Monday, October 10, 2011

4 Things I Bet You Didn't Know About Augustus

1) In 9 C.E., when Augustus was 72, he ripped his clothes and took to beating his head against a door. He refused to shave for months. Why? Because in September of that year German tribes ambushed and destroyed the three Roman legions sent to tame them. Never again would Rome attempt to permanently extend its power across the Rhine.

2) Augustus banished both his daughter Julia and his granddaughter Julia for sexual promiscuity.

3) Augustus's last words allegedly included this last question: "Have I played my part in the farce of life well enough?"

4) After Augustus died more than a few people were surprised to discover that he had posthumously adopted his wife in his will.

Pumpkin Day

Saturday was Pumpkin Day here in central Ohio - the day that we made our annual pilgrimage to our favorite local pumpkin farm and loaded up on pumpkins.

It was almost the perfect day for it - full sun, blue skies, and a temperature near 80.

The sort of day that allows us to take a deep breath and muddle through Ohio's many, MANY cold and gloomy days without losing our minds.

Judging from what we saw on the ground, it seems to have been a very good year for growing pumpkins.

Here's part of the crop that we had the honor of choosing from:

Those are so-called Cinderella Pumpkins in the foreground.

They also had a good selection of what they were calling Ghost Pumpkins:

And a few gourds, too:

The less than perfect bi-color pumpkins were discreetly displayed behind the main tents:

Pumpkins gone bad were broken up and tossed back into the field in full view of all the others:

We ended up selecting four good ones to bring home with us.

The biggest weighed more than 32 pounds.

I don't think I weighed that much until I was 5 years old.

Now I'm not sure if I should display it out front or register it for kindergarten....

Friday, October 7, 2011

Introducing Amos Jacob!

Or maybe Amos Jacobs.

Anyway, most people knew him much better as Danny Thomas.

But it was as Amos that he first made a splash as a freshman at Toledo's Woodward High School.

Here's how the 1928 yearbook summed things up:

The same yearbook reports that Amos delivered a fine performance on the stage of my own district high school at least once:

Just more proof that if you're not careful, you'll learn something new almost every day.

Or something 83 years old, anyway.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

But Wait - There's More

Or maybe I should say that there's even less.

The search for information about my long gone elementary school - a search that led to the discovery of the recent demise of my sister's high school - is a search that also led to the discovery that my mother's elementary school (Chase) is gone now, too.

The elementary school that my sister attended (Fulton) is gone now as well.

What's even more startling is that the new Chase and the new Fulton schools that were built in the 1960s have also been torn down (or are about to be). Although both were constructed decades after my own elementary, they will have outlasted it by only 5 years.

My mother's high school - Woodward - has also been shutdown and is slated for destructed (if it isn't rubble already). Woodward was where both Danny Thomas and Jamie Farr went to school. It's the school whose yearbook (Saga) first introduced me to the way we Americans ritualistically commemorate our teenage years, complete with goofy drawings and signings from our peers. It's also the school that delineated the farthest eastern reaches of my young world as seen in the aerial photo that I posted on Jan 13. Although I was never inside, I walked there once as an 8th grader in order to take part in field and track competitions with my peers from across the city. The high school building immediately to the north of the track we used intrigued me far more than the outcome of our races. Although it was a rather plain building that impressed me more with its sheer size than with its architecture, sheer size *is* something. Plus Woodward was unique in having a giant polar bear mascot in front of it. I don't know why they ever chose the polar bear to represent them, but it lent a nice surreal touch to a local mascot arena dominated by cats and bulldogs.

Alas, all of that merely begins to describe the orgy of destruction that's been going on up north in my absence.

Start High School is gone now, too, despite being younger than I am. I was inside twice - once as a participant in a junior high school volleyball tournament that was held in its oh-so-modern gymnasium and once to pick up my bus card just before entering high school myself in 1973. My first college roommate graduated from Start. There have been times that I've thought I might have been better off going there myself. It's hard to believe that a building that always struck me as ultra-modern is gone now while the Macomber building - a factory-like product of the Great Depression - has somehow managed to endure....

Gone as well now is Rogers. And Bowsher (the last high school to be built before I left town and so the one I'll forever think of as the most modern). And apparently Oregon's Clay (which our chess team adviser seems to have somehow managed to get five of us back to Toledo from despite the darkness of the night, the iciness of the roads, the well-known dangers of the Corvair he was driving way too fast, and the distraction of David Bowe's "Fame" blaring from the radio).

Sherman and McKinley and Riverside elementary schools have all also either been destroyed or are about to be. Sherman was just half-a-block off the Cherry Street bus route and one of the landmarks I came to look for during my frequent rides. My cousins went there as well as to McKinley - one of the most unusually shaped schools I've ever seen. Riverside is where we 7th and 8th graders at Cherry were sent once a week for shop and home economics classes. It seems to have had at least one "exterior" window on the "wrong" side of the hallway, providing me with an unexpected view of another room....

According to one news source I found, some 20 public school buildings in Toledo have been torn down in the last 10 years. Most of them seem to have been torn down in just the last five, victims of the awful economy, budget crises, population decline, and - I suspect - the Republican war on public education. Although some of the buildings I've mentioned have been replaced by newer structures on or near the same sites, these mostly single story econo-boxes by and large don't have even half the aesthetic appeal of their predecessors. (One of the teachers at the new Woodward admitted as much in one story I found.)

I understand the need for change. I realize that nothing lasts forever. But when the changes that occur seem to be regressive rather than progressive, one more small part of me dies inside.

How many small parts of us can die before we end up feeling more dead than alive?

Remarkably, it seems that there have been few if any objections to all this destruction - with the exception of Libby High School. Former students and others have been working hard to save the building since it graduated its last class in 2010. You can learn more about those efforts here and here. Demolition is apparently scheduled to start by Dec 28 despite all their attempts to stop it.

As it happens, Libbey is one of the few Toledo public high schools that I never laid eyes on. It was in a part of town I almost never entered. The one friend I had who lived in the Libbey district seems to have never had anything good to say about it. Wikipedia's entry on Libbey asserts that it was always the "unwanted stepchild" of the Toledo Public School system and there's nothing in my memory that would challenge that. One online poll that I found indicated that 76% of respondents didn't think Libbey was worth saving.

Despite all this, I hope they're able to save it.

Schools are iconic structures. Their imposing presence often dominates and characterizes an entire area or neighborhood. They bring people together as no other institution in our society can or does. Schools that stand for decades provide a bridge between generations. The memories they generate not only give heft and enlightenment to our own lives, they interweave with the memories of others and help provide some of the invisible threads that tie a society together. We dispose of them at our peril. Societies that replace them willy-nilly with ugly, interchangeable "boxes for learning" seem to me to be societies on the verge of a rapid decline.

Unless of course such changes are merely the latest symptoms of a society that's already been in decline for years....

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Where I'll Never Go Again

Of course there are many places I'll never go again but the one I most recently became aware of is Toledo's old Whitney High School.

While trying to find an online picture of my elementary school yesterday, I inadvertently discovered that Whitney had been torn down earlier this year.

The Blade newspaper seems to have first published a story about the pending demolition on January 4.

A few photos of the demolition can be found here (at least until The Powers That Be decide to get rid of them, too).

Wikipedia provides this helpful bit of background information:"Harriet Whitney High School was a girls vocational public high school in Toledo, Ohio from 1939 to June 1991. It served the entire city and was part of the Toledo Public School District. In 1959 the school became joint-operational with Macomber High School, an all-boys vocational school located next door, and the two buildings came to be known as Macomber-Whitney. Despite the fact that they shared an urban campus and some operational efficiencies, the two schools were completely separate in faculties, enrollments, and curriculum until the 1973-1974 school year.... Due to a declining enrollment and low finances, Macomber and Whitney were closed along with DeVilbiss High School by TPS at the end of the 1990-1991 school year. After holding various adult education classes beyond its use as a traditional high school building, Whitney will be prepped for demolition as soon as 2011 by Toledo Public Schools."

Apparently problems with heating the place back in 2003 helped seal Whitney's fate.

My personal association with Whitney was long but mostly tangential.

I recently learned that my favorite aunt attended Whitney in the 1940s.

Far more significantly (at least as far as I'm concerned), my sister graduated from Whitney in the 1960s.

I can remember my mother and I being driven down by our landlord to an evening open house perhaps during my sister's first or second year there. I suppose this was largely instigated by my landlord, who had far more interest in education than my mother ever did. It felt odd being out after dark, and especially odd being in the downtown area without the protection afforded by sunlight. Thanks to the poor visibility and my landlord's freedom to deviate from the route my bus usually took, I felt lost almost as soon as we left home. I can clearly recall seeing all the lights on in the Whitney windows, however, and wondering what exactly they might be illuminating inside. My having to stay in the car with my landlord while my mother (and perhaps my landlord's wife) went inside prevented me from ever finding out....

Flash forward to 1973 and my own decision to attend Whitney's much bigger companion school, Macomber. On my first day there for registration or orientation a Cherry Elementary friend and I got temporary lost between the two buildings. It seems like we had to circle the block-long complex several times before we regained our bearings. Somehow we managed to stumble into the correct building in the end rather than Whitney. While that seemed to me to be a great stroke of good luck at the time, I now see it as a missed opportunity to explore the halls of that mysterious Other School across the street....

Over the course of the next 4 years I sometimes spent an hour or two in a second floor Macomber study hall that was directly opposite the Whitney building. Instead of staring out the windows and watching the clouds go by as I did at Cherry, I stared out the windows at the unmoving bricks across the street. I couldn't see sky, the road, or anything else on either side - only beige-brown bricks. For some reason, they never seemed to have much in common with the bricks that I saw when I was outside. It was as if study hall belonged to a different world - a world that sometimes seemed indistinguishable from a prison camp....

It was during my senior year that I finally made it into Whitney - twice.

The first time was with a few fellow students for a conference with a teacher serving as a senior adviser. That conference seems to have been held in a classroom on the east side of the second floor - which seemed extremely odd to me at the time because I'd heard at some point that any male caught on the second floor would automatically be suspended because that's where the girls' showers were. Somehow I managed to avoid that fate. On the other hand, I also somehow managed to avoid glimpsing the girls' showers. In retrospect I'm not sure I got the best of that deal.

I believe our adviser's name was Miss Jewell, by the way. She did a great job, telling me a few things at the time that I really wanted and needed to hear. But she also went off on a digression about how she liked to wander cemeteries and take rubbings of the inscriptions. I found this terribly bizarre and amusing at the time. I've since come to see this as one of the most interesting things I ever heard in a school setting and sincerely hope she's enjoyed many, many years of good wandering since.

The second time I was in Whitney was for some sort of afternoon tea for us oh-so-special seniors.

Yes, an afternoon tea - for the boys (and girls) of an inner city vocational school. Whitney had an honest-to-goodness Tea Room in its northwest corner which you can see for yourself in this old postcard:

It was a neat space that was made even neater by the fact that all the east-bound traffic on Dorr St. seemed to be barreling right for its glass windows:

The affair was catered by Whitney's own Commercial Foods students. Sad to say, I had only the vaguest idea back then of how much work those students were required to perform in a more or less hopeless attempt to impress teenage boys anxious to put high school behind them as fast as possible.

Had I known at the time that it was going to be my last visit to Whitney, I would have tried harder to commit it to memory. As it is all I have is a few vague images of unexpected elegance and the $1000 I stole from the school's till. (FYI: That's a joke - not a confession. Did you think otherwise? Tsk tsk.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Where I Went

After getting the vaccination that was the subject of my last entry, I was all ready to go off to school.

Well, as ready as I was ever going to be, anyway.

At this point, it's very difficult to prove that I actually went anywhere at all.

Despite spending quite a bit of time searching online for a single photo of my school, I found only one recognizable image of the place - and that was by accident. It's almost as if it never existed at all.

This would be more than a bit discombobulating in any case but it's especially discombobulating since I know I spent 9 years of my life there (K-8), my sister spent time there before me, and I can recall at least one of my teachers telling me that the building was about 50 years old - allegedly one of the oldest in the Toledo public school system at that time (1973).

How is it possible for a structure that was so important to so many people for so many years to be almost entirely absent from the ever-expanding photo archives of the Internet?

Were those 9 years I spent within the walls of Cherry Elementary merely a dream?

No, of course not.

And here - for what it's worth - is the photographic evidence in support of that statement that I've managed to accumulate over the years:





This would have been the way I first viewed the building on the summer's day in 1964 when my sister took me for a walk to show me where I would be going. It seemed to me to be a terribly large and dead place at first glance but I was willing to give it a shot before condemning it outright. Big of me, huh?

And not that it matters, but... I think I might be one of the people standing near the doorway in the center of this photo some 9 years after that first walk of over 3000. As a door guard in 7th and 8th grade I spent a lot of standing there after school talking to a few of my guard friends. (Paul, is that you there with me?)


It seems like I spent a lot of my time looking out the big windows when I was a student. I can't imagine what it must have been like for kids after most of the glass in those windows was replaced with more energy-efficient material shortly after I left. Passing clouds saved my sanity! (Or at least left me slightly less insane than otherwise would have been the case.)

Here's a nice aerial view that I snagged a few years ago. The harshness of the brick was softened by the trees and bushes out front when I was there. The prospect of having to sit quietly for much of yet another day was softened for a time by a candy store that occupied an old building that once sat on that empty green lot across the street to the left (south) of the school. That was quite the popular store when I was in first grade or so despite it's extremely rudimentary furnishings. I think the authorities shut it down in fairly short order. It's almost as if they thought kids darting in front of cars and clawing at each other to get to candy as fast as possible was a bad thing or something....

Here's a nice shot of the southeast doors. This is the entrance I used to get to my first classroom (which was behind those windows in the top left corner). These are replacement doors, though. The ones I used were much heavier and painted green. The muscles I'm using to type this are much stronger than they otherwise would be because of those old doors! (I don't think the green paint improved my vision any, though - but I could be wrong.)

A shot of the almost-always-in-the-shade northeast doors. I sometimes used this entrance to get to my 6th grade classroom (which was the first room to the right in the basement). I was a door guard here when Nixon ran for and was elected to a second term. Had I been a door guard at one of the three other entrances that long ago fall, would McGovern have won instead? I wish I could rewind history and see.

Here's probably the best shot of the front of the building that I have. I think it was taken sometime in 2005.

And here's the same scene after they finished tearing the school down in 2006.

An aerial shot from early 2006 (or so I've been told).

An aerial shot from late 2006....

They tore down the school that was behind Cherry at the same time. That would have been Feilbach (or at least it was when I was around). Feilbach was where Toledo's handicapped kids went. There was virtually no mingling between the students in Cherry and the students there. The large paved playground between the two schools was reserved for Cherry students. The Feilbach kids had a secluded courtyard to play in that could only be glimpsed from the north side of their building. It was protected by stone arches and black wrought iron fencing that seems to have extended way over my head. I think it was in sixth grade that our teacher announced that one of us would be spending a day at Feilbach and then would be expected to deliver a report on what things were like. I really wanted to be that student, to finally see what was on the other side of that fencing, but... someone else was chosen. If he (Paul?) ever reported back to the class, I can't recall what he said. I never made it into the place myself. Now it's gone. (There - now you don't have to read Kafka's The Castle.)

One of the last photos ever taken of Toledo's old Cherry Elementary. (Many thanks to whoever took it.) As near as I can tell, that door in the upper right is the door to the impressive junior high science classroom of Mr. Johnson that both my sister and I walked through many times (first in the early 1960s and then in the early 1970s). Or maybe it's the doorway to my less impressive 8th grade home room. The next time I see it, I guess I'll have to ask....

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Where I Was

While tens of millions of other people were visiting the New York World's Fair in 1964 and 1965 I was having several adventures of my own.

Few were as memorable as my visit to the Toledo Health Center.

Here's what it looked like back then:

And here's what it looks like now:

It seems to be one of the few places from my young life that's survived more or less intact.

Although I only went inside it once, it was a building I had already seen many times (and would see many more times during the next 12 years) because it was on the route that our bus took from downtown to where I lived.

As much as I might like to poke my head in again and look around now, I'm sure I wasn't looking forward to doing so back in the summer of 1964. I was set to enter kindergarten that fall, you see, but before they would let me through the classroom door I had to get my vaccination. I don't think I knew what a vaccination was or why exactly I had to get one, but I did know that it involved some sort of needle and needles were among my least favorite things in the whole world. Buildings that contained needles weren't far behind.

It was a sunny day - probably a late Saturday morning - when my mother escorted me up the long front walk and through the main doors. The lobby was remarkably spacious, cool, quiet, and dim. It seems to have been illuminated only by the indirect sunlight coming in the front and back entrance doors - is that possible? The highly polished dark floors added to the gloom.

One or two women seem to have been working at the circular work station in the center of the lobby. They didn't strike me as being very young - or very much anything at all, really. Once my mother explained what we were there for one of these women escorted us into a small room to the right (east) of where we had come in. I suppose she asked me to take my shirt off. Whatever she did, my anxiety grew. After fiddling with my right shoulder a bit not far from my neck, the woman went over to a portable work station in front of us and wrote some things down.

Unable to control my anxiety any longer, I told her in no uncertain terms, "If this hurts, I'm going to scream!" Screaming seemed to me to be the very worst thing I could do under the circumstances and I really, really wanted her to know that I wasn't about to settle for anything less just to be polite.

"I'm done," she informed me. "You've already have had your vaccination. You'll be free to go in just a minute."

What I'd thought was mere prep work had in fact been The Deed itself.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I was both relieved and embarrassed. Little did I know that these feelings would come to characterize my relationship with the medical community for much of my life.

I wish I could now say that as soon as the nurse escorted me from that I room I tore through the rest of the building and memorized what was going on in every nook and cranny I burst into, but I cannot. We quickly left the same way we had come in and that was that. As previously stated (go on - check if you don't believe me), I never made it back in. I still have no idea what might be going on in all those other spaces. I suppose it's just as well.

What I can now say is that Toledo seems to have been unduly proud of its Health Center. Multiple views of it seem to have been put on many postcards (though I can't easily imagine many of them ever being sent to anyone).

Here are two examples:

And here are two of the descriptions that I found on those postcards:

And - just for good measure - here's a photo I found of the Health Center as it was being constructed:

That's Cherry St. on the right. I think that might be a good ol' Community Traction bus there headed north on it. Maybe it's the very bus that took me to the Health Center 11 years later, but probably not.

And not that it matters, but... virtually all the other buildings you can see in this photo were long ago reduced to rubble.

Bonus points if you can say whether or not that's a good thing.

And many more bonus points if you can tell me the names of the models of the cars that appear in this entry's first photo. (I spent a lot of time trying to track them down and I'll love you forever if you come up with the same names that I did!)