazy memories about it.

Riitano and his Doughty colleague, music teacher Judi Michalik, turned to technology to try to figure it out. Michalik, an avid photographer, colorized photos of the school from that era that were published in the BDN, hoping to reveal more information about where the photo was taken.

“It became clear that where we thought it might have been buried was not right, because of where various cars and trees were in the photo,” she said. “I posted that photo on Facebook, and that’s when Kendra got involved.”

Kendra Bird, who attended Doughty and studied geospatial engineering at the University of Maine, took the photos and used GIS to triangulate the approximate location of where the capsule was buried. Once that was figured out, Centerline Utilities, a New England contractor that does underground locating for utilities, brought in ground-penetrating radar to scan that area for vacant spots underground.

Guests watch as a time capsule is buried in front of the Doughty School on Friday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

This spring, they confirmed that the capsule is buried underneath what are now athletic fields for both Doughty and nearby Vine Street School — facilities that were not yet built in 1986 — near an embankment that leads down to Doughty.

“The fields were built in 1991, which is only five years after the capsule was buried. Even just a few years later, people had already forgotten about it,” Riitano said.

The new, 2023 time capsule is buried directly in front of the James F. Doughty Middle School sign, with an accompanying granite marker. Clearly labeled keys for the capsule are now placed inside the Doughty trophy case, and at the dedication ceremony on Friday, nearly the entire school was there to witness the occasion.

“Nobody is going to forget this time. We’re definitely making sure of that,” Michalik said. “And this project has taught the kids about so many things, from all the technology we used to solve the mystery, to the history of the era. It’s worked on a lot of levels.”

The 1986 time capsule will be dug up and opened at the end of the summer, ahead of the start of the 2023-2024 school year, with local contractor Paul Strout volunteering to do the excavation. Riitano said anyone who was a student at what was then Fifth Street School in 1986 is invited to attend the capsule opening event, a date for which will be announced soon.

Mike Wood, a Bangor resident who was in the photo published in the BDN in 1986, was present at the dedication ceremony on Friday, with his grandson, Raiden, who is a student at Doughty.

The marker that will be placed over the time capsule at the James Doughty School. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

“I’m just really glad Mr. Riitano posted about this on Facebook, because I always remembered the time capsule and always wondered what happened to it,” Wood said. “I am really excited to see what’s inside it and I think a lot of other people will be too.”

Doughty students have been working on their 2023 time capsule for the past few months. Inside the waterproof lockbox, students placed items including personal essays, pop cultural memorabilia, a laptop meant to show what school technology was like in 2023, COVID-19 tests and face masks, a yearbook, a copy of the June 9, 2023, Bangor Daily News, and a video featuring interviews with students.

“And we had to put a Twinkie in, just to see if it’s true that they last forever,” said Riitano.

Hayden Villareal, a student who worked on the time capsule project, said that after learning about what life was like in 1986, he has concluded that while the stuff around people changes, people themselves don’t actually change that much. Being a middle-schooler in 1986 is not really very different from being a middle-schooler in 2023.

“Technology changes a lot, but I think people are pretty much the same,” Villareal said. “I mean, back in 1986, people loved boy bands, and there are still boy bands now. So yeah, things don’t change as much as you think they do.”

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.