By Joe Stuteville
The year 1913 was filled with history. Suffragettes were marching in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, demanding the right to vote. Also, newly elected President Woodrow Wilson tackled tariff and trade woes, the 16th Amendment was ratified empowering Congress to levy a federal income tax, Harvard’s football team went 9-0 to win the NCAA title and Henry Ford jumpstarts the first moving assembly line. That same year became most historic in the fledgling town of Beech Grove.
The Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration were leading the charge to build a hospital to serve the needy and sick. The pivotal moment in construction came on July 16 when the cornerstone was placed. Archdiocese Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Chartrand gave the blessing with community leaders in attendance. A copper container, roughly the size of a shoe box, was carefully placed into a 500-pound slab of Hoosier limestone. Then it was permanently sealed, bearing on its outside the words: “St. Francis Hospital 1913 A.D.”
Moving forward to 2019 in the administrative boardroom at Franciscan Health, president and CEO James Callaghan invited the group in attendance to travel back in time, nearly 106 years ago. Their curiosity peaked with a somewhat greenish and tarnished box on a nearby table. Sister Jane Marie Klein, chair of the Franciscan Alliance Board of Trustees, was joined by her fellow Sisters as she said, “Well, let’s see what we have in here, shall we?”
The Sisters gently removed each item one at a time, revealing artifacts that had been placed inside the box in 1913. The uncovered items included a tightly wound proclamation written in Latin, a not-so-shiny penny, a 1905 dime, a Biennial report from St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette, a prayer card bearing the title “Prayer to St. Anthony for the Things Lost or Stolen,” and other handwritten notes and petitions.
There was a remnant of a palm leaf, presumably from the previous Palm Sunday of that year plus a small intricately carved crucifix, a document written in German, and a back page of a local newspaper with ads for $3 partial dental plates, Borden’s Malted Milk, and Coca-Cola (“Drink the drink the Nation drinks!”). Page 3 of the July 17 Indianapolis Star carried a story with the headline, “Laying Stone of Beech Grove Hospital.”
It was accompanied by a photograph of Bishop Chartrand, priests and a construction worker during the cornerstone ceremony. The article also listed the price tag for the hospital whose completion was one year away.
Observed Sr. Jane Marie as she read the story’s subhead aloud: “Total cost to be $200,000.” She smiled and said, “My that sounds like quite a bargain to me when you think about the price to build a hospital these days.”
Sadly, progress ensued less than a century later and the St. Francis Hospital inpatient and other clinical operations were closed and moved to an expanded campus at Stop 11 Road and Emerson Avenue. Razing of the original hospital building began in late 2016. During demolition, the time capsule was removed and stored by Tonn and Blank Construction.
The land is grass-covered now with hopes that the land can be developed into another historic cornerstone for Beech Grove and Central Indiana. (Note: Al Stilley, editor, contributed to this article.)