As promised here are my memories of attending Elementary school in a time and place that can scarcely be recognized from our current vantage point. More of an essay than a bit of quick, witty commentary, feel free to flit on past. Perhaps the great inscrutable search engine of Google will bring a few ageing refugees of that era home for a bit of nostalgia.
I was a young person (to be accurate I never claim to have "grown up") in what was considered the bad part of town. The north side of Minneapolis was always a working class neighborhood, one which was being hollowed out by flight to suburbia when we moved there in the late 1950's.
Lowell Elementary was established when the neighborhood was still young and energetic. Dating from the 1880's, the school I attended was the third Lowell, built in 1893, as a red brick cube that was later added onto. It was on an irregular bit of land, one end being a sharp triangle that had a little ball field. That's where I learned what minimal baseball skills I had as a young cub. The field was not dirt, but blacktop. You got proficient at fielding bouncers. But I never did get good at baserunning, Lowell had bases painted on in yellow and you only tried sliding once.
This is what Lowell looked like before a 1912 addition. The big sloped roof was gone by the time I attended, I suspect it was lost to fire or lightning. The later roof was flat and if you gave a playground ball a really mighty kick you could launch it up there for the janitor to retrieve.
|Courtesy Hennepin County Library|
Here's a series of vignettes of Lowell Elementary as remembered so many decades later.
Kindergarten, day one. Our house was three blocks away. One day my mom and I walked, I assume hand in hand, over to the school. We went into a busy room filled with kids. The floors were wood polished by generations of little feet. My mom was talking with the teacher in the front of the room. I was directed to the back. There was a low table covered with various natural history curios. Shells, rocks (those might have been a bad idea) and a dried up little alligator of the sort people once brought back from Florida vacations. I thought that was very cool and held it up to show mom. But when I turned around....she was gone! Welcome to Academia, four year old self.
First Grade. I remember a "drill" of some sort where we all had to go down into the basement of the school. There was a gymnasium there. Really just a long room with of course another wooden floor. Was this a tornado drill? Maybe. But this was the year of the Cuban missile crisis so it may have had a darker motivation. I have more memories of the gym than you'd think. Climbing big hemp ropes. Square dancing. Dodgeball, which was then called "Bombardment".
Second Grade. Another bright, high ceiling room with a polished wooden floor. Somewhat puzzling to my six year old self one day our teacher was replaced by a person with a different name who looked just like the original one. I was a bright little tyke but did not immediately figure out that when women got married they got a different name. Probably the more varied options available to people in the modern era would have been even more confusing.
I also remember the principle coming into our classroom, standing under the American flag that was over the door, and telling us that President Kennedy had been shot. I think school was dismissed early that day.
Third Grade. Called down to the principals office. This only happened twice in my academic career. The other time was for throwing snowballs on the playground. This time it was to tell my brother and I that our house had burned down. You'd think we would have heard the fire engines....Fourth Grade. Maybe Fifth. I was in the library. It was a little cubby off to one side on the second floor. I heard running footsteps out in the hallway. Later I learned that a kid - as my memory may not be perfect we'll just call him K.W. - had slashed the principal's tires then chased him down the hallway with a knife. Unsurprisingly this dangerous person - who actually lived on our block - later went to prison for life after murdering someone. We had some creepy encounters with him growing up. I remember him as being several years older, so had he come back from Junior High or High school to settle an old score?
It was supposed to have an optimum capacity of 390 students and a maximum of 470. I guess I was there just after the baby boom peaked, but it still had over 600 students. We made do. 30 per classroom. A remarkable 50 per kindergarten, although I suspect that meant each teacher had AM and PM sections of 25. And remember, that was for the rated, or maximum number, not the actual population! The actual teacher/student ratio was 32.2:1, not counting the kindergarten tots.