By Don Duncan ’43

Don Duncan
Don Duncan ’43

Like many seniors coping responsibly with the lockdown, I sought to bring a semblance of order to a long-neglected area of my home – an upstairs closet piled high with newspaper clippings (1949-1991) and hand-written letters from those who once qualified as Seattle’s movers and shakers. Which is how I stumbled on a battered book titled “Cleveland Spirit.”

On the left side of the red-and-white cover is a sketch of snow-capped Mount Rainier atop a scaled-down Cleveland High School. On the right are dueling open-cockpit airplanes (presumably Boeing-built) followed by the numerals 1927-1928.

My discovery, of course, was the yearbook of the first students to graduate from Seattle’s then – newest high school. I am “unsure” – a better word than “forgetful” at 94 – how it came to be in my closet.

Besides being Cleveland’s first yearbook, 1927-‘28 is historically significant because it pretty much marked the end of this nation’s sometimes wild-and-crazy “Roaring Twenties.” The “Crash” that triggered The Great Depression began in ’29 and didn’t end until World War II.

Full disclosure: I was born in ’26, making me one year older than Cleveland High School, and graduated in ’43 – 77 eventful years ago.

Cleveland’s official colors in ’27-‘28 were “blue-and-white,” and its teams were The Highlanders. The colors, of course, would be changed to red-and-white, The Highlanders would become the Eagles and “Spirit” (perhaps used only once) would give way to Aquila.

The ’27-‘28 yearbook is signed by H.N. Gridley, principal of both Cleveland High School and Cleveland Intermediate School (junior high), which were first combined in a Georgetown elementary school building.

The first full-page photo inside the yearbook is of Charles Lindbergh (“Lucky Lindy”), who stunned the world by making a solo airplane flight from New York to Paris in 1927. Jeopardy question: “What was the name of Lindbergh’s plane?” Answer: “What is The Spirit of St. Louis?” Lindbergh also was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in ’27. As for who appeared on the cover of Time the most times (“Who is Richard Nixon’’ (55 times).

I’d have preferred Audrey Hepburn.

I was a 13-year-old 9th grader upon arriving at Cleveland from Beacon Hill in January 1940. Almost immediately we “new” students heard about “The Trek,” which teachers and older students seemed to rank only slightly below The Lewis & Clark Expedition and the first ascent of Mount Rainier.

It started the morning of Jan. 3, 1927 at the Georgetown school. Principal Gridley led the march, at first on the level and then up “a steep hill” (huffing and puffing sound effects) as 525 high school students and their 22 teachers, plus 452 intermediate-school students and their 15 teachers pressed on to reach The Promised Land at 15th Avenue South and Lucile Street.

There they found a beautiful new three-story, all-brick schoolhouse named after Grover Cleveland, the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms in The White House as the 22nd president (1885-1889) and the 24th (1893-1897).

The new school had 31 rooms, an auditorium, a well-outfitted cafeteria, and at least one indoor sports venue. There was no blueprint for juggling the schedules of high school and intermediate school students so they wouldn’t bump into each other in the halls or the cafeteria. Nor were there any outdoor sports facilities. But the latter, everyone said, was sure to come. Someday!

The ’27-’28 yearbook was dedicated to Miss Alice T. Stach, “whose teaching (English) has lifted us to heights beyond the commonplace.” Besides Miss Stach, five other teachers from the ’27-’28 faculty were still at Cleveland when I graduated 15 years later: Gaylord Peltier, Dora Leavitt, Lynden K. Hassenmiller, Bill Maginnis, and Margaret Raine.

Hassenmiller, who answered to “Hassey” and taught science, coached virtually every boys’ sports team for a year or so, during which Cleveland suffered some horrific defeats (losing 65-5 against O’Dea’s basketball team). Hassey would finally settle on coaching golf, which had less pressure. Students took losses pretty much in stride, learning early to say “Wait’ll next year.”

Girls played only volleyball, basketball, and field hockey, where there was less pressure.

In addition to academics and sports, there were a variety of clubs. The Intermediate Boys’ Yacht Club showed imagination. It wasn’t for students whose families owned yachts, but for young men and a smattering of young women who designed and built small wooden “yachts” they showed off in a local pond.
Although the Latin Club had a handful of members, the school orchestra – open to all – had enough members to fill the chairs of The New York Philharmonic. No indication of how they sounded.

Two important notes: Ray K. Imus, who spent 35 years as Cleveland’s vice principal, had yet to join the staff in ’27-’28, and all women teachers had “Miss” in front of their names. They would continue to be “Miss” in the years ahead “because a married woman should not be taking a scarce job from a man.” Sexism 101.
Marguerite Fox was Cleveland’s first valedictorian and Mona Mueller its first salutatorian. Also speaking at the first formal graduation were Walter Fisher, representing the arts, Gunnar Carlson, representing science, and Marjorie Brown, who touched on both writing and dramatics.

Frances Beyering wrote the senior-class poem. The first stanza: “As we leave your doors old Cleveland/To face the world anew/We want to thank you dearly/For the things we owe to you.”

Fifteen years later, the poem I was asked to write was recited by the class of ’43 at a Moving-Up Day Ceremony. It spoofed many things and was followed by a dozen or so limericks aimed at high-profile grads. Joy Malde and Ruth Barnier, singer and pianist respectively, provided background music for the limericks.
The first graduating class was small, just 52 grads. Mine, 15 years later, was barely over 100. Class photos show boys and male teachers without a hint of a beard. Nor was there a hint of trousers on girl students and female teachers.
Many girls and women teachers did, however, have “marcelled” hair (tight curls) in the ‘20s. Fifteen years later their hair was “more relaxed.”

A nice touch in the school’s first yearbook was giving each grad an opportunity to say what he or she hoped to do in life. The boys wanted to be salesmen, engineers, lawyers, journalists, airplane pilots, and businessmen.

Although ‘stenographer” dominated the girls’ choices, even that of the valedictorian, some bravely hoped to become a church or theater organist, gym teacher or businesswomen. One even said “a rich woman’s traveling companion.” Two said simply “a housewife.”

One boy said his main goal was to become “a husband.” Perhaps he connected with one of the young ladies with matrimonial ambitions.

Class prophecies were provided, gratis, for each student – predicting a career on Broadway for one student and playing in one of the great symphony orchestras for another. The amateur psychology was also interesting: “Just because a man blushes is no sign he’s bashful,” and “Knows a lot but says nothing.”

In 1997, I emceed my old high school’s 70th birthday party in the school auditorium, which hadn’t changed much in well over half-a-century. There was a wonderful turnout, even a visit by Al Hostak, who had been a student at Cleveland High School for several years before launching a prize-fighting career in which he won the Middleweight Boxing Championship of the World. Al brought down the house when his arrival on stage was delayed because he didn’t hear his name being called. “Ya shoulda rung da bell,” he said, laughing as he ran across the stage.

Don Clifford (’44) and I closed the celebration by singing lyrics I’d penned to a melody [I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face] from Lerner & Loewe’s “My Fair Lady.”

The final verse:

We’d grown accustomed to this place,
To all the times we didn’t win.
We’d grown accustomed to the rain,
To tests that were a pain.
Tan cords, white shirts, saddle-shoes, and skirts,
Were such a habit with us then,
Like faded loves that might have been.
Like Mr. Imus roaming hallways
and rules that didn’t bend,
Tardy bells and blackboard chalk
– we thought they’d never end.
We’d grown accustomed to a way of living that’s no more,
Accustomed to this place.

******

Don Duncan spent 41 years on newspapers, 28 as a reporter and columnist for The Seattle Times. A Pulitzer judge in 1977. He won two national (Ernie Pyle) awards for human-interest writing and wrote two books. “Washington: The First 100 Years” and “Meet Me at The Center.”

Biggest coups: a solo interview with Elvis, two hours alone with Eleanor Roosevelt, and about 15 minutes with Princess Di, while the rest of the press corps was looking for her.

Wife of 69 years died two years ago.

He never worked for the P-I, which The Times staff called “The Pig’s Eye.” The P-I staff, in response, referred to The Times as “Fairview Fanny.”