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NEWS RELEASE

For Immediate Release For More Information Contact:
July 27, 2000 Diane Brown, (317) 274-7711
  habrown@iupui.edu


ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDENTS DIG UP COLLECTORS PRIZE: PROJECT DRAWS INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION

INDIANAPOLIS - Indianapolis University-Purdue University Indianapolis Archaeological Field School students digging up a vacant lot near the campus this summer unearthed a vintage toy coin identified as a give-away in the most popular Cracker Jack treasure hunt ever.

The vacant lot, located in what is called the Ransom Place Historic District, is the site of what was from 1920 to 1960 a small, corner grocery store in a thriving, predominantly African-American community.

Under the supervision of the School of Liberal Arts Assistant Professor Paul Mullins, field school students at IUPUI excavated 9,000 to 10,000 artifacts from several excavation units at the site.

The coin discovery catapulted the anthropology class project into the national spotlight among Cracker Jack prize collectors. In addition, the field school's focus on African-American history and post-1942 archaeology garnered national as well as international news coverage of the dig.

Based on the legible engraving, the well-worn aluminum coin found by the students is a 1930s Grover Cleveland "Silverine President Coin," part of a 31-piece set featuring images of the first 31 American presidents.

Jeffrey Scott Maxwell, coordinator of the Cracker Jack Collectors Association's website, posted a web story on the archaeological dig shortly after association members helped Mullins identify the coin pulled from one of the pits.

As a result, Mullins has received numerous e-mail messages from other Cracker Jack collectors across the country.

"They were surprised that archaeology reaches into the recent past. They end up seeing archaeology as more relevant to them," Mullins said. "Every good collector is an archaeologist at heart."

In an interesting twist of fate, an artifact discovered during a 1996-97 dig at 941 Camp Street unearthed an 1893 World's Fair souvenir coin. Cracker Jack first gained a popular following after its debut at that fair, which was held in Chicago.

Digging for the paper, tin or plastic prizes hidden inside a box of the molasses-coated popcorn and peanuts immortalized in the 1908 song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" has been a national pastime for over eight decades.

"Cracker Jack prizes are a social history of a century of American life that many of us today find compelling," Mullins said.

Presidential coins like the one found by the students in the field study, a program of the IU School of Liberal Arts' Anthropology Department at IUPUI, were given away in Cracker Jack boxes between 1933 and 1936, according to a collectors reference book.

Children could collect a certain number of the coins and send them to the Cracker Jack Company to become members of the Cracker Jack Mystery Club. Nearly a quarter-million children joined the club in what was the company's biggest-ever marketing campaign.

Broken medicine bottles, pieces of china and pottery; milk bottle caps, and food remains are among the thousands of other items uncovered at 800 Camp Street. During the winter semester students will clean, catalogue and research the items, hoping to learn more about the lives of those who once lived there.

Ransom Place, a six-block area bordered by 10th Street to the north, Martin Luther King Drive to the east, St. Clair to the south, and Paca to the west, was once home to a legion of African-American businesses, including the renowned Madam C. Walker's beauty supply plant.

The neighborhood, originally populated by European immigrants and white residents, became predominately African-American during the first decade of the twentieth century.

Following an Associated Press story about the dig, a BBC radio news show host interviewed Mullins by phone June 8 during a live London broadcast that featured news from Canada and the United States and included discussions on race relations.

The typical visitor to the Ransom Place dig could not, based on the artifacts recovered, determine whether the site was once inhabited by whites or by African-American families, Mullins said.

"When you come to a (dig) site, you don't see racial stereotypes. Archaeology shows very well that race is utterly constructed," Mullins said. "I see citizens here. I see Americans."

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photo of coin
Cracker Jack Collectors Association article.

 

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