It could be mistaken for a homegrown Nancy Drew mystery.
The case of the missing time capsule at Women & Children's Hospital, which grew from 12 beds in a converted home to a maze of seven interconnected buildings over 125 years, remains unsolved.
But a glimmer of hope is on the horizon after Carl L. Bucki, chief U.S. Bankruptcy Court justice for New York's Western District, put his sleuthing skills to work.
Bucki was determined to crack the case after reading an article in The Buffalo News last week about the two-year search for the missing time capsule at the Bryant Street hospital, which closed Nov. 10 as Kaleida Health opened the new John R. Oishei Children's Hospital on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Bucki, who loves local history and has written 333 columns mostly on Polish history for the Am-Pol Eagle, has a routine he follows religiously every Thursday evening. He heads to the downtown library at Lafayette Square to read old local newspapers, taking copious notes in journals. Last week was no different.
It took him just 20 minutes of poring over microfilm in the library to find a July 30, 1954, Buffalo Evening News article as well as a morning Courier Express story about a "shining copper box" inserted in a large 1954 cornerstone cemented in place and dedicated for a $4.5 million hospital wing. The expansion, planned for completion in December 1955, was expected to nearly double the capacity of the hospital and provide new diagnostic and research laboratories. The cornerstone was placed on the southeast corner of the building facing Bryant Street, the articles noted.
"I got lucky here. It was my library night, and it was the first thing I looked up," Bucki said in an interview Monday. "I said to myself, 'If there is a time capsule, it's probably related to a significant event.'"
"I was excited when I found it. I thought this would be something of help to the community," said Bucki, a former president of the Buffalo History Museum's board of managers.
The copper box sealed within the cornerstone included a varied assortment of mementos, according to the news articles. Among the items were a copy of the newspaper story about the first hospital patient, the names of about 600 hospital employees, the hospital's fiscal report for the previous year, the board of managers' bylaws and copies of the day's newspapers. Then-hospital board President Mrs. Edward G. Zeller placed a trowel full of mortar over the stone and a prayer of consecration was offered. Two young orthopedic patients, Douglas O'Neil, 10, of Buffalo and Sharon Wass, 6, of Lockport, assisted Zeller.
"I have a picture of the old photo when I was standing there with the girl," recalled O'Neil on Tuesday when contacted by The News. "I remember seeing the box and they put it in concrete in a corner. And then they enclosed it in cement."
O'Neil, who now lives in Hamburg. expressed dismay that the time capsule has not been found.
"What a shame they cannot find it," he said. "I can't wait to tell my children and grandchildren about it."
O'Neil was in a wheelchair at the dedication after having an operation on his left leg, which he'd broken. He said he frequently was a patient at Children's Hospital either due to polio in his left leg from the time he was 4 months old or due to other operations.
Women & Children's Hospital officials believe at least one capsule, or possibly more, must have been buried at the facility over the years since new buildings or major additions were built in at least eight separate projects. Hospital employees have spent two years searching through old records looking for clues.
When a reporter contacted Kaleida Health, Kaleida Spokesman Michael P. Hughes was cautiously hopeful that Bucki's discovery might lead to recovery of a capsule.
On Tuesday, Hughes swung by the old hospital campus, which has been purchased by developers Sinatra & Co. and Ellicott Development, to see what he could find. He said he walked by the buildings facing Bryant Street, but did not spot any cornerstones. He speculated it could be hidden by the building referred to in the 1954 newspaper articles or perhaps another building was later built on the same site.
William Paladino, who co-owns Ellicott Development, said the development team does not yet have documents of the old campus that could lead to clues about the whereabouts of the time capsule. "As we continue to gather information, we'll continue to look for it," he said.
Bucki hopes the newspapers clippings he found help. "It is a huge stone, from the picture," he said.
But beyond solving the mystery, Bucki said his bigger takeaway is the history lesson surrounding the shining copper box.
"I don't really care if they open it up because we know what's in it," said Bucki, 64. "That people were concerned about children and named all 600 employees. That impressed me. The fact that everyone was considered important. I thought that that was the lesson to learn, more so than just finding it."