The Washtenaw County Clash of 1930

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Erik Pedersen

During my thirty nine years at Eastern Michigan University in the Department of Health Physical Education and Dance, I heard many stories about persons, events, and athletic contests of the past. The one story that always intrigued me was about a 1930 football game between the Michigan Normal School in Ypsilanti and the University of Michigan. Upon reviewing articles on the 1930 game, it didn’t take long for me to realize that this game had several interesting aspects to it. In other words, there were many stories within a story. Reflections of someone who was at the game, the game itself, the accolades of an outstanding player, and the influence of a legendary coach were areas that evolved.

The motivation for this article started when I was making a History of Football presentation to the Silver Maples Retirement Community in Chelsea, Michigan on November 29, 2012. While mentioning the September 27, 1930 football game between the University of Michigan and the Normal School in Ypsilanti, a person attending the session, John Keusch, said “I was at that game.”

I was very surprised to actually meet someone who attended a football game that took place over 82 years ago. I asked John if he would be willing to be interviewed regarding his observations of that game and he said he would be happy to do so. John was 103 years old at the time of two interviews held in February of 2013. Regardless of his age, at the time of these interviews, John still had some memories of that game. The strength of the Normal School line and the outstanding play of Andy Vanyo were still clear in his mind.

The 1930 game was of special interest to him since he attended the Normal School in Ypsilanti for his freshman year. He transferred to the University of Michigan in 1928 to attend law school. John indicated that he was an avid football fan. He hardly missed a game and eventually purchased season tickets. His enthusiasm started at ten years of age while watching games played on Ferry Field on the University of Michigan campus. During his lifetime he attended seven Rose Bowl games. He recalled that in the 1930’s the University of Michigan football stadium was not always sold out as games are today. Many times only half the seats were filled during the depression years. People just didn’t have the money to attend athletic events.

Normal School Football and the 1930 Season: The Normal College News of September 29, 1930 noted that “Elton Rynearson had been molding a powerful Huron eleven since his first season as coach in 1925.” Records from 1925 to 1930 support that statement. In his first six years, 1925 to 1930, as the Huron football coach, his teams won 40 games, tied two, and lost only four. Rynearson’s teams piled up 1,069 points to 111 for opponents during that period. During the years 1925 through 1930 the Hurons won one Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Championship and four Michigan Collegiate League Championships.

The 1930 season was considered by many to be the most successful for the Normal School. Although it started with a 7-0 loss to Michigan, many considered the loss as a moral victory. During the 1930 season the Hurons tallied 145 points to their opponents 14. Michigan went on to an undefeated season and were considered to be one of the elite college football teams in the country. They tied for the Big Ten Championship with Northwestern. The Huron squad also went undefeated for the remainder of the 1930 season and won the Michigan Collegiate League Championship.

1930 Football Record

University of Michigan...........................7
College of City of Detroit.......................6
Western State Teachers College.......0
Central State Teachers College..........0
Georgetown (Kentucky) College.........0
University of Notre Dame "B"..............0
Iowa State Teachers College..............0

Another highlight of the 1930 season was a Huron victory over the Notre Dame B football squad. “The Notre Dame B squad was the strongest the South Bend mentor, Knute Rockne, had put on the gridiron for many years. And the loss was the first that aggregation had suffered that season.” The game was played as part of Normal’s dedication of the new McKinney Union. The 16 to 0 score was also the second victory over Notre Dame in as many starts.

The Game: The 1930 football game between the Normal School and the University of Michigan was the first game of the season for both teams. Michigan was probably intending for its meeting with Ypsilanti to be a preseason warm-up. The fact that the day included a football double header supports this position. The University of Michigan second string opened play earlier in the day against Denison University. Although no score was given, newspaper accounts noted that the University of Michigan “walked off with a top heavy score.”

The same was expected of Michigan against the Normal football team. Although Harry Kipke, Michigan’s coach, “showed a decided respect for Normal when he announced that he would save his first team for the second game against the Hurons, there were few among even the staunchest supporters of the green and white who dared hope that a Michigan eleven could be held to a low scoring game.” An interesting quote in the Normal News noted “and Michigan’s confidence made the outlook none too bright for Normal.”

Starting line Ups

Michigan Normal

Much of the doubt about how the Normal team would perform centered around the fact that they would be starting three inexperienced players in the backfield. The 1929 backfield was considered to be the “greatest trio that Normal ever had on the same team.” In their place were two sophomores and one junior who had very little playing experience. However, there was some optimism in the Normal camp. “The coaches felt confident as they added the finishing touches to a new Huron eleven on Friday afternoon that it contained ample ability to provide Harry Kipke’s Wolverines with an extremely busy session and that at worst, Michigan would only win by a narrow margin.” Coach Rynearson’s hope centered with the nearly all veteran forward line which as it turned out was a dominant force in the game.

“Michigan had the advantage of a “much bigger offensive line, a highly touted array of backs, and superior reserve strength.” Yet Michigan could only manage seven first downs for the game compared to six for the Normal squad. Game accounts indicate that most of Michigan’s yards were gained on “flank plays” and passes by its quarterback Tessmer. One example of the Normal team’s line strength came in the third quarter when Michigan had a second and one situation on Normal’s eighteen yard line. Michigan tried three running plays through the middle of the Huron line and failed to make one yard and consequently had to give up the ball. In the press box “the conversation among the assembled scribes was high praise for the Huron line and how much Normal would take to trade lines with Michigan.”

For everyone except the Huron football team, the outcome was a surprise. Newspaper headlines the next day read “Hurons Make an Unexpected Stand Against Wolverine Eleven,” Normal Line Stops Michigan Cold,” and “Wolverines Eke Out 7 – 0 Victory Over The Normal Eleven.” Before the game, one Wolverine extremist was heard offering odds that the Maize and Blue would pile up a score of 35 to 0 at the half. He probably has a severe headache as a result.”

Coach Rynearson, his staff, and players were very happy with the outcome of the game even though they lost. The Normal School went undefeated the rest of the year and had only one touchdown scored against them for the remainder of the season.

It is difficult to note the performance of just one player from the 1930 University of Michigan and the Normal School football game. Captain Paul Shoemaker and George Muellich, along with Andy Vanyo, formed the highly recognized right side of the Normal line and all deserve recognition. One writer noted “the splendid fighting spirit of Captain Shoemaker and his mates won the hearts of the football world at large. “However, the people who attended the game and those in the press box remarked at the excellent play of Normal’s Andy Vanyo.”

According to the Ypsilanti News, “There was one in particular among the brilliant group of forwards who shown out above his mates. Andy Vanyo simply could not be stopped and he was seen in practically every play. Three times he kicked off to Michigan and twice he tackled the man who received it.” The other time he recovered a Tessmer fumble which proved to be the most exciting moment in the game. “Vanyo brought the 65,000 fans up shouting when he recovered a fumble and raced 67 yards, outdistancing several Michigan men to the goal line. In the excitement of that moment there were few who accurately sensed the situation and the word ‘Touchdown’ was flashed on a dozen telegraph instruments and written on twice as many typewriters before the play was recalled an instant later.” The ball was brought back under a rule, which at that time, made a fumble dead at the point of recovery.

Vanyo’s outstanding play continued all season. Football critics claimed that he was without peer in the Midwest at guard. Robert Zuppke, the University of Illinois coach, was scouting Michigan for an upcoming game and was so impressed with Vanyo’s play that he asked him to play for the 1930 Midwest-Southwest All Star Game on New Year’s day in Dallas, Texas. Knute Rockne selected him as member of his Midwest All-Star Team and he was named to Walter Camp’s All-American Team as a second team selection. Vanyo was elected to EMU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978.

Although the main focus of this article has been the 1930 football game between The University of Michigan and the Michigan Normal School at Ypsilanti, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the influence and some of the accomplishments from Elton Rynearson’s career. Rynearson assumed the full time duties as athletic director, head football coach, and teacher at the Normal College in 1925. He was the Normal School football coach for 28 years. He compiled a won-lost record of 114 wins, 58 losses, and 15 ties. He never had a losing season. “Rynie” coached every varsity sport at one time or another and also served as athletic director during his 46 years at the Ypsilanti Normal School. He was elected to the Eastern Michigan University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1976.

Elton Rynearson: Rynearson was respected and admired by his students. He was considered a coach of the “old school” who had a personal interest in those he worked with. Those who knew him said he spoke his mind and stood by his convictions. Among his many professional awards was being inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.

With regard to the “1930 Washtenaw County Clash,” one Normal school supporter summarized the feelings of many when he commented, “and in back of this team is our coach – Elton Rynearson. No one knows how much he did and how hard he worked to put onto the field such a squad of clean and fine representative athletes.”

(Acknowledgements: As noted earlier, the interviews with John Keusch started the process of gathering information for this article. Much descriptive detail was obtained from The Normal News and the Ypsilanti Press publications from September 26th to November 13th, 1930. Statistical data was provided by Greg Steiner, the Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations at Eastern Michigan University. General background and biographical information was obtained from, A History of Physical Education at Eastern Michigan University, 1852 – 1996, by Erik J. Pedersen.)

(Dr. Erik Pedersen is a retired Professor from Eastern Michigan University where he taught for 37 years in the Teacher Preparation Program in the Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.)

Photo Captions:

1. One of four Michigan Collegiate League championship trophies won by Michigan Normal School from 1926 to 1930.

2. John Keusch holding the helmet worn by Olin Sanders in the 1930 football game.

3. The 1930 Normal School football team.

4. Andy Vanyo.

5. (Needs no title – Vanyo of the Normal)

6. Coach Elton Rynearson.

The Saga of the EMU Hurons

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Jack Minzey

In 1991, an event took place at Eastern Michigan University that was to shake the foundations of the institution and to become a dividing force for years to come. The beginning of the event was a complaint by an EMU student that the name Huron and the logo of an Indian were negative reflections on the American Indian and discriminatory to Indian students. The motivation for the complaint had come from the staff of the Office of Student Affairs.

The complaint was lodged with the Office of the Michigan Civil Rights, and the President of EMU, Dr. William Shelton, was notified of this complaint. President Shelton reacted by appointing a committee to investigate the nature of the complaint and to report to his office with a recommendation which could then go to the Board of Regents. Dr. Gene Smith, Director of Athletics, was appointed to head this committee.

Dr. Smith was a task master, and the investigation was both intensive and thorough. Our committee met and laid out a plan as to how we would proceed. The investigation went on for several months and consisted of numerous activities which resulted in significant findings. One group from the committee was selected to identify the background of the problem. It was discovered that the name Huron and the logo had been the result of a contest at Michigan State Normal College in the 1920s. The person who proposed the nickname was an American Indian student. Further investigations revealed that there were 250 organizations and businesses in Washtenaw County that had the word Huron in their name. It was also discovered that the name Huron was applied to a river, county, lake and several streets. In fact, only a few months earlier, the Board of Regents had petitioned the county to have the road in front of the University Golf course and Conference Center renamed Huron Street. It was obvious that Huron was a term of endearment in the local area.

Another report came from the committee members researching the name Hurons. It was reported that the name Huron was actually a French word and that the Huron Indians were referred to as Hurons because of their location relative to Lake Huron. Despite the fact that claims had been made that the Huron Tribes were extinct, it was discovered that the Hurons were actually Wyandottes and that there were thousands of Wyandottes living throughout North America, led by two chiefs; Chief Leanord Bearskin from Oklahoma who was also a Lt. Col. in the United States Army, and Chief Max Gros-Louis from Quebec, Canada.

At the same time, a series of surveys were taking place among the University constituents. These included faculty, students, staff and alumni. When these results were tabulated, over 90% of each group indicated that they favored keeping the name Huron and seeking another logo. Interestingly, this was also the opinion of the 70 American Indian Students on campus.

Dr. Smith arranged to hold open hearings on this topic on campus. The hearings provided a place where various groups and individuals could express their feelings and air their emotions. Dr. Smith ran the sessions in an efficient way, and the sessions were always kept on task. At one of these sessions, the Michigan Civil Rights representative indicated that their office did not have an objection to the use of the word Huron. They just wanted to be assured that the logo was used in a tasteful and dignified way.

While all of this was happening, several other events were going on which represented the heat being generated by the issue with some activities bordering on the bizarre. Opponents to the name and logo demonstrated on campus and distributed flyers indicating their position. One group of supporters hired an attorney who appeared at the Regents’ meetings to express their opposition. His approach was very aggressive and accusatory and in reality, probably did more to undermine his position than to enhance his cause. During one meeting with the alumni board, the President of the University was shouted down by hecklers which resulted in some very bad feelings on all sides.

At a meeting of the Regents, a purported Cherokee from Saline, Chief Yellowhawk, appeared in full regalia, including headdress and tom toms. He went through several dances and chants and then had unlimited time to speak to the Regents. His position was that he opposed both the name and the logo since he felt both were discriminatory to his tribe. Interestingly, a few months after this issue was officially resolved, it was discovered that he was not an American Indian, and he had been charged, arrested and imprisoned for a capital crime.

The supporters of the name arranged for Chief Bearskin to come to Ypsilanti and give his support to those wishing to keep the name and the logo. Arrangements were made to fly him to the University, and he was placed on the agenda of a coming Regents’ meeting. He did come to campus at the appointed date and time, but the Regents cancelled their meeting, and thus, it was not possible for him to have his input on the subject. This, of course, just added to the hostility. Because of this perceived disrespect of the Wyandotte Chief, the supporters created the “Huron Manifesto” which was a document signed by both chiefs as an indication of their desire to have the name Hurons remain as a part of Eastern Michigan University by stating their support for the “Restoration of the Huron name and emblem…”

The committee also investigated one other situation which they felt was relevant to their charge. Central Michigan University had gone through a similar experience. They too had involved the local chiefs and were able to come up with an acceptable solution. In their case, at the direction of the Chippewa Tribe, they kept the name Chippewas but eliminated the logo. For their new logo, they adopted the block C.

Now, with all this information, it was time to report to the Regents with a recommendation. All of the evidence seemed to point to a solution similar to Central’s. It would be suggested that Eastern keep the name Hurons and seek a new logo. At the Regents meeting, Dr. Smith gave his report in a very convincing fashion. It then appeared that the board was going to vote favorably on his recommendation However, before the vote could be taken, Regent Burton, an Afro-American and President of the Board of Regents, asked to address the board. He gave an impassioned speech, relating what it was like to be a minority and how he felt the name and logo were discriminatory. Caught by surprise, the board decided to table the motion and reconsider it the following month. They then charged President Sheldon to come to the next board meeting, prepared to recommend a suitable logo.

When the following regents meeting arrived, things changed dramatically. Prior to the vote on the motion, President Shelton asked to address the board. Those who knew him knew that he was an outstanding speaker, and in a very emotional presentation, he told the board that he considered both the name and the logo to be offensive and recommended that the board discard both. Then, Regent Burton rose and made his comments. He said that during the past month, he had talked to many of his friends and fellow minorities and that he felt that he had been wrong in his comments at the previous meeting. He said that he now felt that the board should keep the name and find another logo.

Now the board was perplexed. The issue was no longer the name and the logo. It had now become whether the board should support the president or the chairman of the board. As it turned out, the vote was split with the president being the decisive factor. The decision was to result in a major revolt on behalf of those who were angry about the decision, especially the alumni. There was an organized reaction which resulted in less financial and overt support for the University. There was also an organized effort by certain university administrators to ban all evidence of Huron verbiage or paraphernalia from the campus. Huron supporters were not allowed to participate in any event associated with Eastern Michigan University, and Huron supporters organized the largest EMU alumni chapter and called it the Huron Chapter. And while the degree of dissatisfaction has diminished over the intervening years, the bitterness still exists and will probably do so until those people who were loyal Hurons are no longer around.

The interesting thing about this entire event is that with all the effort invested in trying to come up with an appropriate solution, and with the vast majority of everyone involved desiring to remain Hurons, the decision came down to speeches by two people. And had the vote taken place one month earlier, Eastern Michigan University students, faculty, staff and alumni would still be identified as Hurons.

(Jack Minzey is a retired Eastern Michigan University faculty member and administrator and a member of the Ypsilanti Morning Coffee Group.)

Photo Captions:

1. The EMU Huron logo that created so much controversy on and off the campus.

Named for President Lincoln

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

The Lincoln Consolidated Schools, south of Ypsilanti, was first given the name of Rural Agricultural School District Number 1. The next name associated with the school was that of the school founder, Marvin S. Pittman. However, in 1924, Dr. Pittman, who at that time was the Head of the Rural Education Department at the Normal College, asked the Board to consider another name. The School Board then named the school Lincoln in honor of President Abraham Lincoln.

The memorial came about after a visit to the school by Sylvester Jerry and Samuel Cashwan early in the fall of 1935. Cashwan was then supervisor of the sculpture and ceramics program of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The two had come to inspect murals which had just been completed in the cafeteria of the school. “It was at that time that certain members of the student body and faculty suggested to Mr. Cashwan that he design for the grounds at Lincoln School a memorial to Abraham Lincoln for whom the school is named,” reported The Ypsilanti Daily Press April 29, 1938.

Samuel Cashwan was born in Russia in 1900. His family immigrated to the United States and settled in New York in 1906, and moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1916. He studied art at Detroit Central High School, the John Wicker School and at the Detroit City College. After the First World War he continued his studies at the Architectural League in New York and attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1923 to 1926. Cashwan was supervisor for the State of Michigan WPA Art Program from 1936 until 1942.

“During my first acquaintance with the project,” said Cashwan of the WPA, “I was deeply impressed with the many possibilities for development and the good that could be derived by the public from its activities…The greatest good a sculpture can perform is to create, not for a museum or a private collection, but for the common meeting places of men, to enhance and ennoble everyday life.”

Cashwan found his idea of Lincoln by reading “Abraham Lincoln - Prairie Years” and “Abe Lincoln Grows Up” by Carl Sandburg. The limestone statue of President Lincoln stands 13 feet tall, and weighs over a ton. “It portrays a Lincoln of mature years wearing the shawl so characteristic of his latter life. The figure of Lincoln stands against a base with hands reaching down toward small figures which represent different phases of his service to humanity,” noted The Ypsilanti Daily Press.

“Let us be firm in the right as God gives us to see the right” is inscribed on the base of the statue. This was taken from Lincoln’s second inaugural address which included the following: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

The program concluded with the Normal College band playing “Scenes of the Civil War.”

(James Mann is a local author and historian, a regular contributor to the Gleanings, and a researcher in the YHS Archives.)

Photo Captions:

1. Rather than facing the intersection of Whittaker and Willis Roads, the statue faces the children at the school from across the front yard.

2. The statue portrays a Lincoln of mature years wearing a shawl so characteristic of his later life.

Are you smarter than an eighth-grader?

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

What it took to get an 8th grade education in 1895

Remember when grandparents and great-grandparents stated that they only had an 8th grade education? Well, check this out. Could any of us have passed the 8th grade exam in 1895?

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, KS - 1895

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of ‘lie,’ ’play,’ and ‘run.’
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per metre?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication”.
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals.
4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u.’
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis-mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks. And by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)
1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia , Odessa , Denver , Manitoba,
Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernadez, Aspinwall
and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

[Gives the saying “he only had an 8th grade education” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?! No, we don’t have the answers! And we don’t think we ever did! But we did figure out that “Orthography” was handwriting.]

Photo captions:

1. Alvin Edward Rudisill (second from left in back row) completed his eighth grade education in 1913 in this one-room school in Grandview School District #21 in Harding County, South Dakota. Rudisill is the father of our GLEANINGS editor, Dr. Alvin Eugene Rudisill.

Be True to Your School - Answer Sheet

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2012,
Winter 2012

(for test here)

1. Estabrook in 1949; Joseph Estabrook was the head of the Normal from 1871 to 1880.
2. Roosevelt (on campus) and Lincoln.
3. Head Start – developed and tested in Perry School; participants were tracked over time.
4. George Cavender who succeeded William Rivelli.
5. Prospect became Adams; Harriet became Perry; and Central became Kingston. Adams and Kingston were Ypsilanti educators. Dr. Lawrence Perry was a local dentist and member of the Ypsilanti School Board.
6. Roosevelt athletic teams and the school newspaper.
7. The Seminary.
8. 1959, East and West Junior High schools later to be renamed Middle Schools.
9. They were younger; females could be admitted at 16 while males had to be 18.
10. The Grapefruit.
11. High School principal – Ypsi High (Wiltse) and Roosevelt (Menzi).
12. Ypsilanti High School Drum and Bugle Corps.
13. “Snob Hill” – in the mistaken belief that it was a rich kid’s school. In fact, the school population was carefully managed to reflect the area’s population. Many standardized tests were developed using Roosevelt students. In order for these tests to provide accurate results, the test populations had to be similar to the school populations that would later use these tests.
14. The synchronized swimming team at Roosevelt was one of the first and best in southeastern Michigan.
15. The bust of Teddy Roosevelt displayed in the Roosevelt Library. While “on leave” Teddy attended athletic events and was guest of honor at student parties.
16. Penmanship. The school quickly added a number of other business classes.
17. Michigan State Normal College admitted women since its inception. The first woman was admitted to the University of Michigan in 1866 to study Greek.
18. Mark Jefferson was a geographer who did some of the first geographic studies and maps of South America and served as Chief Cartographer for the U. S. delegation to the Paris Peace Talks following World War I. Jefferson could have secured a post in the most prestigious universities but stayed at the Normal believing that training teachers in geography was crucial to the success of pupils throughout the country.
19. 1970.
20. The first kindergarten in Ypsilanti opened in 1888 at the Normal Training School. The concept of creating learning environments for very young children originated in Germany.

Be True to Your School

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2012,
Winter 2012

Author: Peg Porter

Test your knowledge about Ypsilanti schools, their histories, and why this was known as "the town where education and commerce meet."

1. What was the name of the first school built on the west side?
2. What local schools were used for student teaching in the 1940s through the 1960s?
3. What ground-breaking social/educational program originated in Ypsilanti?
4. Who was the Michigan Band director who got his start in the Ypsilanti Public Schools?
5. Which elementary schools changed names?
6. Who were the Rough Riders?
7. What was the name of the first high school established in Ypsilanti?
8. When were the first junior high schools opened?
9. Other than gender, how did females entering the Normal in its early years differ from the males?
10. What was the name of the April fool's special issue published by Roosevelt High School?
11. What positions did Norris Wiltse and Leonard Menzi hold?
12. Which school marching band wore kilts?
13. How did Ypsi High students refer to Roosevelt High School?
14. Who were the Sinkopaters?
15. What object was regularly "stolen" by Roosevelt High students?
16. Patrick Cleary established a school in Ypsilanti to offer instruction in what skill?
17. Which institution of higher education accepted women first, the University of Michigan or Michigan State Normal College?
18. Who was Mark Jefferson and why is there a building named for him at EMU?
19. What year did St. John's High School close?
20. When and where was the first kindergarten opened in Ypsilanti?

(Answers can be found here)

(Peg Porter is the Assistant Editor of the GLEANINGS and a regular contributor of articles published in the newsletter.)

The Union School Buildings

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2012,
Winter 2012
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

Today Cross Street Village, senior housing, stands at 210 West Cross Street. This building is still known to many as Old Ypsi High. For many years this building was the high school. The use of this building, for senior housing, is the first time since 1844, that a building on this site has been used for purposes other than education.

When someone talks of the history of the buildings that have stood on this site, the result is likely to be confusion, for this is the story of not one building, but of four. Of the four buildings that have occupied this site, two have been completely destroyed by fire, while the third was damaged by fire and rebuilt. The last building was later demolished to make room for the west wing of Old Ypsi High, the fourth building.

All of these buildings were used as schools, and were a major reason for Ypsilanti having a reputation for excellence in education for many years. The first of these buildings, however, was the result of a business folly.

During the 1830s, a railroad was proposed linking Tecumseh to Ypsilanti, where it would connect with the Michigan Central. To house the patrons of the railroad, a hotel was built at Ypsilanti called the Tecumseh Hotel. The railroad was never built, so there were no patrons, and the hotel failed. Charles Woodruff, who was running an academic school in Ypsilanti, moved his school into a portion of the hotel in 1844. The school, he wrote, was “at an awful distance from the thickly built portion of the village.”

Woodruff continued the school at that location until 1848, when the building was purchased by a company headed by the Reverend L.H. Moore, pastor of the Baptist Church. After the sale, Woodruff went into the newspaper business, as editor of The Sentinel. The Rev. Moore began operating a private school in the building, called The Ypsilanti Seminary, designed to provide students with a liberal education.

That same year it was found that the old White School House on North Washington Street was inadequate. At the annual meeting of School District Number Four, $1,000 was appropriated for the erection of a new building. This attracted the attention of contractors, and there was much talk of a new school house. Instead, the board purchased the Tecumseh Hotel building from the Rev. Moore, for $2,400. Changes were made to the building during the summer of 1849, better adapting it for use as a school. The school opened in October of that year.

“The Seminary Building,” wrote Harvey Colburn, in The Story of Ypsilanti, “was a plain three-story brick edifice built close to the sidewalk and in the form of an ‘L.’ The longer arm extended westward from the corner and the shorter northward. The roof was surmounted by a cupola with a bell. Attached to the west wing was a two-story frame building, originally used as a dwelling.”

This may have been the first “graded school” in Michigan and, because of the moderate tuition, it attracted students from outside the Ypsilanti school district. The terms union school and graded school are interchangeable. The upper floors of the school were used as dormitories for the out-of-town students, called the “foreign students.”

Soon the rooms were filled to capacity while more students were seeking admission. To make room for more students, an addition was added in 1854. This three story brick addition ran north on Washington St. for about 60 feet. The first and part of the second floor of the addition were finished as class and school rooms, while the rest of the second floor and all of the third were used as dormitories. These rooms were soon filled, and the school was prosperous beyond all expectation. Then disaster struck.

On the morning of Sunday, March 29, 1857, the building was found to be on fire. In spite of heroic efforts with every means available, the building was soon nothing but ruins. Several of the teachers and many of the students suddenly found themselves homeless. Fortunately, the school had closed the previous Friday, for the nine-day spring vacation.

“As the inhabitants gathered around the ashes.” noted The Michigan Journal of Education of October, 1858, “some of the children wept, and the purses of the rich shuddered a little, but all consoled themselves with ‘Well, we will have a better school now.’ At once arrangements were made for temporary locations for classes, until a new building could be built. “A plan for a building was presented,” reported The Michigan Journal of Education, “by Jordan & Anderson which so well pleased all, that it was adopted by unanimous vote of the District.”

The new building, built on the site of the old, was dedicated August 17, 1858. The architects were Jordan & Anderson of Detroit, and the builders were McDuff & Mitchell, who were also of Detroit.

“The entire structure,” noted Colburn,” was architecturally satisfying and even beautiful.”

“This edifice stands in the center of a beautiful square in the central part of the city of Ypsilanti,” reported The American Journal of Education, “one of the most attractive healthy and flourishing towns in the State of Michigan. The building has a transept of 120 feet and a depth through the transept of 95 feet, and through the end compartments of 68 feet.” The building was in the Italianate style of architecture, and had a height of 59 feet. “The quoins in the corners,” noted The American Journal of Education, “the window and door caps and stills, the cornice, the architave moldings, belt courses, &c, are finished in imitation of brown free stone––the remainder being of hand-pressed brick.”

The American Journal of Education published a print, plans and description of the building. This was republished in the Michigan Journal of Education in October of 1858, and later used in other publications.

The first floor of the building was 6 feet above the lot, “leaving a lofty basement story under which was the heating apparatus, storage and fuel rooms.” The first floor was 20 feet high, and, the center of the building had a large room, or chapel, 90 by 45 feet, used for commencement and other public exercises. It was then the usual practice to place assembly rooms on the highest floor of a building, possibly because of interior load bearing walls limiting space. It was considered an advantage to have the chapel on the first floor. “This in infinitely more convenient and safe, than it is to require an entire congregation at commencement or other exercises, to climb up to the top of a high building. It is also more desirable, as the infant children can be taken into the room on all occasions, without danger to them, which in ordinary cases, tutors are afraid to do.”

The chapel had no columns or pillars to block the view of the stage. Fears were expressed in 1866 that the building was unsafe. Inspection found the building to be structurally sound. Even so, four pillars were placed in the chapel.

The first floor had two corridors one of each side of the chapel, each 12 feet wide and running from the front to the rear of the building. The first floor had four primary rooms, two on each side of the building. Between each of the primary rooms was an entrance in the center of each side of the building. Each of the entrances opened to a clothes room.

The building had four more entrances to the first floor, two at the front and two at the rear, opening into the corridors on each side of the chapel. A total number of six entrances allowed the younger children to enter and leave the building separate from the older children. The number of entrances also allowed for the separation of the students by sex, as it was then considered best to keep the boys and the girls apart as much as possible. The interior arrangement of the rooms allowed the boys and girls to come together when necessary, and to separate again when returning to their classrooms without confusion or inconvenience. This structure stood until 1877 when it was destroyed by fire.

By August of 1878 the School Board and Building Committee had closed a contract for building the new school on the site of the old, with Spitzly & Bro. of Detroit. The Ypsilanti Commercial of August 10, 1878 reported, “The masons began laying the foundation of the new Union school on Wednesday. The building will be enclosed before winter.” The building was ready for use at the beginning of the school year of 1879.

The new three story building was different from the old one. The most striking difference was the one-hundred- foot high tower with clock and bell. For many years this was the only town clock the city had, with the bell striking the hour with remarkable accuracy. A challenge for the boys, although it was strictly forbidden, was to sneak into the bell room, and be there when it tolled the hour. The sound was deafening, but every boy was expected to do it at least once before graduating.

Another change from the previous building was the placement of the chapel on the third floor, instead of on the ground floor. Light for the chapel was provided by a skylight in the roof. Some would come to see the skylight as the building’s fatal flaw.

A two story addition, measuring 23 by 23 feet 8 inches, was added to the north wing of the building in 1893. “The sewer from it,” reported The Ypsilanti Commercial of August 18, 1893, “passes under the whole length of the main building and thence diagonally to the south-east corner of the grounds, connecting at the Cross and Washington street manhole.” When digging the ditch for the sewer, workers uncovered the ruins of the old Seminary building that had burned in 1858.

Students had just taken their seats and settled in for an afternoon of study, on Thursday, May 3, 1893, when a terrible crash was heard from the chapel on the third floor. The sound frightened everyone in the building. Those in charge of the building quickly went up to the third floor to investigate. They found the entire ceiling of the chapel in flames. Outside the building, flames were seen leaping in sheets thirty feet high, from a spot on the roof north-west of the tower and near the chapel skylight. It was the sound of part of the ceiling falling into the chapel that had frightened everyone. The building was ordered evacuated, and was soon empty of the 600 students and teachers. A few students suffered minor injuries, when they jumped from windows on the second floor.

Fire fighters were soon on the scene plying the flames with water from their hoses, but pressure from the mains was inadequate for the streams of water to reach the fire. To fight the fire, fire fighters had to wait until the fire had burned down low enough to be within reach of their hoses. It did not help, when the hoses busted three times. Some of those present, said the fire fighters could have made good use of a ladder.

At 2 p.m. the bell in the clock tower tolled the hour for the last time, as soon after the tower caught fire. Then, with one or two last clangs, the bell fell by stages to just above the main entrance, the landings having prevented a terrible cash.

At 2:45 p.m. the Ann Arbor Hose Company received a request for assistance and, with hose, hose wagon, and three men, for a total load of 4,000 pounds, covered the distance in 28 minutes. They had a stream of water playing on the fire within two minutes of their arrival. The team of horses, the grays, showed the effect of the hard run, being covered in foam. “The horses,” reported The Ypsilanti Commercial, “were skillfully and carefully cared for and soon seemed none the worse for their record-breaking run.” The fire was brought under control by 4 p.m. and fire fighters continued fighting the fire until a hard rain fell that night.

“The most plausible theory of the cause of the fire,” reported The Washtenaw Evening Times, of Friday, May 5, 1894, “is that the prismatic shaped skylight on the roof and the plain one which lights the chapel below made possible a concentration of rays of the sun, that body being at the time about in its zenith, upon some cobweb hanging from the lower skylight and this set fire to those minute things which by nature’s aid could result in disaster.” A more likely cause, said others, was a combination of boys and cigarettes.

Less than an hour after the discovery of the fire, even before the flames were under control, the Superintendent and several members of the school board were making arrangements for space to be used as temporary classrooms so classes could continue. The day after the fire, the school board traveled to Northville, to see if they could get school seats

Unlike the previous two buildings, this building was not a total loss. The walls of the building appeared undamaged and could be reused. Then the west wall fell, carrying two rooms with it, after the insurance was adjusted.

The third floor was a total loss, as was most of the second, but for two rooms that were not too badly burned. “The north wing,” reported The Washtenaw Evening Times of May 4, 1894, “was the least damaged and could be put in shape at a moderate cost.”

The first floor seemed to have suffered little damage, and the library, for the most part, was saved. “The bell and clock,” reported The Ypsilantian of May 4, 1894, “are a total wreck, the former being cracked so as to be of no value except old metal. The cost of the clock was $1,500, and was an excellent timer.”

Insurance companies paid an award of $16,589.91 on the building and $5,250 on the furniture and fixtures for a total of $21,839.91.

It was decided that the new building would be built along the plans of the old one, but with some modifications. “The first change,” noted The Ypsilantian of January 10, 1895, “a teacher would observe is the quieting of the building. This is secured by thoroughly deadening of the floors, a thing that was not well done when the building was first erected.”

The first floor was little damaged by the fire, so remained much as before. The greatest change was found on the second and third floors. The former winding stairways were replaced so as to have a platform landing between the second and third floors. “The stairs and the second and third stories are beautifully finished in natural oak,” reported The Ypsilanti Commercial of December 26, 1894, “except two rooms on the second floor which were not burned, and in these the woodwork is being grained in imitation of oak. The stair was is no longer lighted by a skylight as was the old, but the light for the second floor is borrowed from the school rooms on either side by means of double winders. It was this sky¬light which came so near making the old building a death-trap. By adding some new windows and lengthening others two of the rooms on the third floor are greatly improved. On each side of the building, and on each floor, are large pipes connected directly with the city water works. At the end of each is a long hose and nozzle, so that in case of fire at any point of the building, one needs only to turn a valve and water will flow.”

As with the old building, this one had a tall tower with a clock and bell. The dials on the face of the clock were 6 feet across, and illuminated after dark by electricity. The bell weighed 2,660 pounds, and had a tone that was said to be clear and musical.

The new building was dedicated on the evening of Tuesday, February 5, 1895.

In spite of the history of the site, it was purely by chance that the fire house was built in 1898 across the street from the building. As it happened, it was, for once, good luck for the building. At 3:50 a.m. of Tuesday, August 16, 1904, the flagpole on the clock tower was struck by lightning. Firefighters in the firehouse saw the lighting splinter the flag pole. At 4:10 a.m. they saw the building was on fire. They rushed across the street, to put out the flames.

Damage to the building was slight, mostly caused by water to rooms in the tower. The walls of these rooms had to be replastered. The clock in the tower was completely destroyed, but the flames did not damage the belfry enough to harm the bell. The cost of the damage was placed at between $3,000 to $5,000. The tower was rebuilt exactly as before.

The name of the building was changed early in 1900, from Union Seminary to High School, although many continued to refer to the old building as The Seminary.

Early in the 20th century it became apparent that the building was overcrowded and lacking in modern facilities. Plans for a new school building were drawn up as early as 1911. After two bond issues were rejected by voters, $110,000 for school construction was passed in 1914. The amount was increased by $12,000 in March of 1915.

Construction of the new building at 210 West Cross began in February of 1915, and opened in January of 1916. This is the west wing of what came to be known as Old Ypsi High. The old building at the northeast corner of Cross and Washington streets remained in use. The gymnasium was built just north of the old building in 1925. The old building was finally demolished in 1929, to make room for what is now the east wing of Old Ypsi High.

At the center of the building, where the two wings come together, is the main entrance. Above the main entrance is the clock and bell tower. In the tower is the bell from the old Central High School building, installed in 1930, as construction was nearing completion. The bell remained in use until the graduation of the last senior class in 1972.

From hotel, to school, to senior housing, in a sense the site has come full circle.

[James Mann is a local author and historian, a regular contributor to the GLEANINGS, and a volunteer in the YHS Archives.]

Photo Captions:

1. Charles Woodruff, who was running an academic school in Ypsilanti, moved his school into a portion of the Tecumseh Hotel in 1844

2. On August 17, 1858, the new Union School was dedicated. The New England Journal of Education said: “It’s the finest school building of its kind in America”

3. First Story Plan - Union School
A - Halls
B - Chapel, or Hall for general exercises
C - Primary Rooms
D - Clothes Rooms

4. The most striking feature of the school built in 1879 was the 100 foot tower with clock and bell. Most of the top two floors of the building were destroyed by fire in 1894 and rebuilt. The building was demolished in 1929 to make way for the east wing of the new high school

5. Construction of a new building at 210 West Cross began in February of 1915, and opened in January of 1916. This is the west wing of what came to be known as Old Ypsi High. You can see the old building at the northeast corner of Cross and Washington streets which still remained in use

6. This photo shows Old Ypsi High after the east wing was completed in 1930

Archive Foster, Class of '88

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2012,
Spring 2012
Original Images:

Author: Laura Bien

Normal College’s (EMU’s) class of 1888 had two outstanding features. For one, with 115 members it was the largest graduating class since the school’s founding in 1849. But even more significant was that one member was the school’s first black graduate.

Archie C. Foster was born around 1854 in Arkansas. That state also had a Normal teacher training school, but one with a poor reputation. When Archie came of age, he made the decision to leave his home and undertake the expense of living and studying in a distant Northern city.

Students at Ypsilanti’s Normal in 1888 had a choice of five courses of study that included four-year programs in science, literature, or ancient or modern languages, or a three-year program in English. Students could also arrange for a special custom program or one that included music instruction. Graduates of any of the courses were automatically certified to teach in any Michigan school.

The total cost of study was about $500 [about $12,000 in today’s dollars]. Expenses included accommodations. Long before dormitories, students had to find their own meal plan and housing, in one of the city boardinghouses approved by the school. Often run by widows as a source of income, boardinghouses varied in offering either housing or food, or both. Houses offering both cost around $3 to $4 per week [$72 to $96]. Students who provided their own food (some local restaurants offered meal tickets) could reduce their boarding expenses to $2 to $2.50 [$48 to $60].

Archie came to Michigan, located lodgings, and took the entrance examination, which tested subjects in grammar, spelling, arithmetic, and geography. Archie’s grade school in his home state was part of a segregated system, with black schools receiving only a fraction of state funding compared to white schools. Despite this disadvantage, Archie passed the entrance exams and in September of 1885 began his chosen course of study, the three-year program in English. The campus newspaper the Normal News printed news items regarding current students. Several news items mentioning Archie appear during his time at the Normal. None make mention of the fact that he was the school’s only black student. The November 1886 Normal News reported: “Hugh McDonald has left school and gone home to teach during the winter.” “Spencer L. Houghton is ‘pa’.” “Archie Foster lately received intelligence of the death of his father, who lived in Arkansas.”

At the start of his last year of study in September of 1887, Archie also left the school for a temporary teaching term. The September 1887 Normal News reported, “Archie Foster will teach a term of four months at Brownsville, Cass County, and return in the spring to finish his course at the Normal.” The campus paper’s student news tidbits were regularly reprinted in one of the city’s newspapers, the Ypsilanti Commercial. The May 25, 1888 edition noted, “A. C. Foster, who has been absent for some time on account of sickness, is again in school.”

Finally Archie’s graduation came in June of 1888. The Ypsilanti Commercial mentioned him in a lengthy article about the graduating class. “Among its members is Mr. A. C. Foster, who has the honor of being the first colored graduate of that institution.”

Archie returned to Arkansas and became principal of one of the schools in the black school system in Lafayette County, population 7,700. Five years later he married Lucy Boyd. The couple would have four children: Charley, Clint, Pearl, and Lutie. Archie was successful and by 1900 owned his own home. Teaching talent ran in the family; Lucy’s younger sister Julia lived with the Fosters and also taught in a local school.

Lucy added to the Fosters’ income by working as a dressmaker. She earned enough to open her own restaurant by 1920, where her daughter Lutie also worked. Years later the entire Foster family was honored as pioneers in black entrepreneurship in Lafayette County.

In 1921 Lucy died, and Archie sold the family home and took rooms in a boarding house run by one Addie McClain. In 1930 he was still teaching, drawing upon his decades in the field.

Archie died September 9, 1945 at age 91. After his death, a local black high school was named in his honor, and the black community erected a handsome gravestone for Archie and Lucy. The alumni organization of Foster High School sponsored a memorial stone “honoring our history with appreciation to Professor Foster for 35 years as an educator for children of color in various schools throughout the county.”

The gravestone and memorial stone stand today in Old Town Cemetery in Old Lewisville, Arkansas. Ypsilantians can be proud that one determined man rose above the circumstances of htime and place and used his Michigan degree to become a person respected and honored by his community.

[Laura Bien is the author of “Hidden HIstory of Ypsilanti” and “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives” and is a columnist for the Ypsilanti Courier and the Ann Arbor Chronicle.

Local Education and History Collaborate

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2010,
Winter 2010
Original Images:

Winter 2010

Author: Mark Salzer

The Ypsilanti Historical Society is partnering with the Ypsilanti Tech High School @ Ardis on a project called Hidden Treasurers. This project is framed in a letter from the Historical Society requesting that all incoming ninth graders at the school solve a historical puzzle based on artifacts from the local area as they take on a “Junior Archivist” role. Groups of students will investigate a box of artifacts that directly relate to an important local historical person. Each student group will work collaboratively in determining the owner of the contents and their contributions to local, state and/or national history. They then will create a narrative to compellingly tell that person’s “story” in relation to the objects associated with that person.

These budding historians will reflect on what they already know and what they still need to know in order to successfully complete their task for the Ypsilanti Historical Society. The students will learn what an archivist is, how to handle historical items, and further develop their research and analytical skills. Each student group will use the data they have gleaned to determine what family or person all items in their particular box relate to, and that family or individual’s contributions to the Ypsilanti area. The students will write individual and group reports as well as create a video of the investigation, evaluation and conclusion of their particular box of artifacts. All student course will be aligned to meet Michigan State standards and benchmarks whilst engaging students on real world projects utilizing 21st century skills.

The Historical Society has been involved in the planning stages of this project since near its inception and has made many contributions to its evolution and implementation. Among other contributions, the Historical Society will provide their expertise to the students through site visits and possible workshops. Student team members may need to visit the Archives for additional fact finding information as they develop an engaging story in history. One or more staff members of the Historical Society will be evaluating the students’ final oral presentations. The three student groups that best describe and identify the historical person connected to the items in their box will be videotaped for inclusion via a link on the Ypsilanti Historical Society website for one month.

The backbone of Ypsilanti New Tech High School @ Ardis’ learning environment is Project-Based Learning. Instead of handing out daily assignments, teachers assign long-term, real-world projects with different components. The school uses technology to facilitate these student projects. This is a great opportunity to immerse our students in the rich culture of the Ypsilanti area and the History/Tech class of the New Tech High School is excited about working with the community as this and other projects progress. If you are interested in connecting with the New Tech High School for a student based project, please contact us at (734) 714-1500.

(Mark Salzer is one of the history teachers assigned to teach at the New Tech High School in Ypsilanti.)

An Odoriferous Education

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2010,
Winter 2010
Original Images:

Author: Tom Dodd

A before-standardization memoir: We learned more than our teachers suspected in the schools of our childhood.

“School stinks!” we proclaimed when we wanted to say something unkind about our childhood headquarters, and indeed, the schools of our past did have a unique smell about them. One wonders if today’s tots enjoy the same sensory experiences we knew in schools that had wooden floors, slate blackboards, wet plaster walls, oak trim moldings, cork bulletin boards, coal and/or steam heat, and windows that actually opened. And we had those long cords on the window shades that could be tied into hangman’s knots! Today’s kids just have iPods.

Our teachers sometimes accused us of “not paying attention” but, in reality, we paid attention to far more than they realized. We saw, heard, tasted and smelled everything that was going on. For some unexplained reason, our library paste was laced with mint flavoring, but the teachers warned us not to eat it. We ate it anyway. We never used “library paste” in the library; only in the elementary classrooms.

Mimeograph ink was so delicious that, when the teacher handed out new papers (“Take one for yourself and pass them back!”), it was the custom to bury our face in the top sheet and inhale deeply. Long before we heard that Morning Glory seeds had a hallucinatory effect, we were convinced there was some magical quality in the smell of that purple mimeo ink. In those days, “purple” was an exotic color, only to be used by “fancy ladies.” That was long before rip-stop nylon backpacks in purple, pink and chartreuse.

A faint odor of peanut butter & jelly wafted from the lockers in the corridor. In some spots it was mixed with the gentle hint of urine. Old, forgotten sandwiches sometimes mixed into a potion of ingredients nearly unrecognizable by semester’s end. The bright pink deodorizer cakes in the bathroom urinals smelled worse than the smells they were trying to cover up, but they were fun to pee on.

Old books in the library had a musty, mysterious quality about them. The giant dictionary on a reading stand had alphabetized thumbholes on the side and, when you riffled the gold-edge pages with your thumb, the odor of antiquity wafted clear over to the kid doing homework across the table. These were the most popular reference materials available to us, and contained most of the banned words that we had been wondering about. They were easy to find; these pages had been opened so regularly that just placing the book on its spine would cause it to open to the favorite sections. We had to wash our hands after handling those smelly, old books, but it was worth it.

Wood pencil shavings had an “up north” aroma about them but, when mixed with graphite from pencil sharpeners (grinders), they made a dirty mix of pine pitch and acrid chemicals that we were sure were poisonous. At least it killed the plants on the windowsill.

Soft, pink pencil erasers were a “smellifluous” addendum to childhood - until you brushed the crumbles off the page when they mixed with the former pencil marks. Then they were a minor-grade poison. Art Gum erasers were the best crumbles to collect. You could chew on them too, but we did not swallow. Those green or gray kneaded erasers looked like chewing gum, but tasted terrible.

Rubber cement was voted the most volatile smell in the classroom and painting it on your cheek or forearm and then squeezing it together when nearly dry made the most believable facsimile of a terrible scar. Walking around with a severe limp added to the wounded-soldier-affectation and sniffing the cement reminded us to stay in character for maximum effect.

Airplane glue came later, and we quit destroying our brain cells just in time to get into college. Most of our projects started out soberly but became more sloppy and disorganized as time went on. We never understood what caused that and blamed it on our short attention spans. Imagine a skillfully constructed airplane fuselage with wads of wrinkled tissue paper hanging off the tail. That’s the “designer” taking a nap face-down on his desk. (“Fuselage?” There’s a word we have not seen since the days of Willow Run!)

The custodian dumped a sweeping compound on the floor and pushed it around with a four-foot-wide dust mop in an effort to collect the dirt without sweeping the dust up into the air. The compound seemed to be a mix of reddish sawdust and some kind of sweet-smelling oil. When the custodian was on call with the “slop bucket,” that usually meant there was a “throw-up” somewhere and the corridor did not get dusted for another hour. Students could volunteer to dust for the custodian, but no one ever volunteered to slop the vomits - even though the wringer on the slop pail was great fun to play with. Throw-ups were a common - but still surprising - smell in the corridors. No matter what a sick kid had eaten earlier, it always smelled like a mixture of orange juice and tomato juice. Who do you know who has TWO glasses of juice for breakfast? Today, “throw-up” is a term used by graffiti artists. Vomits are just called vomits now.

When contractors repaired the school’s roof, we collected their droppings and chewed on tasty chunks of warm, black tar. The flavor was a lot like Beeman’s Pepsin chewing gum and the blackness made our teeth look whiter.

Gym lockers gave us the worst and probably most memorable smells. In the days when only women used deodorants, we brought our own towels to school. Some days there were only two or three “acceptable” towels available from donors in gym class, and that was enough to convince most athletes to take theirs home for washing. Long after our gym clothes were washed, the mildew smell remained since not everyone had the same tolerance level for the stench of moldy towels, shorts, shirts and jock straps. It seems the acrid odor had seeped into the steel of the lockers, never to dissipate.

Orange peelings left over from lunch could be placed in the bottom of a gym locker to mask the smell of athletic appurtenances, but they had to be removed after two weeks - or the fruit flies made their presence known to the coach. We were surprised to see that orange turned to dark green in two weeks and most of the smell was gone by the time that green color appeared.

Milk cartons didn’t seem to have much smell about them at first, but if kept in the back of your desk with a few inches of liquid in them for a week or so, they soon joined the other mysteries of that dark space as beacons to direct you to your overdue homework.

Dixie cups were a much anticipated school treat and, when the ice cream was gone, it was still satisfying to keep sucking on the tiny lozenge-shaped wooden spoon that had been stuck to the top of the original product. If you were able to save the spoon until the bus ride home in the afternoon, it was a clear signal to everyone else that your class had a treat… and perhaps they didn’t. Not much flavor was left three hours after the ice cream was gone, but the wet wood had a naturalistic and subtle flavor that lasted long into the day.

Some of the most exotic smells came from our four-hundred-year-old virgin Latin teacher, Miss Virginia Dowdy. On warm days she emitted a tangy sour-milk smell. That was the signal to take up a collection for her annual Christmas present: a blue glass vial of Evening-in-Paris perfume. The larger bottle would last until near the end of second semester as Miss D slathered the not-too-subtle hints of a continental lifestyle across her entire torso.

The high school social studies teacher smelled equally wonderful. Mr. Schaeffer wore the most intriguing tan leather sport coat––often with a Real Bow Tie (not the clip-on kind). Leaning over his desk with a question, a student could get close enough to smell the leather and maybe even briefly touch the softness of the former bovine. Such brave and intimate inspection also reinforced the suspicion of other smells coming from this dapper professor: tiny bits of Sen Sen tried (unsuccessfully) to hide the fact that he smoked in the boiler room between classes, and Listerine antiseptic sometimes dribbled from the corners of his mouth. Schaeffer kept a big bottle of the volatile mouthwash in his largest desk drawer and, as there was no sink in which to spit it out, he swallowed it. He was always in his best mood for the class that met the first hour after lunch. One big bottle usually lasted a week.

Similarly, the Home Economics staffer sipped on the giant-size bottle of vanilla extract. She was one smart cookie and always jolly and friendly.

School students of an earlier age could literally “follow their noses” to a more sensory education. Maybe we could apply for a grant to open a new charter school to reinvigorate the “stinky education” we experienced before standardized testing took the senses out of learning.

Addendum by Robert Fox: “Oh yeah, and I remember the smell of the asphalt playground. Seemed like there was always some kid four years older than me who thought I needed another taste. The Catholic school paved the playground so it could be used as a parking lot on Sunday - and there was less mud tracked around. And then there was blood - so much blood. You see, I didn't like fighting, but I was big for my age and someone was always thinking I'd be a good foil for testing manhood. I had a rock jaw, but a glass nose - just a touch and my nose would gush. It became a deterrent. Those bullies with white shirts and ties - as soon as my nose bleed started, I'd grab the assailant and hug them - making certain as much of their white shirt turned scarlet red as possible. They looked gut-shot and I'd spend the remainder of the day with a head full of blood clots draining down my throat. Then there was the taste of dirty, salty snowballs. They stung twice, like a razor burn when they hit you in the face, and later when we got the paddle for throwing them.”

Scratched onto the upper-left-hand side of the chalkboard, outlined and labeled “Save” would be the daily vocabulary list with the notice “They’re going to be on the final exam.” So, if you are up to it here is your list!

Today’s vocabulary list:
Aroma, Bouquet, Fetor, Fragrance, Funk, Odor, Odorus, Odoriferous or Odiferous, Redolence, Reek, Scent, Stink, Whiff. “They’re going to be on the final exam.”

(Tom Dodd is a retired teacher, historian and author and is a regular contributor to the Gleanings. He is also the author and editor of the Depot Town Rag.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: A typical early classroom with wooden floors, slate blackboards, oak trim moldings, and windows that actually opened.

Photo 2: Every day we would have a new vocabulary list on the blackboard.

Photo 3: Gym lockers gave us the worst and probably most memorable smells.

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