Back to School


Way. Too. Bright.

In my memory, the walls were painted a very pale institutional green and the lockers were milk chocolate brown. To a first grader, the hallways of Peterson Elementary School were like a cave, dark and endless with voices and footsteps echoing in the distance.

Located at 5510 N. Christiana, this Chicago public school opened in 1926 on land donated by Mary Gage Peterson. Although a south wing was added, some time between 1938 and 1951 according to aerials, the school often suffered from overcrowding. Twice in its history seventh and eighth graders were farmed out to Von Steuben High School. My average class size from 1963 to 1970 was 35, and I know larger classes were common in other years. Mobiles were used and last year an addition was built, housing a cafeteria and a new classroom wing.


A tiny sliver of the brown I remember showing where the paint has chipped off this locker.

Not much has changed in the Assembly Hall. Same portraits of the presidents. Same drapes (really!). Same flag pole. Same stage floor. Same hand rails.



Wood is everywhere in the building, highly varnished doors and frames and cabinets. It may look dated, but the building was beautifully crafted.


Through this door at the back of the auditorium the color guard entered and eighth grade graduates marched to Pomp and Circumstance.



I can't not mention that we did duck and cover in the hallways for routine air raid drills.

Below is how Room 102, my second grade classroom, looks today. The chair pushed under the round table in the foreground is approximately where my desk was located, though we sat at old wooden desks with iron bases screwed into the floor.

The desks had inkwells and a carved slot for pencils. In classrooms for more advanced grades, the desktops were covered with carved initials, but perhaps not so much in the second grade room. I used to imagine pioneer children had sat at our desks and I wasn’t that far off. They may not have used our desks, but they probably sat at desks just like the ones we had at Peterson.

I started second grade in the fall of 1963, so this was, of course, where I was when I heard President Kennedy had been shot. The principal (probably still Mrs. Cunningham in that year) made the announcement over the P.A. system, and Mrs. Atkinson, our teacher, told us to put our heads down on our desks, which we did until school was dismissed.

Credits: All photos (c) Ryan Szekeres, except the fourth from the top and Room 102. Ryan, who attended Peterson K-8, has posted his Peterson School photographs on Flickr.

Related: More biographical information about Mary G. Peterson. Read Danny Miller’s more detailed account of life at Peterson during this same era. Last week I took a look back at the school’s playground.


60 Responses to Back to School

  1. Bonnie Hanna May 16, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    Loved this – best way to start the day with warm memories courtesy of Frances. Xoxo

  2. Frances Archer May 16, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    Bonnie, it’s great to hear from you.

  3. Mike Fisher May 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    Great piece Frances. I never had Ms. Luby as a teacher. I had Ms. Shapiro. I still have nightmares from those two teachers. In one, Ms. Shapiro is standing over me while I fill the room with 8.5×11 white pages folded into eight squares for multiplication tables. I always feel like there is going to be a test any second. The room fills with paper and i wake up.

    Ms. Luby is just standing on a Southern Plantation balcony, looking down at me and just asking me if I am really there.

    –Former CPS student.

  4. Wendi Goodman May 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    A beautifully written tribute to Peterson School. I attended Peterson from 1968 until 1972 — 5th grade through 8th grade. Dr Stanek was the Principal back then. I don’t have a lot of clear memories of my time at Peterson or Von so I am grateful to you & Danny for blogging about your memories.

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Frances Archer May 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Thanks, Wendi. I guess we miss each other at school, but glad to connect now.

  6. Frances Archer May 16, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Mike, I had Miss Gillick for 4th, and it was a split 4/5 class so I missed the whole multiplication table thing. In fact I missed the adding, subtracting and dividing things too.

  7. John La Buda May 16, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    The memories are flowing back! I think in KG or first grade we went on a “field trip” to the Heating? building. I remember it was a doorway down the stairs next to the main offices and it led to a tunnel to the building I used to climb up on the roof. Frances, this is so great. Thank you so much!

  8. Frances Archer May 16, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    Thank you. I know the tunnel. I was there too.

  9. John La Buda May 16, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    I also remember, (looking at the pictures) there was a wooden “fence/barrier) on the Christiana side of the lawn in front of the school. It was painted Green!

  10. Frances Archer May 16, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    I remember that too.

  11. Sheila Linderman May 16, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    My memories:
    KG – Miss Reid and her “Good Conduct Club,” of which I was rarely a member. Her hats were vintage, even then!
    1st and 2nd grades: Miss Stark–I thought she was amazing at the time.
    3rd grade: Miss Luby, her wigs, calling everyone by his/her last name to prepare us for college (I swear, I remember her saying that); those freaking table tests.
    4th grade: Miss Shea, who taught me how to knit and pearl, but nothing else (she was a pincher, and once picked Neil Dennis up by the cheeks).
    5th grade: Miss Barezky, with whom the girls had sex education. I’m still in therapy!
    6th grade: Mrs. Rosenstein, who made us get our homework folders signed (I had not yet clued in to the notion of forging my parents’ signatures).
    7th grade: Mr. Krane–don’t crumble paper! Notes to Miss Roin in room 103.
    7th grade science: Mr. Wahle–row quizzes!
    8th grade: Mrs. Vidor – either bi-polar or menopausal. Either way, not a ton of fun.
    8th grade math and science: Mr. Anderson–loved him!
    Miss Cunningham – “Attention, attention please. This is Miss Cunningham speaking.” She had an identical twin sister, and they dressed alike. Yikes!
    Dr. Seitz – I remember what he looked like, but that’s about it.
    Dr. Stanek – She was principal when the girls were first allowed to wear pants to school. Her argument against pants was that she could not wear them when she was in elementary school, to which someone retorted, “yeah, but dresses were a lot longer then.”

  12. Frances Archer May 16, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Sheila, I can’t remember who I had in sixth grade, though I know who it wasn’t Mrs. Seidman. It’s strange, but I have no memories of school that entire year. Seventh grade on the other hand was very memorable and the most fun. The door between Mr. Krane’s room and Mr. Wahle’s room was often open and they got along so well. Of Mrs. Vidor, I remember her screaming like crazy, pounding the piano, measuring skirt hems t see if they were too short, teaching us the Constitution. I’ve read some people took field trips but I’m sure I never went on a field trip in elementary school.

  13. Richard Whitman May 17, 2011 at 1:38 am #

    What I most remember about Mrs. Seidman was that if you ever misbehaved in her class, she would force you to sit in a corner of the classroom and wear a baby bonnet. We found out Mr Crane’s real name was Cory Clotz, and that sounds about right Frances about what you said about Mrs. Vidor. As to Mr.Wahle all I can remember is that he was a great science teacher and person as well. Oh yeah he also ran a nice arts & crafts class during “Lighted School House” in the late 50’s / early 60’s.

  14. Richard Whitman May 17, 2011 at 2:03 am #

    What I most remember about Mrs. Seidman was that if you ever misbehaved in her class, she would force you to sit in a corner of the classroom and wear a baby bonnet. We found out Mr Crane’s real name was Cory Clotz. And Frances – that sounds about right about what you said about Mrs. Vidor. As to Mr.Wahle all I can remember is that he was a great science teacher and person as well. Oh yeah he also ran a nice arts & crafts class during “Lighted School House” in the late 50’s / early 60’s.

    Mrs. Atkinson was my 1st grade teacher. If anyone talked too much, she would put scotch tape over their mouth. If that didn’t work, like in my case (cause I just peeled it off), she forced them to sit under her desk. Good times!

  15. Frances Archer May 17, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Dick, that is really something about Mr. Crane’s real name, and who can blame him? I do remember the arts and crafts class at Lighted.

  16. Frances Archer May 17, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    I forgot about the tape. She was still doing it in my year. Do you recall seeing any teachers strike kids as punishment. It seems to me teachers were using rulers on some kids hands in my earliest years but it may be a false memory.

  17. Bill Tong May 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    I attended Peterson School from 1964 to 1973. Although I lived across the street from the school (my family operated Tong’s Tea Garden at 3411 W. Bryn Mawr), I was not allowed to cross Kimball Avenue from the southwest corner of Bryn Mawr and Kimball! For nine years, I had walk south one block to Catalpa, cross Kimball there, and then backtrack almost one block north to the schoolyard entrance. There were very few Asian American students at that time at Peterson. Although I was born in Chicago, Chinese was my first language and I didn’t catch up in English until first grade. After serving on the committee that organized the Von Steuben 20th Reunion of the Class of 1977, a number of Peterson Class of 1973 graduates expressed interest in organizing a 25th year reunion. We held it at the school, with an almost 80% turnout (61 out of 81 graduates attended), with food catered by Rosati’s Pizza, and Hunan Wok (successor to Tong’s Tea Garden). There are many personal recollections of our years at Peterson by me and fellow graduates, contained in this 40 page book that I put together and posted on-line a few years ago:

  18. Maura Berkelhamer May 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    I attended Peterson with Wendi and Laurie Goodman in the Dr. Stank era from 1968 until 1973 (K – 4th). My sister Ellen (Class of 1980) posted a link to your piece on her Facebook page. I remember eating lunch in the wooden auditorium seats when it was too cold and snowy to walk home for lunch or be treated to lunch at C. V.’s on the corner by Laura Davis’ grandfather. Does the bathroom at the back entrance to the auditorium still have the pull chain toilet? I remember the Color Guard drill presented by the Crossing Guards at the Assembly too. Although I received many Gold Stars for Good Conduct from Mrs. Reid and a CCC commendation complete with a framed picture from Dr. Stanek, Mrs. Shapiro and her multiplication tables were my un-doing. My mother, who also attended Peterson School from 1941 – 1948, has recently been in the classroom as an observer for an education program. She reported that Peterson is still a wonderful school with high quality education programs for the current students. I have many fond memories of Peterson, that you for the chance to reminisce.

  19. John La Buda May 17, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    I too share a vague memory of rulers, I was taking piano lessons on the second floor by the gym balcony when I was in 1st or 2nd grade and I can remember the ruler as a training aid.

  20. Frances Archer May 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    I took piano lessons in that little room as well. Still in use, as a meeting room now.

  21. Frances Archer May 17, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Hi, Maura. I didn’t know about you til now. Apparently your parents were acquainted with or knew of my parents when we still were on Central Park, right behind the Shub family. No kidding about your mother: you know the group I interviewed a few weeks ago was Peterson Class of ’47.

    I met a few parents at Peterson and I think the school is still pretty special among Chicago Public School, not that there aren’t some things they’d like to fix.

    All plumbing and electrical have been replaced.

  22. Frances Archer May 17, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    Everyone, check out Bill’s link to his document. It is truly a comprehensive look at Peterson. I love it.

  23. John Erickson May 19, 2011 at 7:07 am #

    It’s too bad you missed out on field trips, Frances. In the late ’30s we had field trips to Bowman Dairy, County Jail, Chinatown, Planetarium, Field Museum, and an 8th grade trip to Springfield.

  24. Frances Archer May 19, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    John, that list is really amazing. Says a lot about what happen to public schools in the sixties.

  25. Danny May 19, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    Amazing to see those photos. I had many of the same teachers as Sheila. Mrs. Luby (who thankfully I didn’t have but my brother did and he still has the scars!) and Mrs. Seidman (who I did have, God help me) were, in my humble opinion, sociopaths who shouldn’t have been allowed near children. Mrs. Geib could also be scary but at least I felt her actions were connected to kids’ misbehaving whereas Luby and Seidman’s “punishments” were often arbitrary. Oy. I loved Miss Stark, Mrs. Kipnis, and Mrs. Rosenstein. I’m not sure if they were great teachers, but they were sure nice ladies. Oh, and it’s Krane with a “K.” I never heard that about his real name but we used to take his love notes down to Miss Roin who I think taught 1st or 2nd grade. Unlike many people, I always liked Mrs. Shapiro and was later grateful for those forced table papers. Did Sheila mention Miss Giese, the vice-principal who was always talking about #2 pencils? They all seemed ancient to me at the time but I’m sure most were way younger than we are now. Except for Mrs. Reid who I believe was born being 70 years old!

  26. John La Buda May 19, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

    Wow, that’s an interesting list of field trips. The main ones I remember was a trip to the Wauconda apple orchard, the museums, Northeastern and the 400 theater on Sheridan to see ‘1776″.

  27. Mindy White May 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Does anybody remember our librarian, Miss Eck? I was at Peterson from K through 8 (1958-1967). I haven’t seen her name, and I loved the way she read to us. Danny mentioned love notes from Mr. Krane to Miss Roin. Wow. That relationship could always set off hysterics when I was in 7th grade. Any of you boys ever get hit with an eraser or piece of chalk thrown by Mr. Krane. I can’t imagine a teacher getting away with that now. I think I saw Robert Perlin (his sister Laurie was a friend of mine) mention Mr. Wahle’s method of teaching conductivity. It was great; a big circle of kids with an electrical shock going through us.

  28. Frances Archer May 19, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    Mindy, I would never have remembered that name! But yes now that you mention her.

  29. Frances Archer May 19, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    Danny, add Mrs. Vidor to the group with Geib, Luby and Seidman. Vidor wasn’t really scary; the screaming was sometimes comical. Miss Gillick was a good teacher, at least I remember my mother liking her, but she ended up screaming too much to teach my year with her. I don’t think she belongs with the other screamers though. I recall Mr. Krane saying he went to Crane High School in Chicago and that story seemed so amazing it stuck in my mind all these years. If his name really wasn’t Krane, well, it’s not so funny a story. Now I understand why I always say #2 pencils and so many people have not idea what I mean.

  30. Bonnie McGrath May 20, 2011 at 1:54 am #

    The play that molly and i went to see after the last time we had lunch with you was in a grammar school in old irving and the stage looked EXACTLY the same as the one pictured from your old school. so glad to see that these public schools are keeping their beautiful vintage quaintness and loveliness!! probably a matter of economics–no $$ to update.. but thank goodness, whatever the reason!!

  31. Frances Archer May 20, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    Bonnie, I’ve seen several schools that look identical to Peterson on the outside, and it sounds like they might all be the same on the inside too. I’d love to learn more about who built them. Any ideas?

  32. Eva Field Schweig May 20, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    I remember Mr. Wally and learning to sing “June is Bust’in Out All Over.”

  33. John La Buda May 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    Mr.Crane would come in on Fridays for music, and it would consist of John Denver songs and “There’s a hole in the bucket Dear Liza” and “Frera Jacques”. Luckily at 2:30 we could play 45’s we brought in such as Bay City Rollers “Saturday Night”.

  34. Frances Archer May 20, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Eva and John, I love hearing about those old, traditional songs we sang.

  35. Steve White May 21, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    No one has mentioned my favorite, Mrs Gottschalk. 3A, I think. She was famous for her cigarette-in-a-Coke-bottle demonstration, showing the tar that built up inside the bottle. That kept me from smoking till I was 13!

  36. Frances Archer May 21, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    Steve, she was ahead of her time! No one else was saying cigarettes were bad for you back then.

  37. Sheila Linderman May 23, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    I definitely remember Miss Eck. She retired, and was replaced by a friend of my parents (can’t remember her name, although I called her once I moved to California to get Miss Barezky’s number). Of course, Miss Giese! Her office was across from Miss Luby’s room, and I recall the one time I was sent to stand in the hall, Miss Giese saw me. I was mortified. I remember what I was wearing that day. Not that I was scarred for life or anything (not at all).

  38. Frances Archer May 23, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Sheila, it’s funny how intense immediately some of those memories can be. I remember what I was wearing the first day I attended Peterson, and I remember that on the way up the steps, on my first time entering the school, I slipped and ripped a hole in my red tights, and dropped my thermos, and milk inside spilled out of my lunch box.
    I forgot about standing in the hall punishment. It was mortifying because if other classes were walking through the hall, all the kids started at you.

  39. John La Buda May 24, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    I don’t recall standing in the hall for punishment, but if you were a hall guard sitting in front of the main office that was a place of honor. I did have my desk moved next to the teachers several times over the years. ( not a place of honor)

  40. Frances Archer May 24, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    John, that must have been in one of the rooms that had moveable desks. Not all rooms did.

  41. John La Buda May 24, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    The only room that had the old wooden desks that I experienced was Rm 117 for 1st and 2nd grade. By 3rd grade (1972) all the rooms had movable desks that were usually arranged in groups of 4 in a pod like fashion. So if you were being disciplined, you would be moved to a different group (usually with girls) and if that didn’t work (which it didn’t) you were moved right up next to the teacher, facing her and not the class.

  42. Mindy White May 26, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    In first grade, Mrs. Stark made me stand in the corner at the end of school as all the other kids left. It felt horrible. She was writing a note for me to take home to my parents. My big crime–I’d been talking and hadn’t followed instructions on an assignment. Maybe I could have been a famous talk show host if my voice hadn’t been stifled in first grade–ha, ha!

  43. Roberta Rudy Kurtz May 31, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    I graduated from Peterson in 1955 and lived directly across the street. I do remember Mr. Kaz. Many fond memories from growing up on Hollywood Park. Thanks for all the pictures, etc.

  44. Frances Archer May 31, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Hi, Roberta. So, Mr. Kaz was teaching at Peterson in 1955…I’m trying to figure out how long he was at Peterson. Must have been nice to live right across the street from school. I had a loooong walk, from the 5900 block of Central Park Ave.

  45. Wendi Goodman June 29, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    I had Mrs Seidman for 5th grade and Mrs Geib for sixth grade. I’ve often wondered over the years who I pissed off to have been placed in those two classes. They were the worst teachers in the school. I swear they were both sociopaths. I witnessed Mr Krane throwing erasers. I also remember being pulled out of classes to go to my brothers classroom. His teachers would pin notes on me to take home to my parents. I was totally humiliated that they thought i wasn’t responsible enough to CARRY those notes home and I would take them off my blouse as soon as the teacher was out of site. Of course, I was thrilled to tell on my brother!


  46. Frances Archer June 29, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    Wendi, it’s unbelieveable how they treated kids in those days! What were they thinking?

  47. Susan Jacobson Norborg October 2, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    I graduated from Peterson School in 1954. I was there K-8. I remember almost all of my teachers’ names but my favorite was Miss Bellon (4th). I went on to teach 4th grade myself in Lake Forest, Deerfield and Oak Park. Mr. Marsh was the principal. We spent 7th and 8th grade at Von Steuben. We also had split shifts. If my memory is correct, there were 6 rows of eight desks and 3 or 4 extra desks in the back bringing the class size to over 50. YIKES!

  48. Frances Archer October 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    You must have been there during the most crowded years. I recall someone telling me there was a graduation class of around 108 that was the largest at Peterson. It must have been yours. The school seems to have gone through phases of being overcrowded almost since it beginning. There’s now a new addition. Thanks for visiting and sharing your memories.

  49. Michael Rapp July 12, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

    Does anyone remember Mr. Davidson? He taught in 1955 at the Von Steuben branch of Peterson. He was outstanding. He introduced us to much of the introductory materials of high school Algebra and Biology. He also taught us how to diagram sentences. Mr. Davidson was an outstanding instructor.

  50. Frances Archer July 16, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    Michael, I didn’t know Mr. Davidson but your recollection tells us a lot about what changed in public school elementary school education by the mid-60s in Chicago.

  51. David Criz July 22, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Like Michael Rapp ( a former classmate of mine ) I too remember Mr. Davidson and Mr. Mackin our first introduction to male teachers ( 6th – 8th grade ) at the Peterson / Von Steuben wing of the high school. Both were very excellent teachers and role models..

  52. Frances Archer July 22, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    Hi, David. Thanks for dropping by. I’m guessing you’re related to Bobby? He also gave me some background on Hollywood Park / McDonald’s.

  53. David Criz July 22, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    Yes Frances I am related. Bob is my younger brother by 6.5 years and although we both went to Peterson by the time he was in high school we had moved to Lincolnwood and he was a Niles West graduate. He is the one who first introduced me to your wonderful website !

  54. Frances Archer July 22, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    Nice to meet you, David. Your family moved early! I’m wondering if you were around the same year as Andy Romanoff, who is a frequent contributor here? I think you’ll come across some of his guest posts, comments, and photos.

  55. Sheila D Valadez March 29, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

    I remember Peterson elementry. Miss Kay in kindergarden, Mrs. Atkinson in first grade. Very mean. Wouldnt let you use the washroom before final bell Had to sit straight at your desk in order to be dismissed. Accident did happen. Miss Roin was beautiful. Miss Luby and her bee hive hairdoo. Miss Gliick spit alot while talking over your shoulder. Many drills in the hallway.

  56. Frances Archer March 31, 2016 at 9:47 pm #

    Hi, Sheila, I know what you mean about Ms. Atkinson.

  57. Sheila D Valadez April 5, 2016 at 10:44 am #

    Hi Frances. Do you remember the Hollywood Bowl across the street from the school ? They had a candy counter and a small restaurant to order lunch. Helen and Joe were their names. I really liked that neighborhood.

  58. Frances Archer April 5, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

    Of course I do! Who doesn’t? I’ve written about it several times on the blog, and yes, I have photos. Check out these posts: and

  59. Sheila D Valadez April 5, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

    OMG ! I can’t believe the picture of Helen and Joe. They helped out my family for time to time providing lunch for mybrother and I. Great people. Thank you for sharing with me.

  60. Frances Archer April 5, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

    Sheila, that’s such a nice story to share. There were so many people watching out for each other.

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