Outside of the school in Crystal Springs in The Water Castle sits an old space capsule, donated by an alumnus who was an astronaut. A key confrontation takes place inside of the capsule (without spoiling too much, it is when the three kids still somewhat antagonistically agree to work together.)
Why a space capsule? Well, the book takes on the idea of exploration and what it means to really find something. Also, there is a fair amount of exposition in that scene, and I find that exposition does better in a great setting. But the real reason I put that space capsule in is that there was one outside of my high school.
The space capsule outside of Oyster River High School was an Apollo boilerplate space capsule. These were used for practicing retrieving the capsules from the ocean. The story goes that this space capsule was acquired by Eleanor Milliken, a science teacher who found it in the dump at the nearby PEASE Air Force Base and had it brought to the school. She also had an planetarium built at the school, which allowed me to believe that a school could have a Van de Graaf generator in it. 1
The space capsule was always just there as I was growing up. Sometimes my older brother would have soccer games at the fields by the school, and the younger siblings would play around. I have a very clear memory of being inside of the capsule, and it is much as I described in the book: metal painted blue. I wondered if this was a false memory, a mix of hopes and imagination. A former science teacher at the school assures me that going into the capsule may have been possible at one point, but eventually it was filled with cement, most likely for liability reasons.
Sometime toward the end of my high school years, the capsule was removed to make space for dumpsters, thereby allowing more room for parking. Mrs. Milliken was gone by then, and I suppose there was no one to fight for it. It was just there one day and gone the next. No one really knows where, though perhaps to a traveling museum.
I’d be interested to hear other memories of the space capsule. If you’re an alum of the school, or just from the area, and happen to stumble upon this blog post, please do comment.