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.
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.
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.