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SHIRLEY -- The Mystical Maze Playground turned 25 this year, and the Shirley Historical Society hosted a celebration to mark the occasion.

It began with a brief ceremony at the playground. Located at the Benjamin Hill Recreation Area, which also boasts an Olympic-size swimming pool, festivities continued in the pool house. SHS curator Meredith Marcincewicz presented a slide show of vintage photos and paged through a timeline that chronicled the project from its inspirational beginnings to fundraisers to the big build in the spring of 1989.

Building the playground took about a week. It was a community effort that involved a coalition of volunteer labor, including the Army Corps of Engineers from nearby Fort Devens, inmate work crews from MCI Shirley and many town families.

Dozens turned out for the anniversary event on Friday evening, July 11, many with potluck dinner contributions, some with stories to share.

The excitement of building a playground might be too elusive for a photo to capture, but it lives in the memories of those who were part of it, and Mystical Maze stands as testimony.

The fact that it does -- in usable condition -- is in no small measure due to the diligence and dedication of the Benjamin Hill Park Commission, which operates the popular swimming pool as a self-sustaining business at no cost to taxpayers and maintains the entire recreation area, including the playground.

Time Capsule

As part of the 25th anniversary program, members of the playground building crew unearthed a time capsule buried there a quarter of a century ago.


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It contained pages from The Public Spirit and Boston Globe newspapers, Mystical Maze T-shirts, hats, banners, posters, fundraiser fliers, kids' drawings and other items.

Asked if another capsule would be planted with new artifacts, BHPC member Andy Deveau said no, that ship had sailed. Another member, John Rounds, posited that a new playground would likely have replaced this one 25 years from now.

"That will be up to the community," said Rounds, who described recent work he'd done to help keep it up.

Perched high atop Benjamin Hill, the wooden playground equipment has had its share of repairs over that time and its pressure-treated yellow pine framework has turned dark brown.

But the sprawling structure still looks like a rustic fairy tale castle after all these years, with turrets, bridges, slides and a series of playful promontories and sheltered coves kids can climb into, tumble over or crawl through. There are swings, too. And plenty of sand.

Snapshot of Success

It took a lot of practical magic to make the Mystical Maze Playground a reality.

The brainchild of resident Heidi Conley, who directed the Lura A. White School lunch program back then, Shirley's Mystical Maze was one of many Bob Leathers playgrounds being built in the area at the time.

"Everybody else had one," Conley reasoned, so she set to work, stirring up community interest and getting teachers, kids and parents involved.

Fifth-grade teacher Sally Carlson, for example, headed up "the kids' committee," which took on age-appropriate tasks such as making posters for fundraising events.

A contest was held to name the playground. The winner was Leah Solivan.

For Conley, step one was securing a seat on the Recreation Commission to push her agenda, she said.

The rest is history.

The following list of local businesses that donated materials, equipment and time to the cause was compiled by the SHS. Some no longer exist, Marcincewicz said.

Some of the Donors

10 o'clock Club, 39th Engineers of Fort Devens, Altrurian Club, Airport Diner, Anita's Donuts, Archie's Pizza, Ayer Meat Market, Ayer Rotary, Back-a-House, Bemis Company, Boucher Construction, Bowers Construction, Bull Run Restaurant, Demoulas, Dunkin' Donuts, Carlson's Orchards, Chandler Machine Company, Coke, Country Kitchen, Fire House Company #1, Flagg Tree Service, Flat Hill Orchards, Friot Corp., Front St. Market, Global Canteen, Golden Agers, Groton Electric, Heartland, Heinz Ketchup, Herfco, Holman Canteen, Keatings, LaSita, Len Art, Lions Club, Nancy Holmes Association, Mass Electric Company, MacDonald's, Martin Distributors, MCI Shirley, Mr. Tom's, Nashoba Restaurant, New England Business, New England Telephone, Nissen, Oddfellows, Parthenon, Pepsi, Piccolino Club, Roma Bakery, Rhino Construction, Routhier Trucking, Shirley Business Association, Shirley Cooperative Bank, Shirley Club, Shirley Grange, Shirley Veterans, Smalley Chevrolet, St. Anthony's Church, Sullivan Orchard, Telephone Pioneers of America, Trinity Chapel, United Church of Shirley, USA Rental Center of Ayer, Veryfine, Victory Market, Village Coffee Shop, Wachusett Potato Chips, Wendy's.