While renovating a historic school building in Texas, contractors stumbled upon a time capsule of sorts: a 63-year-old purse that once belonged to a teenage girl.
While tearing out some floorboards inside a 30,000-square-foot former elementary and junior high school last summer, crews found a light pink plastic clutch full of notes, a handkerchief, a nail file, pencils, photos, a mini diary and a calendar dating back to April 1959.
Contractors were working to convert the longstanding school building—built in 1938 some 26 miles southeast of Houston in League City—into a new community center. They found the purse hidden beneath the school’s former stage.
"A little purse stands out amongst the dirt,” says contractor Armando Rodriguez to KHOU’s Matt Dougherty. “So, I saw that and we opened it up. We were like, 'Wow, there's some pictures.' So that's when I thought I'd better turn this into somebody.”
The clutch was in relatively good shape considering its age, though a rodent appeared to have chewed holes in the bottom. The items inside told the story of an American teenage girl growing up in the 1950s—there were scribbles about the boys she liked, as well as the dances she attended. One note said: ‘Please let my daughter Beverly Williams ride the bus home,’ signed Mrs. Frank Williams. There were photos of her father, sisters and boy crushes in the bag, too.
“It was like we were living through somebody’s social media page of today,” says Sarah Osborne, director of communications and community engagement for League City, to the Houston Chronicle’s Shaniece Holmes-Brown.
From the notes, staffers with the Clear Creek Independent School District were able to identify the purse’s original owner, Beverly Williams.
But from there, the mystery only deepened.
School district officials scoured old yearbooks and checked other records in hopes of learning more about Beverly Williams. Still, they couldn’t find a student by that name.
Eventually, they realized Beverly was the teen’s middle name—her first name was Andrea. After that revelation, they partnered up with the League City Historical Society to search for Williams.
Unfortunately, Williams died in 2016, but historians learned she had nine children and that her husband was still alive. They asked local TV stations to air stories about the purse in hopes that one of Williams’ relatives would see it and get in touch.On October 5—two days before what would’ve been Williams’ 77th birthday—they finally made contact with her daughter, Deborah Hicks. She was understandably moved by the discovery, which offered a unique window into her mother’s life as a teenager. Born in 1945 in Harris County, Texas, Andrea Beverly Williams was the youngest of four sisters. She would’ve been around 13 or 14 years old at the time she misplaced the purse.
Hicks, along with her sisters Andrea Sanchez and Rhonda Dohr, got to see their mother’s purse and belongings at the new community center last week. They’re now in possession of the purse, but are allowing the city to keep the historic artifacts on display at the new community center.
“It was great to see how outgoing she was as a teen,” Hicks tells CNN’s Sara Smart. “She went to dances, had a lot of friends.... It was funny to see how she was at 13 was how she would be later in life with nine children.”