My Adventures at Wm. Cramp School- Kindergarten to 6th Grade 1949-1957
My first recollection of Cramp Elementary was kindergarten. I would have been five years old, which by law you had to be to go to kindergarten back then. There was no preschool, at least that my parents and I knew about. I distinctly remember we did half days, and it was mostly playing with toys and doing artwork.
I also remember getting cookies and milk every day, for which my mother paid milk money. I am sure they had nuts in them because no one then talked about nut allergies, or maybe they didn’t know what they were.
It occurs to me that I must have been a snit of a kid because I do remember my mother having to come to school a lot for one reason or another. By the way, that started a long tradition. I’m not sure what the reasons were for my mother’s presence. Probably because I was always talking in class. I do remember once when I was kicked out of class for doing what, if a kid did it today, would scar him for life. It was nap time, and I finally got to sleep on a table instead of the floor. I say sleep, but I never really did. Anyway, I shared the table with a girl. For some very strange reason, and remember I was five years old, I lifted her dress. She screamed, and I ended up on the bench outside the room again. My mother came up to get me, and I was suspended for a day. The next day I was back, and all was good. I never did that again, not ever in my life. Back then, I’m sure parents, teachers and everyone got a good laugh about what I had done.
Cramp, at that time, had two buildings with a large open area in-between where we lined up for school and had recess. The only thing I remember about first grade was standing in line on the last day of school before Halloween. Everyone was dressed up. Most of us had homemade outfits, and I had my traditional hobo garb on and black cork on my face to make me look like I had a beard stubble. As I stood in line, bored and waiting to get into a class where we would color pumpkins, draw ghosts and eat candy, I was bedazzled. In the line across from me was a vision of loveliness. A creature begat from the goddess of love herself. In all her glory, Lois stood dressed in a Black and red cowgirl outfit complete with frilly trim, a Stetson hat and a six-shooter on her hip. My heart skipped a beat. If only I could talk to her, tell her she was beautiful, and ask her to marry me, it would make my year of arithmetic, writing and reading worthwhile. It would have, but I was too afraid to talk to her. Instead, I sulked away the rest of 1A.
School back then was split into sessions, A and B. 2A was the first session, and 2B was after the new year. I did well in 2A, with my mother making the trip to William Cramp only a couple of times. 2B, however, was a disaster. I don’t remember much about it, but it ended in me getting left back and having to repeat 2B. This put me always one-half grade behind my friends. By third grade, I straightened up and got back to my normal C average with only one or two Ds. In those days, the grades were A, B, C, D, E, and F. A was the best and E and F were failures.
I believe it was fourth grade when you got to move from the building closer to Tioga and St. Hugh’s across the street to the building closer to Ontario Street. Something happened when I changed buildings. I went from a C and D student to mostly Cs and occasionally a B student. I’m sure the teachers thought I was a rather strange little red-haired freckled face weirdo. Several times I remember I was walking down the steps having a daydream of sorts and would stop midway. Teachers would ask me if I was okay, and of course, I was. I was just daydreaming. I did a bit of daydreaming in class, as well. That's when I wasn’t talking to my classmates, passing notes, or drawing on my workbook. My socializing got so bad that a teacher once told my mother I talked so much that I was bound to be a politician.
My increased grades got me a position on the safety patrol. Given what those grades were, I wondered what the other boy's grades were that didn’t make it to be a safety. Maybe just nobody wanted the job. For whatever reason, I was now a white belt safety and got out of class early and for meetings. I took the job seriously, and I have to say I was a very good safety. I remember that it was very important to have a clean white belt. If you didn’t, you got a demerit, and for too many of those, you were out. I was sure to scrub that belt almost every night. Maybe life in the military was for me. Nah!
The coveted ranks in the Cramp safety patrol were sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. The sergeant got a green badge, the Lieutenant a red badge and the captain an all-gray leather safety belt with a blue badge. By fifth grade, my grades had stabilized at Cs, and I became a sergeant on the safety patrol. Wow, a green badge and a chance to check everyone’s white belt to be sure they were clean. A sergeant also had to check each station to see if the safety patrolman assigned was actually there. If not, you took over for them.
In 6th grade, I made captain. The big cheese, the top of the heap, the gray leather belted head of the safety patrol. No more cleaning the white belt. I think I was a reasonable captain. You would have to ask my Lieutenant at the time Michael McCue (I connected with Mike on a Facebook group a while back, and it was fun to talk to him).
It’s funny what you remember from your childhood. I was now captain of the safety patrol, And I remember standing on the outside steps of the school daydreaming again. I was pondering what the statistics were for a captain of the safety patrol to die in office. You see, there were always rumors about kids getting cut in half playing on the railroad tracks or getting hit by cement trucks and having their heads squashed. Add that to the fact that my mom was a bit of a hypochondriac. The doctor once told her to stop reading medical books, of which she had a couple of large volumes. It paid off for her; she was 87 when she passed. It did, however, make me worry about getting sick and dying.
There are two other events I remember about the 6th grade. One was pretty cool, but the other was not. I’ll save that for last. The cool one was me helping one of the students become president of the school. I can’t remember who that was, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Lois, whom I had gotten over by the 3rd grade. I had to give speeches at assemblies, pass out pamphlets, and campaign for this person in any way I could. They won and became president of the school, whatever that entailed.
I never gave up socializing during class or daydreaming, even when I was on the safety patrol. I’m not sure what I did, but whatever it was, it got me suspended from the safety patrol for two weeks and put back in 3rd grade for the same two weeks as punishment. It was a bit embarrassing, but even though the desks were too small for me, I actually did learn a few things. It wasn’t all a loss because I learned about the nine planets. As if to spite me, the scientists much later said Pluto was not a planet anymore but rather a dwarf planet. They demoted Pluto! When that happened, I felt an affinity with the poor planet because I had been demoted once myself.
After my two weeks in 3rd-grade hell, I returned to being Captain and in the 6th grade. Towards the end of 6th grade, everyone started thinking about going to Stetson Jr. High School. Lots of rumors went around about how hard the work was, how bad the kids were, how tough (not in a scholarly way) the teachers were, and how difficult it was to change classes during the day and not get lost. After six years, we were to be a freshman again. Newbies, first-timers, novices, fledglings, neophytes, tenderfoots, and greenhorns. And all, just when we were to start attending school, that was the example for the movie The Blackboard Jungle. However, that’s another story, and it is a doozie.
My class photo. I am 3rd from the left on the top row.
I found this photo Online. Four-year-old Joseph Harvey uses two sticks while pretending to play a violin with a student orchestra providing entertainment at a summer playground at the William Cramp School Howard and Ontario St cramp school. 1960. Colorized.
Cramp School under construction in 1909. Colorized.