Same school, different decade
In the sixties and seventies, if children didn’t get hurt running around the gravel and asphalt playground at Peterson Elementary School, they had a good chance of banging their knees or losing a tooth on the metal jungle gym and merry-go-round.
Although the photograph on the left looks like a textbook illustration of the blight that overcame Chicago in the sixties, it depicts a somewhat more child-friendly era in Hollywood Park history. The freedom we enjoyed to roam the neighborhood is simply incomprehensible in today’s world. And as we’ve discuss earlier here, Peterson School was at the center of a lively business district. The stores and store owners were an intrinsic part of our lives.
The photograph on the right shows a more vibrant playground at Peterson now, but Bryn Mawr Avenue is nearly a ghost town and you probably won’t see children as young as six years old walking to school without their parents.
This is where I remember jumping rope, playing Red Rover and Simon Says and doing the whip in first and second grades. I think third, fourth and fifth graders had recess on another side of the school, by the teachers parking lot. It was where coal was delivered and dumped down a chute. Occasionally we’d find lumps of coal scattered around and use them for hopscotch markers.
Did any other Chicago public grade school have a toboggan slide? Snow or no snow, I can’t recall ever going on it. In the base, there was a locked space used for storing outdoor sports equipment by the gym teacher, Mr. Kaczmarek, or Mr. Kaz as we all called him.
I think Mr. Kaz, who must have taught at Peterson for 20 years or more, arguably was the best teacher I had in my eight years there (I didn’t have Mr. Wahle, all you Wahle fans). He was ahead of his time, giving us a fairly rigorous and well-rounded fitness education. In a discussion about him on Facebook, I found others remember him as I do.
At a time when public grade schools in Chicago offered girls few opportunities to become involved in sports, Mr. Kaz taught us how to play and got us in shape to play. Sit-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups. Broad jumps, long jumps and 40-yard dashes. Rings and ladders. Softball, volleyball, basketball, and, of course, the game he invented, skizball.
Credits: Top left photo of playground courtesy of Martin Marcus. Bottom center photo of toboggan slide courtesy of Stuart Linderman.
Update: Stuart Linderman found a companion photograph with Kimball Avenue in the background. Stuart noted the proximity of the bench to the batter, another example of the lax safety standards of the day.
Since posting this story, I’ve heard of more playground mishaps. Topping them all is my classmate Rune Gusevik’s story about going down the toboggan on his sled after it had been boarded up at the bottom to keep kids off, thinking he and his sled would slip under the board. Didn’t happen that way, but he lived to tell the tale. Danny Miller’s recollection of kids jumping off the toboggan is a close second.
Update: On the Forgotten Chicago forum, I’ve found mention of toboggan slides in other Chicago public school playgrounds, and they were green, too.
Now that you’ve seen the outside, next week I’ll show you the inside of Peterson School. I went back!