Editor's note: According to a post on Greater Clark County Schools' Facebook page, Martha Ina Ingham, the owner of the purse, has been found.
JEFFERSONVILLE — Demolition of part of the former Jeffersonville High School building downtown has unearthed a sort of time capsule of mid-1950's history, and Greater Clark County Schools leaders are searching for its owner.
Demolition began last week at the Franklin Court building, which at one point served as the high school's science classrooms and cafeteria; the school relocated to Allison Lane in the early 1970s. Razing the structure is part of a project that will bring a new downtown elementary school to the site by the 2020 school year.
Prior to demolition, workers from HCL Construction, contracted by project lead CORE Construction, were removing cabinets from one of the classrooms when they found a small black handbag they believe belonged to a student who attended the school in 1954. Identification cards within link the bag to Martha Ina Ingham, who was a senior in 1955, and GCCS has put a call out on Facebook to locate her or family members.
"We don't know if Ms. Ingham knew she lost it there, we don't know any of the specifics," said GCCS Projects and Safety Supervisor Chad Schenck. "Some of the items that were inside led us to believe that it was 1954 and it was a student that was probably 16, 17."
The black stitched purse contains a wallet with ID and Social Security card, photos, newspaper clippings dated 1954, lipstick, mirror, basketball schedule, Juicy Fruit gum wrappers and other items.
"It is fully intact," Erin Bojorquez, GCCS public information officer, said. "There's even a letter in there where someone asked her to prom. It is really neat."
Kevin Moran and Mike Hobbs with HCL found the bag while pulling out the old cabinets from one of the science classrooms on the upper floor, which shared a wall with a set of lockers. Behind the first few cabinets, they found things like decades-old Oreo wrappers, and late 1800's instructions for fixing one of the door locks.
"Then we noticed there was this little black bag laying on the ground just covered in dust," Moran said. He said they first thought the bag was for binoculars, and were shocked to find this woman's purse from nearly 70 years ago.
"We didn't know if somebody had stolen it and gotten rid of it; there's no telling what the back story is," he said. "We couldn't figure out how it even got back there, unless it slipped in behind the lockers or something. You could tell it had been there a long time, that's for sure."
Because its location was dry and away from light, it hadn't been damaged by the elements.
"We find bottles and every once in a while an oil can, but usually that stuff is so old that it's either dry rotted or [otherwise] messed up," he said. "But this was in the dark for no telling how many years.
"It was really cool — it was definitely the coolest thing that we've come across."
Schenck said the company has been great to work with; they've so far saved 1,500 of the original bricks and some limestone from the facade, which the school system may incorporate into the new school or auction off for a fundraiser.
"They've been doing a great job on site, very attentive, very safe," Schenck said.
He added that it was really neat to see what this Jeffersonville High School student had carried with her in the middle of the century, what was important to her. Her senior yearbook photo in 1955 shows that Ingham was on student council, pep club, Hyphen staff, Tri-Hi-Y and Psi Chi clubs.
"I think it's fantastic — it's an opportunity to take a look at 1954," he said. "You could see just in some of the things in the handbag, just how much pride she took in being a student at Jeff High. I think that's really a neat story in and of itself."
Bojorquez said she thinks it brings history full circle.
"To see this, it just brings back all the history and I think it reiterates the point as to why we feel it's important to have a presence downtown again," she said. "That's where the high school used to be and now we'll have that footprint with the elementary school."