Mark Hayward's City Matters: 50 years later, a constant ringing
History comes in such neat packages.
It gives us stories with nice, tidy endings. Columbus discovers America. United States wins the war. The country elects Kennedy president.
No unknowns, like in science. There is no mysterious Higgs boson in Gen. John Stark’s decisive role in the Battle of Bennington, no missing link to the three-day battle of Gettysburg.
But Joe Labbe, a Manchester guy who describes himself as an amateur historian, has discovered a historical unknown, and it irks him. His mystery of history is a 50-year-old class ring from Manchester Central High School.
Labbe said he found it about 10 years ago. It lay just off a path beside his former home on Falls Avenue in the Hollow section of the center city. The path was a shortcut that everybody in a nearby tenement used to get to the neighborhood convenience store, he said.
Labbe said he did what he could to find the owner. He knocked on neighborhood doors. He posted it on Craigslist’s lost and found. He studied the 1964 Central yearbook, but no name matched the initials engraved in the ring — GP.
Labbe threw the ring in a drawer and forgot about it until his girlfriend recently found it, rekindling his effort.
“It’s kind of sad, because to me that represents someone’s accomplishments,” Labbe said. “Somebody wore this with pride back in 1964.”
Manchester Central HS, reads the ring, which appears to be a man’s size. The year — 1964 — is stamped on the sides, along with all the vaulted virtues of Wisdom, Honor, Truth and Loyalty. The inside gives the name of the maker, Balfour, and the gold content, 10 karat.
One thing that history has is an affinity for numbers, especially anniversaries. This being the 50th anniversary year for the Class of 1964, Labbe hopes the class reunion will reunite ring and owner. Nancy-Ann Feren, one of the organizers of the reunion, is open to that idea.
“I don’t think most people got a ring,” Feren said. The reunion is scheduled for the weekend of June 21-22.
Feren didn’t get a ring, nor did her high school sweetheart, whom she ended up marrying. “Obviously, it wasn’t a big deal for the group we were in,” she said.
The graduating class of about 325 was small; it was the first to graduate without south Manchester students, who had attended a brand new Memorial High School. President Kennedy was assassinated just a couple months into their senior year, but still, it was a time of promise.
Feren and her class were the children of the American Century. Their parents survived the Great Depression and won World War II. Feren listened to the radio broadcast of Alan Shepard’s space shot in study hall.
Vietnam, Richard Nixon, the drug culture — all that awaited them in their college and early work years.
Labbe noted the ring doesn’t show a lot of wear. Perhaps it was in a jewelry box. Had it been quickly stolen and then tossed? If so, he found no other jewelry nearby.
Perhaps it fell out of someone’s pocket as the person was pulling a wallet, Labbe said. Or maybe a woman held the forsaken keepsake, discarded after she long ago got over the carefree senior who wooed her.
Ben Baroody, a Manchester real estate agent and former state rep, graduated from Central in 1964. He had a good part-time job in high school, and he bought a ring (he thinks he paid $100 for it). He tried his ring on about 10 years ago, wore it around and then lost it.
Could this be his? No, he’s sure he just misplaced it. “I just don’t know where it is.”
But could it have slipped off his ring finger? No, it only fit on his pinky finger. Could it have slipped off that? No, it was tight even on the pinky, he said.
Baroody’s $100 estimate is a little high. David Fineblit, the owner of Pearson’s Jewelers, said a 10-karat class ring probably sold for $40 in 1964. Today, the same ring today would cost about $600, and many class rings are now made with silver or other less-expensive metals.
The “stone” on the ring is likely fake-emerald glass. The “melt value” of the ring is about $250, Fineblit said. That happens? Often, he said. The child of a deceased graduate brings in the ring. It means nothing to the person, who wants cash.
“We’ve melted a lot of them over the years,” he said.
That’s why Labbe, who calls history his avocation, wants to find the owner. Feren estimates that 32 graduates have already died, another 50 can’t be found.
“Time,” Labbe said, “is running out.”
Mark Hayward’s City Matters runs Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.